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A Dangerous Love Affair with Fireworks


Bad boys go boom

Nineteenth-century author Thomas Bailey Aldrich wrote about being a bad little boy in Portsmouth prior to the Civil War. Kids in his class, he recalled, were fixated on fireworks. Aldrich attended school at Portsmouth Academy, now the Discover Portsmouth Center. In his novel The Story of a Bad Boy Aldrich wrote:

Fourth_Bad_boy"There was very little hard study done in the Temple Grammar School the week preceding the Fourth of July. For my part, my heart and brain were so full of fire-crackers, Roman candles, rockets, pin-wheels, squibs, and gunpowder in various seductive forms, that I wonder I didn't explode under Mr. Grimshaw's very nose …This was not alone my condition, but that of every boy in the school."

Tom Bailey's teacher, however, had been a boy too. Mr. Grimshaw adapted the "temporary distraction" of his students by relating all their lessons to fireworks. "The class in arithmetic, for instance," Aldrich wrote, "was requested to state how many boxes of fire-crackers, each box measuring sixteen inches square, could be stored in a room of such and such dimensions."

Readers will recall that in Aldrich’s famous novel the Portsmouth town fathers banned the use of fireworks on the Fourth of July in 1847. In protest, Tom Bailey and his gang set an old stagecoach ablaze in the middle of Market Square. Boys will be boys. The story appears to be based on historic fact.

A few years later, according to the local newspapers, a boy from the Isles of Shoals was killed during a Portsmouth fireworks display. Across the country Fourth of July annals are filled with reports of accidental injuries and deaths from amateur pyrotechnics. One 19th century New Hampshire patriot blew off his left arm while tamping down a canon for a ceremonial volley. The festivities went on as planned.

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Monday, February 19, 2018 
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