Today, July 4th, is Independence Day here in the United States. On this day in 1776, the Second Continental Congress declared that the American colonies were no longer beholden to King George III of Britain. The handwritten declaration stated that the thirteen sovereign states were not longer under British rule and took the first step towards forming the United States of America. The document was conceived and written largely by Thomas Jefferson, who would be elected the third President of the United States. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, prominent leaders of the independence movement, made a few modifications. After several days of debate, it was ratified and signed by the fifty-six representatives of the thirteen original colonies. The handwritten, signed copy was sent to a nearby print shop in Philadelphia where two-hundred copies were made. Soon the text was printed in newspapers and read to crowds in city and towns in the new United States of America. Independence was greeted by most, not all, with great jubilation.
The Preamble of the Declaration outlines the philosophy that justified independence. It’s worth restating here:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
With this said, it’s no wonder that the federal holiday of July 4th is a special occasion to all Americans. Typical celebrations include parades, speeches, reenactments, picnics, and of course, copious amounts of fireworks.
I love fireworks! I will take a long detour out of my way to watch a fireworks show. After we moved to Madison in 1987, there was an excellent fireworks display in Elver Park near our house. As evening approached, we would walk to the park with the kids in tow. We and thousands of our neighbors would throw a blanket on the ground and wait for the show to begin at dusk. We were never disappointed. The half hour display filled the dark sky with bright colors, wonderful shapes, and loud bangs. The finale was “Wow!” So awesome.
One year around July 4th, I was reading the Wisconsin State Journal and saw an article by the paper’s chief photographer on how to take photos of fireworks. At the time, I was a moderately proficient amateur photographer. I read and reread the article several times to understand the techniques necessary for a decent photo of fireworks. That evening, I lugged my 35mm film camera loaded with a roll of 36-exposure color film and an old tripod to Elver Park. As the fireworks progressed, I depressed the shutter, counting out- one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three, and so on. Sometimes for up to fifteen seconds. I was please with the results, I ended up with three or four adequate photos out of thirty six, not a bad ratio. There’s a lot of trial and error in taking long exposure photos.
The next year, I taught The Eldest the technique and a few years later, I taught The Youngest. This was part of their 4-H photography project so some of their fireworks photos ended up at the Dane County Fair. In 2005, I purchased my first digital camera. When fireworks time came around, now I could make many more photos, I was only limited by the size of the media card. Below is a photo from my first try with the digital camera. Not the best fireworks photo I’ve taken but I did get better.
The above photo was taken at Rhythm and Booms, an annual fireworks show set to music that took place in Madison’s Warner Park. It began in 1993 and ended in 2013 after the City of Madison withdrew it’s support. A dumb move in my opinion. It grew into the largest fireworks display in the Midwest with an estimated 250,000 watching the show from all over the city include boats on Lake Mendota.
On the day of the event, we would leave the house in the early- to mid-afternoon to ensure that we got a good seat. I liked being as close to the action as I could get. There were some years that we were showered with fireworks debris that fell from the sky. Every time we attended, I set up my camera and tripod to capture some of the action. For me it was part of the fun.
For those of us in Warner Park, there were lots of other things to see and do in addition to the fireworks. There were amusement rides, fun runs, food vendors and a beer garden. Can’t have an event in Wisconsin without beer!
Some years, the Wisconsin National Guard used helicopters to bring in a jeep and artillery piece used to signal the beginning of the show. In addition, the Howitzer was fired during the 1812 Overture when the cannons boomed.
Just before the show began, a squadron of F-16’s from the Wisconsin Air National Guard did a flyover, turning on their afterburners ask they crossed over Warner Park. This act always started a wave of American flags in a show of patriotism for our country.
Now let’s get to the fireworks. Sit back and relax as you scroll through the next several photos. To add to the experience, play your favorite fireworks soundtrack, a mix of rock and roll, gospel, and classical. Always end with Tchailovsky’s 1812, especially when the sixteen cannons blend into the finale.
To all my American followers, have a very happy and joyous Independence Day!
Until next week, happy travels!