Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fourth of July

Some thoughts about the Fourth of July....Fireworks--even John Adams knew they would be a "necessary" element of our Independence Day celebrations.

In her memoirs, Halcyon Days: An American Family Through Three Generations, the Gardens' founder Peggie (Phipps) Boegner recalls July 4th celebations at Westbury House:

In the years before we moved to the Piping Rock Club four our Fourth of July celebration, we had our own fireworks at home. Father was master of ceremonies. We all gathered around him on the south lawn, while he set off the charges....Once, in an absent minded moment her stood by the box of fireworks with a lighted sparkler in his hand. All of a sudden, a spark ignited a cracker and there was the most glorious display of fireworks shooting in all directions. ...Some of us ran, and others just stood there transfixed between terror and amusement.

On holidays and special events we share with visitors what life was like during the "heyday" of Westbury House and 100 years ago holiday safety was on the mind of civic leaders then as it is today.

Compare Mayor Bloomburg's 2010 message to this:

The committee, appointed by Mayor Gayson to arrange for a safe and sane Fourth has now got its programme into shape and has outlined a celebration which will cover every part or the city and will provide something to keep everyone interested nearly every hour of the day. The chief events will be a parade and exercises at the City Hall in the morning, athletic sports in the afternoon, and fireworks works in the evening. [New York Times, June 1910]

In its July 5th 1910 issue, the Times reported on former President Roosevelt's fourth of July observance noting that:

In the evening there were fireworks on the Roosevelt lawn. The former President is not an exponent of a safe and sane Fourth, and there was plenty of noise all day long in his vicinity. No casualties were reported.

Beginning at the turn of the 20th century and lasting until the outbreak of WWI local governments and private individuals spearheaded a movement known as a "safe and sane fourth" to reduce the number of fatalities, casualties, and property losses due to "extreme" celebrations (shooting off of guns into the air, fireworks, bonfires, etc.). Every July 5th newspapers would list the dead, injured and $s in property loss from Independence Day festivities. As James R. Heintze of American University. Washington, D.C. noted

From the early 1900s the production of [Fourth of July] postcards neatly coincided with the Safe and Sane movement that was initiated in a number of major cities to get dangerous fireworks away from the public. Many cards demonstrated the seriousness of this issue, but interestingly did so in a humorous vein. One popular card included the conundrum: "How to prevent your boy being killed on the Fourth of July-kill him on the third."

BTW Since 2000 professional firework displays have been banned in the Village of Old Westbury.

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