Thursday, July 1, 2010

Your fireworks history lesson

Beginning about 9:45 p.m. Sunday night, the sky will light up over Southwest Park with the annual Globe-News Fourth of July fireworks display. From Washington State to Florida, southern California to Maine, large-city harbors to small-town America, fireworks of various colors and sizes will light up nighttime skies this weekend.

What in the world started this? Was it simply Francis Scott Key writing about the "rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air?" Certainly, having those words in our National Anthem didn't hurt. But maybe John Adams got the ball rolling, or the fuse lit, on July 3, 1776.

He wrote to his wife in regard to the pending adoption of the Declaration of Independence: "The day will be the most memorable in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival...It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade...bonfires and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward evermore."

A forward-thinking Adams was right on. Beginning the next year, in 1777, a rudimentary form of fireworks were used and have been linked to America's birthday ever since.

Who invented fireworks? The Chinese, of course, say they did. China claims they invented everything. India disputes that. But the Chinese say hundreds of years ago, bamboo rods were filled with explosives and then set off to ward off evil spirits. And so they began doing that to mark any landmark event, like a birth, wedding, or now, perhaps the jailing of a dissident.

Fireworks came to Europe in the 13th century, and by the 15th century were used in religious events and public entertainment. Indeed, Shakespeare mentions them several times in his plays.

A couple of times fireworks have been canceled in the U.S. around the Fourth. The first was in 1881 after the shooting of President Garfield. The other was in 1942 because many cities had World War II blackout restrictions, especially on the West Coast.

But this Sunday, the skies will be bright.

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