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‘Dying art’ of fireworks thrives in Peabody

Staff writer

Preparations for Peabody’s July 4 fireworks show, and especially its increasingly rare ground displays, have been going on for weeks.

Altogether, 4,000 aerial shells are used in the show.

Eight volunteers are spending 20 hours each creating ground displays from grids, adding shells to the frames to create moving displays.

Arlen Gfeller, Vonnie Gfeller, JoLonna Barnes, show coordinator Brian McDowell, and Preston Hodges dipped the ends of lance fireworks into glue and affixed them to nails set into the grids as work continued Monday.

The work is different than it used to be, McDowell said.

“It used to take a lot more time,” he said.

In the past, lances had to be attached with double-headed nails placed into the frame. Lances then were placed on the other end of the nail.

After the lances were affixed to the grids Monday, Gfeller ran a continuous fuse along the top of each lance to fire them during the show.

Medium fuse is used for smaller displays and fast fuse is used for bigger displays.

“We do the work in the park and store them in the historic roundhouse building,” McDowell said. “Most of us have been doing it for a long time, and we’d like to have some younger people move up and learn to do it.”

McDowell’s wife, Lisa Holm-McDowell, draws up the design for each grid used in the show.

Some displays are perennial favorites. Among them are cannons, a windmill, an eagle, a “Welcome to Peabody” display, a Statue of Liberty, WSU, K-State, and KU displays, along with Peabody Warrior and Kansas City Chiefs pieces.

Some displays are new each year. This year’s lineup of new displays includes a hand of playing cards, a Bob Phillips tribute, Batman, and a stairway to heaven. Another display for this year is a one-time-only surprise for a special guest.

Ground displays have become rare.

“A fireworks company we were buying from asked where we do our fireworks,” McDowell said. “He walked in and looked around with his mouth open and said, ‘This is a dying art. Nobody does this anymore.’”

Although 2017 will be the 96th year of Peabody’s July 4 fireworks show, the “Battle of New Orleans” finale of ground displays set to music was first created in 1971 by Quintis “Jack” Whisler.

McDowell moved to Peabody on July 3, 1993.

“The second night I went to the park and I thought, I want to be a part of this,” McDowell said.

Volunteers keep the cost of the show as low as possible by providing needed work.

This year, an enhanced sound system and instant-on lighting system will be used, McDowell said.

Peabody’s fireworks attract visitors from all over.

“One girl comes from Ireland from time to time,” McDowell said. “Preston Hodges’ brother, Casey, drives back from Phoenix, Arizona to help.”

Activities throughout the day before the nighttime show will include:

  • 8 a.m.: Sand volleyball and horseshoe tournaments at city park, and downtown flea market.
  • 9 a.m.: Car show at city park.
  • 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Book sale at library.
  • 11 a.m.: Dog show at Santa Fe Park, free swim at Peabody City Pool.
  • All day: Food vendors at city park.
  • 5 p.m.: Parade on Walnut St.
  • Evening: Carnival in the park.
  • Dusk: Fireworks display.

Admission buttons are sold for $3.

Buttons are available at Peabody city office, Vintage Bank, Manestreet Beautique, Flint Hills Gypsies, Peabody Hardware, CK Pharmacy, Sausage House, Scissor Cottage, Coneburg Inn, Pops Diner, and Peabody Market.

Buttons also will be sold at these locations:

  • In Burns: Burns Bank, Burns Hardware, and Rhea’s Pizzeria.
  • In Florence: Town & Country Cafe, Cottonwood Bank, and City Hall.
  • In Marion: Carlsons’ Grocery and the city office .
  • In Hillsboro: The Lumberyard.
  • In Goessel: the city office.
  • In Walton: Hilltop Convenience.

Children 3 and younger are admitted free.

Last modified June 29, 2017

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