The Mischievous Use of Pyrotechnics

Early this week, the signs began popping up in my town. I noticed them first at the busiest intersections, but soon they spread to public buildings, the entrances to subdivisions, and even as a postcard in our mailboxes. This Independence Day my town is going to try something new.

The sale and use of fireworks is legal in the state of Missouri, but each town has its own ordinance regarding them. In fact, many municipalities ban them altogether, which doesn’t seem like such a bad idea when you consider that fireworks are responsible for an average 10,000 injuries in the US every July and cause somewhere in the neighborhood of $32 million in property damage.

But I guess danger is part of the attraction. At least one story about the not-entirely-clear origin of fireworks tells us that between 600 and 900 AD, Chinese alchemists, who were already adept at blowing stuff up, were trying to develop the elixir of life by heating various combinations of sulfurous mixtures and instead managed to scorch their hands and faces and burn down their laboratory. The alchemists made note of the combination that had caused such an incident, warning it should never ever be mixed again.

Dude! Probably no one should ever do that. Let's try it again!  photo credit: bushfire (8) via photopin (license)
Dude! Probably no one should ever do that. Let’s try it again! photo credit: bushfire (8) via photopin (license)

Then, because guys like to blow stuff up, they proceeded to experiment with it anyway until they figured out that if the dangerous mixture were placed in a tube, open on one end, they could produce pretty sparks that made them say “ooh” and “ah.”

Despite the best “don’t try this at home” warning the Chinese alchemists could muster, fireworks spread through the world and the centuries, getting fancier and fancier along the way, until Captain John Smith of Jamestown fame allegedly set off a display in 1608 and fireworks had officially arrived on the shores of North America.

It was the Italians that first brought spectacular color to fireworks displays. And much bigger oohs and ahs.   By 久留米市民(Kurume-Shimin) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
It was the Italians that first brought spectacular color to fireworks displays. And much bigger oohs and ahs. By 久留米市民(Kurume-Shimin) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
That was all fine until the early 1700s when the citizens of Rhode Island took it too far. Evidently Rhode Islanders of the day found it hilarious to load up on explosives at the local fireworks tent and pull off all kinds of explosive shenanigans. The more well-mannered citizens of the colony were not amused and in 1731 officials issued the first ordinance in the would-be US banning the “mischievous use of pyrotechnics.”

4th of July fireworks: as American as apple pie, but maybe more mischievous.
4th of July fireworks: as American as apple pie, but maybe more mischievous. photo credit: . . . White . . . via photopin (license)

I wasn’t in Rhode Island in 1731 so I don’t know how the ordinance was received or enforced, but I suspect there were those who went ahead and blew stuff up anyway, probably in the middle night when the well-mannered people were sound asleep, at least until their neurotic dogs snapped to attention and went bananas over the noise.

That’s what our new and improved city ordinance is supposed to address. Because ever since 1776 when John Adams said it should be, the 4th of July has always been a fireworks kind of a holiday in the US. And guys still like to blow stuff up. So what our town has decided is that even though it is illegal to use or even possess fireworks within the town limits, that restriction will be lifted for a few hours on the 4th.

Sign, sign, everywhere there's signs. Even long-haired freaky people can blow stuff up if they want to. But only for a little while.
Sign, sign, everywhere there’s signs. Even long-haired freaky people can blow stuff up if they want to. But only for a little while.

At exactly 5 pm, guys who like to blow stuff up can cross the city line with their trucks filled from their runs a couple miles up the highway to the fireworks tent and scorch their own hands and faces to their hearts’ content.

Not being a guy who likes to blow stuff up, I admit I don’t really get the obsession, but I suppose the ordinance is fair. It gives folks the opportunity to celebrate, hopefully encourages them to practice caution as they should, and demonstrates respectful consideration of those who may have difficulty coping with stuff blowing up around them.

And after our window of allowable fireworks frivolity, law enforcement will be out in droves to lay the smack down on anyone mischievously using pyrotechnics. By then, my neurotic dog and I will be sound asleep.

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5 thoughts on “The Mischievous Use of Pyrotechnics

  1. You should speak to the people on Malta. They have a v close relationship with fireworks, have clubs and associations involved in them and win many, many competitions with them 😉 You can’t move on Malta without seeing these little wooden huts out in the open areas, all labelled with which area’s hut it is – and inside there are …

    1. Poor things! That’s why I’m hopeful about our new ordinance. My pup does okay if he’s distracted, but with them going off sporadically all night (and sometimes all week) long, he gets awfully nervous, too. So far it’s been a quiet week so hopefully people will respect it. Good luck with your dogs and Happy 4th!

      1. It has been a dreary, drizzly and dismal day for our 4th of July and I’m guessing the fireworks will be impacted by the weather. We’ll see!

        Ha! Just as I’ve finished typing that sentence, I can hear firecrackers going off in the distance! 😀

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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