Make the Fourth of July Safe Again!

fireworks

Over at Smithsonian.Com, history student Michael Waters tells the story of early 20th-century reformers and activists who were concerned that Independence Day celebrations were too dangerous.  They championed a “Safe and Sane Fourth.”

Here is a taste of his Waters’s piece:

Charles Pennypacker, a lawyer and legislator from West Chester, Pennsylvania, was fed up with Fourth of July. The holiday, he insisted in 1903, was hopelessly out of control. Hundreds of people across the U.S. were dying from a mix of firework explosions and poorly shot toy guns, all in the name of celebrating their country’s founding.

“A spurious patriotism has brought a day of terror, misery, noise, destruction, and death,” Pennypacker lamented in a letter published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. He urged citizens to focus on a “quiet and sane observance of the Fourth” that prioritized family gatherings.

Instead of setting off fireworks, Pennypacker begged the people of West Chester to take a trolley ride, spend “a quiet day under the trees,” or at the very least bake “cake with deviled eggs” and “bread with lemon butter.” In a speech that the Louisville-based Courier-Journal reprinted under the headline “Avaunt! Toy Pistols; Enter Cake and Eggs,” Pennypacker lectured his fellow Americans: “Spend your money for sandwiches instead of squibs,” referring to the explosive devices. “The price of five skyrockets will buy a hammock, whose swing delights youth and old age in all lands,” he said.

Pennypacker’s crusade enraged locals. A year later, the Inquirer reported that his continued push for reform in West Chester “had been resented by the young men of the town.” Late the night of July 3, 1904, a “large number of young men” gathered outside Pennypacker’s house, clutching Roman candles and other combustibles. When midnight hit, “there was a sudden flash and roar that jarred all the houses in the neighborhood,” the paper said, and for at least 15 minutes the men set off explosives outside of Pennypacker’s window—all to punish the legislator for trying to reform the most patriotic holiday.

Read the rest here.

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