The Fourth of July just wouldn’t be the same without fireworks, and there was no shortage of them on Long Island in the 1970s. For most families, the holidays were spent somewhere watching a safe, professional display. Others took more of the “do-it-yourself”, backyard approach. Whichever way your family preferred, those illuminated skies of our childhood are impossible to forget.
Fireworks, which were invented by the Chinese in the 7th Century, have always played a role in American celebrations. The colonists set them off on the very first Independence Day in 1777, and we’ve continued the tradition every year since. Of course, we don’t only use them for that particular holiday; they are a regular event at amusement parks, sporting events, New Year’s, etc., but we are most fond of them on July 4th.
In 1976, of course, we witnessed the mother of all Fourth of July celebrations, the Bicentennial. You might recall that New York Harbor was the scene of a massive gathering, and, at the time at least, one of the biggest fireworks displays ever.
In the 70s, every major park on Long Island held fireworks displays each year, as did towns, beaches, and the outdoor fields of local schools. These offered a safe way to enjoy the pyrotechnics, but not without some hassle due to traffic and parking.
Others preferred to stay home and celebrate with family and friends. Block parties could be found scattered all over the island, in every neighborhood. You could hear radios turned up everywhere and smell the aroma of grilling burgers and hot dogs everywhere you turned, usually with a garbage can filled with ice and C&C Cola nearby.
Typical to these gatherings, someone who have an uncle, cousin, neighbor, whatever, who could be counted on to whip out a paper bag filled with “the good stuff”. These were the types of fireworks that one usually had to travel to the southern states to acquire. This person was loathed by many in the neighborhood, but beloved by every kid who got to light something off.
I can’t speak for all neighborhoods on Long Island, but in mine, every kid had plenty of experience with these illicit fireworks. We’re not talking sparklers, but more like this:
The laundry list of available fireworks in the 70s was an extensive one, ranging from those innocent sparklers (that you could buy in any store) to downright explosives. Some of the more popular items among my friends and I were firecrackers, bottle rockets, smoke bombs, ground flowers, roman candles and, of course, the infamous M-80.
With an M-80, there were no vibrant colors, nor did they leave the ground or spin. They just made an ear-shattering explosion, one capable of doing some serious damage. These weren’t fireworks in the traditional sense and, looking back, we had no business whatsoever playing with them, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t. Different times, indeed.
Truth be told, all of these fireworks were dangerous. Fires were started each year, fingers were lost, people were burned. But millions were also shot off without incident, and brought joy to many a gathering in the 70s. As such, I present them here for their nostalgic memories – neither condemning, nor condoning their use. Kids, don’t try this at home.
So, did you tend to go to professional displays as a kid, and if so, where did you family go? Or, did your family have the crazy uncle that always showed up with an arsenal? I’d love to hear all of your fireworks memories in our comments section below.