Sunday, June 25, 2017

The big bang theory


History comes in many forms and this tent, erected late last week in the Hy-Vee parking lot along West Court Avenue in Chariton, certainly is one. For the first time in exactly 80 years, Iowans this year can legally purchase and explode fireworks in their back yards and elsewhere on private property to annoy neighbors, cats and dogs and most likely a combat veteran or two who suffers from PTSD and finds big bangs less than inspiring.

Those of us who live in the south of Iowa, where it's always been a quick trip to vendor stands just across the border in Missouri, probably won't notice much difference --- unless we're among those who enjoy blowing things up; for you guys, providing you're at least 18, added convenience.


The office of the State Fire Marshal maintains a running list of all licensed to sell during the two seasons approved this year by the Iowa Legislature --- June 1-July 8 and Dec. 10-Jan. 3. This TNT tent is one of 57 temporary sites across the state for the Florence, Alabama, firm that advertises itself as the world's biggest distributor of recreational explosives. ShopKo has a license, too, but I suspect the product line there is limited to the display of TNT sparklers I noticed whilst on an exploratory expedition Saturday afternoon.

The only worrying thing about the Hy-Vee tent was a gas can next to the generator that seemed to be powering the operation. Hopefully, those in charge moved it to some place more secure overnight. And I got to wondering, too, if someone has to sleep in that big tent to prevent night-time mischief.


I'm also fascinated by the idea of a military discount and thought momentarily --- since I always carry dog tags on my key chain --- of inquiring if that applied to veterans, too. But it just didn't seem worthwhile to ask. It's now legal to set off your own on private property (not public venues!) between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. through July 8. So I'm sure we'll all have plenty of opportunities to participate vicariously in the explosive adventures of others.

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The Iowa Legislature outlawed fireworks sales during 1937, effective in 1938, in large part because of two major disasters in the state during preceding years.

On June 27, 1931, a boy dropped a sparkler into a retail fireworks display at Spencer, setting off a fire that destroyed 25 businesses and damaged 50 others in a two-and-a-half-block area.

On July 4, 1936, a girl dropped a sparkler onto a pile of gasoline-soaked rags and started a conflagration that destroyed 18 business buildings and 15 homes in Remsen.

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Kindly remember that fireworks are dangerous. In Lucas County, this also is the 50th anniversary of a dramatic accident on June 26, 1967, that sent five young men to hospitals.

The five were driving along U.S. 34 east of town, reportedly lighting firecrackers and throwing them out car windows, when a box of explosives on the front seat caught fire and exploded. These most likely had been purchased in Missouri.

All five survived, but one of the young men lost an eye.

As a community, Chariton will be celebrating this year on Monday and Tuesday, July 3-4. The big parade is scheduled for 1 p.m. on the 4th and the grand fireworks display --- for those of us who prefer not to smoke our own and of course for everyone else --- at 10 p.m. at Northwest Park.

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