Comments & Curiosities: Adams said it best: Celebrate with a big boom

July 01, 2011|By Peter Buffa

You know what Monday is. And, yes, it is a big day.

Not only is it Colleen Johns' birthday, like you didn't know that, but it's America's birthday — Uncle Sam, the US-of-A, this place, 235 years old this year.

Can you believe it? It hardly looks a day over 200. We've done the 411 on the history of Independence Day before — Philadelphia, summer of '76, scary hot, muggy, miserable, even without the silly clothes and the powder wigs.


On July 2, the 55 men in Independence Hall vote for breaking away from the Brits, and on July 4, everyone puts their John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence, including John Hancock.

In a letter to his wife, Abigail, John Adams writes about the great day: "It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more."

We're on it, John. The guns and the bonfires, not so much, but the illuminations are still going strong.

Be honest. What is the first thing you think of when you hear "the Fourth of July?" Anyone?

Of course, fireworks — all that boom-shakka-lakka-lakka, boom-kaboom stuff. Yes, I know, some of you don't like fireworks, especially if you're a pooch, but get over it.

They've been part of every Fourth of July rager since Franklin and company staggered out of Independence Hall and said, "Booyah, we're done!" And they always will be.

If you're looking for someone to thank for fireworks, or not, all roads lead to China. The first references to fireworks go pop during the Han dynasty, about 200 B.C. Most who-started-it stories are fuzzy and hard to sort out. This one isn't.

The Chinese invented fireworks, perfected them and were making people go ooh, aah and wow hundreds of years before anyone else. One reference from 1264 A.D. says that a rocket-propelled "ground rat" firework scared the Empress Dowager Gong Sheng during a major rager being held in her honor. Oh, sure, blame it on the rat.

The Chinese first got into the boom biz to scare away evil spirits, especially one called Nian, who spent all his time eating crops and people. I think the eating people part is a much bigger issue, and if a rat with a sparkler strapped to his back does the trick, I say go with it, and I don't give a spring roll what the Empress Dowager thinks.

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