This past Fourth of July was the quietest in recent memory. By the morning of the Fifth of July, it was apparent to town elected officials and community leaders were sensing regret that a long tradition came to an end so unceremoniously.
To be fair, the Council had voted in 2018 to end public funding of fireworks for 2019 and future years. That decision went unnoticed or unappreciated or maybe the public felt that the vote to eliminate the funding from the town budget was hollow.
It wasn’t a hollow gesture. As The Chestertown Spy has noted in the past: Chestertown has a revenue problem. The Chestertown Fireworks tradition is another victim as the Council attempts to cut its way out of the problem. It was a sad moment when the Town of Chestertown Council voted to end public funding of this annual tradition, but the $7,500 that it costs to put on the show was needed someplace else in the municipality’s growing list of underfunded priorities.
The Chestertown Spy regrets this decision on several fronts. The first is the simple fact that every town should have fireworks on the 4th of July weekend, particularly those over 300 years old. Enough said.
The second is that fireworks are so much a part of Chestertown’s history. While the Kent Historical Society continues to research fireworks in Kent County, we already know it has been a vibrant culture in academic scholarship and manufacturing dominance of this uniquely American symbol of freedom and expression. It was also the incubator for international pyrotechnique safety improvements.
And, more recently, the upcoming dedication of Radiant Echo at Washington College in October, which could turn out to be one the Eastern Shore’s most extraordinary public art projects, is not only a 500,000 light sculpture to celebrate the chemical reactions as art but also a fitting tribute to one of fireworks greatest heroes, WC’s former president and chemistry chair, Joseph McLain.
Even now, WC’s John Conkling, one of fireworks legendary scholars in its technology, still calls Chestertown home.
This town needs to embrace this heritage, not cuts its budget. But that is all history now.
It is a tribute to Chestertown’s great tradition of local people and local institutions, who have answered the call to solve this current challenge. A group of fireworks advocates has come together in recent months to not only to promptly raise the funds for 2020 but also develop plans to seize on this unique heritage and celebrate it throughout the year.
The truth is that fireworks are more than the display of chemical combustion. The act of seeing and hearing fireworks has included writers and composers alike. From Handel’s Suite to Fireworks to author George Plimpton’s phenomenon treatment of its history, it has captured the imagination in almost every conceivable part of our culture.
In the months ahead, the Chestertown Fireworks Fund, made up of volunteers from Main Street Chestertown, Washington College, the Kent Historical Society, and yes, we are proud to say, the Chestertown Spy, will be working on long term plans to ensure that Chestertown design becomes the fireworks capital of the world. The Fund will be sending out more information in the next few weeks about how to donate and volunteer.
In the meantime, we do have the immediate challenge of ensuring our 2020 July 4th weekend is locked down and funded. The Spy will be donating advertising so that our readers can donate directly to its cost and we hope our fellow citizens will give generously.