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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Tuesday, March 28

Gapers Block

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Independence Day, the Fourth of July, carries our thoughts to family, fine food and, most importantly, fireworks. The fierce competition between villages for audience share has led to an expansion of the display period, from the traditional Fourth to the Third and even the Fifth in some locales. While this has been a boon to fireworks-goers, it has become a bane to some municipalities with limited resources, as they must no contend not only with the flash of the neighbortown's display but also firework fatigue from previous nights.

The Critic visited several shows over the holiday weekend and presents this review of the festivities.


Shermer fireworks

Fig1. HAL9000 gleams out of Shermer's fireworks display.

"2003, A Fireworks Odyssey" July 3, 9 p.m.
Shermer High School Football Field, Shermer

Befitting the fiscal budget of this North Shore hamlet, Shermer's incredible tribute to the classic Kubric film was a dazzling feat of pyrotechnics. The incorporation of live action, featuring Shermer High's state champion varsity wrestling squad as proto-humans in a Stone Age prelude, was inspired. At the throwing of a pig femur, the Shermer City Symphony reached the crescendo of "Thus Spake Zarathustra" and the towering black monolith burst open to reveal a spinning representation of the bone in sparklers; simultaneously, a purple and green Planetary Delight burst overhead, indicating the transition from Earth to Space.

Although a bit long at two hours -- with inexplicable delays between movements at points -- the presentation easily outdid last year's "Gladiator"-themed display. Especially impressive were the use of a searing red Corinthian Moon roman candle to represent HAL9000 and the truly magnificent "time warp" climax. Shermer will surely struggle to top themselves in 2004.


Deerwood Heights fireworks

Fig2. The red, white and blah in Deerwood Heights.

"Red White and Blue America" July 4, 9:30 p.m.
Ryan Park, Deerwood Heights

Apparently not yet tired of the hyperpatriotism of the past two years, the village of Deerwood Heights chose to field a display featuring red, white and blue fireworks and nothing else. The result was what you might expect: tedious use of Dragon Carnations and Uncle Sams, litanies of Blue Devils and Rose Petals, with the occasional Star Spangler thrown in to break the monotony. I imagine the city council was mightily displeased when right in the middle of the finale a spectacular Green Giant soared far above the rest of the 'works. It seemed to hang for minutes before finally fading, and remained the highlight of an otherwise lackluster presentation.


amateur fireworks

Fig3. The brilliant simplicity of a solitary burst.

Amateur Display July 4, 11:45 p.m.
Field near Rte. 42 and Adams, DuPage County

On the drive back from the disappointing Deerwood Heights show I encountered an unexpected sight: a glorious Three-Deluxe Fountain of Youth exploding directly over the road! This rare specimen was followed by a bright orange Winged Fury, and then one of those cool ones with the sparks that shoot off in all directions. I pulled over next to a field adjacent to an unincorporated subdivision and eventually found the men launching the 'works. "Jim" and his son "Tommy" were putting on the annual show for their neighbors, using pieces they picked up on a trip to a plant down in Kentucky.

The show was phenomenal. The father-and-son team made a profound statement about the purity and simplicity of the medium. Working with a basic dual launcher, the pair found the essence of the display, stripping it to its essentials, letting each firework stand on its own. Allowed its solitary moment to shine, each piece demonstrated its innate beauty, blossomed, then faded to ephemera. I wept openly at the finale, a successive launch of three pairs of Queen Bees followed by a two-phase Golden Rocket. Its shimmering embers warmed my heart as I made may way home through dozens of inferior displays and booming M-80s.


Rockville's fireworks

Fig4. Rockville's modest grand finale.

"Day After Independence Day Fireworks" July 5, 8:45 p.m.
Park District, Rockville

Among the towns forced to move their fireworks away from bigger events is tiny Rockville. Shows in neighboring Howton on the Third and La Plage on the Fourth have meant low turn-outs in recent years, so Rockville's park district decided to give the Fifth a try. The gamble appeared to pay off, as the baseball fields were quilted with the blankets and lawn chairs of young families enjoying the cool evening. The concession stand ran out of lemonade and hot dogs by 8:15 and had to send for reinforcements. Judging by Rockville's success, expect more Fifth of July fireworks in smaller communities next year.

The show itself was modest but well-done. Good pacing, a few surprises interspersed throughout, including a delightful Pink Faerie in the first movement and a riot of Cherry Blossom Rockets as a sort of mini-finale in the second. The finale itself was short but solid, culminating with a tasteful White Carnation-Blue Starburst-China Imperial medley that Deerwood Heights would do well to take note of. Musical accompaniment from local WREM-AM was a nice touch.


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