Getting a Bang Out of the 4th of July Back in the Good Old Days

By On July 4, 2011

Independence Day is special to every American, but it’s really special when you are a kid.  Back when I was a kid, and the country was a lot younger too, the 4th of July meant just one thing — fireworks!

A couple of weeks before the 4th of July, the stands would magically spring up all over town.  Just a couple of blocks from our house were two stands in vacant lots at Hollywood Way and Chandler.  Today it’s the Sizzler and an Apartment building, but back in the 1950’s, it was the place to buy fireworks. “Safe and Sane” fireworks, no less.

Local service clubs would set up the stands as fundraisers.  There were Red Devil fireworks and Black Panther fireworks.  You could buy them individually, or in sets with a variety of neat things, from fountains to sparklers.  I remember “Piccolo Pete’s” that would spin off a shower of sparks and emit a loud whistle sound.  My favorites were the “snakes,” the little black pellets that magically grew into a black snake when lit.

Of course the “safe and sane” fireworks were anything but.  Newspapers and television would run the horror stories about kids getting burned by fireworks.  And then there were the houses catching on fire and brush fires started by fireworks.  The fire department would always warn kids and parents to be careful — and we always were.

My dad had a metal bucket filled with sand for the used fireworks, and the garden hose was nearby.   I never got burned, but I did burn a hole in the sleeve of my flannel shirt one year.  It was a long cylindrical firework with a wooden handle at the bottom. It shot out a fountain of colorful sparks.  If you held it overhead, it showered you with sparks. At least I pointed it away from me, but a spark still found my shirt.  That garden hose did come in handy.

We had no idea how really dangerous those little sparklers were. They reportedly burn at a temperature of 1800 to 3,000 degrees F. Aside from snakes, we thought the sparklers were the safe fireworks.  I do recall one 4th of the July spent at Avila Beach.  We lit the sparklers on the beach and I decided to stick mine in the sand.  Instead of going out, it melted the sand into little glass tunnels.  I amused myself making tunnels while the bigger kids tossed Cherry Bombs into the ocean, where they would explode, sending up water spouts.
Illegal fireworks such as firecrackers and bottle rockets were around back then — and illegal back then, too.  My cousins would go to Kansas every summer and bring back firecrackers. I liked the small “lady fingers” because they seemed less dangerous. We mostly used firecrackers to blow up red ant holes and destroy model cars. Using the firecrackers to send empty tin cans flying through the air seemed like great fun.

The fancy, professionally done fireworks shows we enjoy today in Burbank were not around back then. If you had the money, you could go see fireworks shows at the Rose Bowl on the 4th.  I’m still impressed by the nightly fireworks displays at Disneyland that make other displays pale in comparison.

For several years after the Burbank Towne Center opened, we would take the family and join our friends up at the top of the Sears parking structure. It offered a fantastic view of the not only Burbank’s fireworks, but every fireworks display across the San Fernando Valley.   Apparently the mall management doesn’t like folks using their parking structure to enjoy fireworks. For the past few years they have closed it off. Too bad, it was a great place for families to go and see the fireworks. In all the years we were there, no one ever caused any trouble. .
This year we will probably stay home, joining our neighbors as we try to find a spot on our block where the trees don’t block our view of the fireworks.  Too bad they don’t sell snakes anymore.