austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

What is the place where all the good guys live? Why that's America, America

Lurching forward in time. The 3rd of July we went to a 4th of July celebration, this one down in bunny_hugger's parents' town. The town holds its fireworks show a day early for some reason, and consistently; possibly it's cheaper. Possibly they're giving folks chances to go to more fireworks shows. We went to the same city park we visited last year, and even ended up near the same spot by a little canoe/rowboat dock onto which kids would venture and then run off, squealing. We didn't find any evidence of the frogs that were making some funny noises last year.

bunny_hugger brought sparklers we'd had somehow and she and her father waved them around. Her father would also set off some astoundingly big, high-shooting ones back in the driveway when the show was over. bunny_hugger is fearless around home fireworks in a way that doesn't come naturally to me, what with growing up in a state where they're illegal and having worked several summers in the quality control lab of a gunpowder plant. But she was nervous around some of this stuff that I believe threatened low-flying aircraft and was visible over the horizon.

Also she got to testing the limits of New Jersey's ban on personal fireworks. Are sparklers illegal? Yes. Are (something or other) illegal? yes. Are snakes illegal? I didn't know snakes in this context. ``Are they fireworks?'' ``Yes.'' ``Then they're illegal''. State regulations are often confusing things but on the fireworks issue New Jersey is really admirably clear.

It happens this summer I knew why fireworks are illegal in New Jersey. It was the 80th year since the ban was enacted and the local papers --- I read their front pages through --- had articles on it. Apparently the summer of 1936 saw a really striking cluster of people, often kids, in the Garden State being maimed or killed by fireworks. And while extreme cases rarely make good policy, anti-fireworks advocacy groups like the Boy Scouts pointed out that in the first third of the 20th century more Americans had died celebrating independence than died in the 18th century winning independence. You can quibble with that. Historians now figure the Revolutionary War bloodier than their 1930s counterparts did; and Americans really didn't learn how to count stuff like accident victims until the 1970s. But it does contextualize personal fireworks as ridiculously trivial things.

(Also helping the ban, I suppose, is that if you're in New Jersey you're less than forty miles from Pennsylvania. So if you really want to shoot something off and have a car it isn't like there's inspection stations on the Delaware River.)

Anyway, nobody ended sadly and I have to say the professional and the personal shows were awesome things.

Trivia: An 1818 fireworks manual suggested a pinch of silver fulminate on the end of a cigar had the potential to be a fine joke. Source: Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards, and Pyrotechnics: The History Of The Explosive That Changed The World, Jack Kelly.

Currently Reading: Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower, and a Dangerous World, William Lee Miller.


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