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Column: Fireworks blasts from the Fourth of July past

Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run "Isn't That Something" columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and...

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared July 2, 2011.

WORTHINGTON - For very many years, Oxford Street was Worthington’s north city limit. When you got to the north edge of Oxford Street, you were out of town.

At the intersection of Oxford and Humiston, where Furnish 1 2 3 is now, there would be on this day 48 hours ahead ofJuly 4 - oh, even a week ahead ofJuly 4 - a canvas-topped firecracker stand. Someone from out of town would come with boards and bolts and set up a stand like the stands found at a county fair. They laid out a stock of fireworks. It wasn’t long before every kid in town made a trek to Oxford-Humiston.

Not every kid would buy. Many kids didn’t have the money. Many kids were forbidden by Mom or Dad to purchase firecrackers. But everyone was there. With the crowd of kids, with the sun beating down on the colorful canvas and with the arrays of fireworks gleaming in bright yellow, bright red, bright blue, smooth paper packaging, this was the place to be.

You would find Daily Globe carriers there. Daily Globe carriers earned 2 cents a week for every customer on their routes and most carriers had 60, 75, even 100 customers. The Globe boys - they were nearly all boys - had money for Snickers bars and for firecrackers.

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Fireworks are exotic still, of course. The Oxford Street inventory was nearly all made in China. Black Cats was a popular label. These were about the only manufactured products from China anyone saw year by year. Other toys and trinkets, the prizes in Cracker Jack boxes, all were made in Japan.

There were many things on sale beside firecrackers. Sky rockets, cherry bombs, sparklers, Roman candles. Each was a wonder in its way, but the firecrackers were surely the bestseller. When the sun-spangled Fourth arrived, there would be bangs that never ceased, from near and far, across all the town, from the dawn’s early light to the twilight’s last gleaming.

The sounds and echoes ranged from BANG! to Pfffft. Pfffts were the red lady fingers, skinnier than a wood match. Lady fingers had no punch but you got - I don’t know - maybe 100 for a dime. They helped to stretch out the day and the excitement.

I came to have what once was called a “healthy respect” for firecrackers. We were visiting at the farm of an aunt and uncle one FourthofJuly. I never had powerful firecrackers. Mine were a couple of inches long and big around as a couple of match sticks.

I was out enjoying my day. I had (I believe) four firecrackers in my left hand. I pressed a firecracker in the frame of the old windmill and lit the wick. I didn’t notice I actually lit all the wicks.

Well - the explosions made me jump. There was a stinging sensation. I suppose no harm was done because I was holding the firecrackers loosely and because they were not powerful. I have been lucky very often, but I never was more lucky than on that afternoon.

Grandpa was sitting on a chair in the shade of the house watching. There was no mistaking what happened. He knew. But he never said a word. I suppose he guessed, “If the kid can’t learn from this, nothing I say will get the message through to him.”

I learned.

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Often (it seems) Magnolia’s Cedric Adams - Minnesota’s Cedric Adams, the Minneapolis newspaper columnist and radio newscaster - gets mention in these columns. It would be unfair to this day to recall fireworks in Minnesota and to not mention Cedric.

Not every kid had my good fortune. Every FourthofJuly season there were boys and girls who lost eyes in fireworks explosions, who damaged their hearing seriously, who incurred terrible burns. One way or another, fireworks could be blamed for kids losing their lives.

Cedric launched a campaign - there was no equal in America - to make fireworks sales in Minnesota illegal. Some said he was unpatriotic and some said he was “carried away” but he won. So it is that the sale of firecrackers and sky rockets and cherry bombs in Minnesota remains illegal. Cedric Adams changed Minnesota’s sometimes tragic July 4 celebrations.

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