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A Dangerous Love Affair with Fireworks



So why do we celebrate the birth of our democracy with violent, noisy explosions in the night sky? Why not rejoice with peaceful vigils? Because we’re Americans, dang it, and if you think fireworks are dangerous, you must be some sort of commie terrorist. (Read more below)


Portsmouth, New Hampshire has a long bang-up tradition of celebrating Fourth of July. We did, after all, kick out the New Hampshire colony’s royal governor months before the American Revolution began. Our own William Whipple signed the Declaration of Independence that was first read from the steps of the Old State house in Market Square on July 18, 1776.

A year later on July 4, 1777 Captain Thomas Thomson, whose house still stands on Pleasant Street, invited guests to celebrate with dinner aboard a Continental frigate. Ten days later the Continental Congress sent John Paul Jones to Portsmouth to captain the sloop of war RANGER. Returning victoriously to this city in 1782, Jones threw a July 4th party for the entire city at his own expense with toasts, salutes, and dancing aboard the USS AMERICA then being built at Kittery. There were plenty of fireworks, of course.

But gunpowder is dangerous even in peacetime. Seven soldiers at Fort Constitution in New Castle were blown to kingdom come on July 4, 1809 while preparing for a holiday salute. Someone apparently left 17 damp cartridges out to dry in the summer sun. A spark driven by the wind set off the explosion. Pvt. Peletiah McDaniels was thrown over the ramparts to the base of the lighthouse. Body parts rained on a nearby home.

A history of the Fourth shows attempts all across the country to ban dangerous ammunition and explosive toys from use. They have driven presidents to duck from an imagined assassin’s gunfire. Fireworks often sent carriage horses into a rampage. And who among us hasn't got a fireworks horror story from grade school to share?

I remember a kid in fourth grade who swore he could hold a lit "lady finger" while it exploded. He did it with an open palm and we were amazed. Then one day he closed his fist at the critical moment. When he returned to school in the fall, one of his fingers stayed behind.

Kids have lost their hearing playing with fireworks. Kids have lost their eyes. One of my cousins used to shimmy up a tree that hung over the road in front of his house and drop firecrackers into the back of passing trucks. When the drivers stopped to check on what-sounded-like a blown out tire, he nearly fell from his tree laughing. He graduated to cherry bombs in frogs, then went on to become a nurse and a Pinkerton detective.


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Thursday, January 18, 2018 
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