After watching a stupendous fireworks display in my local community last night, the the 4th of July, I walked home asking myself, “What have been the greatest fireworks displays I have ever witnessed?” Actually, although the main event was over, the night sky on a beautiful evening continued to be filled with what John Adams called “illuminations” to celebrate our independence.
As I watched these colorful lights, it occurred to me that the technology for fireworks has really improved. Every Tom, Dick and Harry can now launch quite nice combustibles. This makes sense given that we are all walking around with what amounts to a handheld computer which makes phone calls, plays music, and does all sorts of other wonderful things.
I’ll limit my favorite fireworks displays to those I have seen on July 4th. There are also performances I have witnessed on New Year’s Eve, for example. In fact, if I could include as a favorite a display I watched over the skies of Helsinki about a decade or so ago, one which welcomed a new year.
What made this one special was that from my vantage point I watched the entire night sky fill up with lights over an entire major metropolitan area. I watched these sparklers from my apartment in several floors up.
Here are my top five Independence Day fireworks displays. I have left off the exact years because frankly, I can’t remember them.
1) The Washington, D.C. Mall
My Personal Highlight: The quality and scale
I have been to these fireworks at least twice. Other years I make a point of watching D.C.’s fireworks on “The Capitol Fourth”, shown on PBS. They are indeed spectacular. Both times I was with a group of international students. D.C. is hot and humid in the summer and July 4 is no exception. It was at least 100 degrees the times I went. Add hundreds of thousands of people, and comfort is not exactly an attraction to the event. The mob gathers around the Reflecting Pool and the fireworks are shot into the sky with the Washington Monument as a backdrop. Getting to and from the fireworks is an adventure given the crowd. If you don’t mind being crushed up against other people on the subway, these fireworks are the best.
2) Blacksburg, Virginia
My Personal Highlight: The Chow!
One year my family and I were invited to witness Blacksburg’s fireworks from the horse pasture behind our house. This venue was on high ground overlooking the city. The fireworks were shot off at the local high school a view miles away. My teenage daughter helped out with the horses occasionally, so that’s how we wiggled the invite. The best memory I had was the variety of food and drink set out on tables on the grounds. Yes, there were hot dogs, which to me are a must on July 4. Anytime an event is accompanied by good vittles, I’m happy to participate.
3) Muncie, Indiana
My Personal Highlight: The weather (see the night sky below)
These are the fireworks I viewed last night. I was pleasantly surprised by the entire event. It was held on the grounds of the local cultural center, mostly dedicated to the Ball family, the town’s most notable personages, and creators of the famous jars. I was able to tour the center for the first time before the music. The local “America’s Hometown Band” performed the obligatory marches and other songs of that ilk appropriate for Independence Day. In the distance was a Middle American neighborhood and behind me was the local greenway. Add in the moonlit, clear sky and the low temperatures, combined with no humidity, and it was a wonderful evening. The fireworks weren’t bad either. Not only were they loud, but they also were accompanied by the local cultural amenity: passing train horns.
4) Cowpens, South Carolina
My Personal Highlight: The historic location
Cowpens is the South’s major contribution to victory in the Revolutionary War. Our soldiers sent “Bloody” Tarleton and his Redcoats scurrying there in an important battle. It was the turning point in the war in the South and eventually led to George Washington’s win at Yorktown. I also enjoyed jogging there. Given that the site is the only one I have viewed fireworks where there were immediate consequences of our declaration of independence in 1776, it was a pretty unique place to be for the celebration.