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We could be in trouble

Elsewhere in this edition of the Peabody Gazette-Bulletin is an announcement that the Peabody Fourth Fest Celebration Society is having a work session at 1 p.m. Saturday at the roundhouse in city park. Can you guess what they might be planning?

Oh, you are so smart! You knew the answer to that, didn’t you? Yup, they are planning the fireworks for the 88th annual Peabody Fourth of July Fireworks Extravaganza coming up in about a month.

They do this every year about this time. They create designs for set pieces, order explosives to make them do what the crowd expects, buy mortars and materials for aerial displays, and give our community just one more year as the premier fireworks show in the state. Nice of them to do that, huh? They are good people!

Many years ago, Peabody was the only community that hosted such an event. This was a celebration like no other anywhere. We had the key to the kingdom where Independence Day celebrations were concerned. Reports of crowd numbers during those years noted throngs of 10,000 or more. It took hours for the people to get out of town after the show … hours. Imagine that!

Over time, fireworks became a more common commodity. They were less dangerous than they had been in the early years and other communities, large and small, developed their own displays. Peabody was no longer unique except for the number of ground displays. KANSAS! magazine once called the process our volunteers go through to build the set pieces and plan the aerial displays, “folk art.” That means no one else does what we do and it is a dying art. Other communities hire pyrotechnic experts to fire aerials and ground displays that are created by professional groups. Rarely does a community do what Peabody does — purchase raw material and develop and build displays to fit the community, the times, or the sentiments of the year.

This year we are at a turning point. Brian McDowell has headed the Fourth Fest Celebration Society and has seen to the fireworks display for more than a decade. About a year ago, his employer transferred him to McPherson and he moved his family there. Uh-oh … now what do we do?

Luckily, Brian, his family, and friends have chosen to stay with the July Fourth program through this year. They will give lessons, instructions, and share a wealth of knowledge about pulling off a major Independence Day celebration to anyone interested in learning how to build and host the fabulous Peabody Fourth of July Celebration. This is the 88th year — not too far from the 90th or 100th year. What do you think a clever, creative, and talented soul might do with 100 years of pyrotechnic history? I can only imagine! You could be the hero.

So here’s the deal: you go to the session at the roundhouse around 1 p.m. Saturday. You check out what is involved (they say it isn’t labor intensive and it isn’t rocket science, so try it!) and then put your name on a list for the committee to keep Peabody in the running for spectacular July Fourth celebrations. I know you can do it.

I have to say something to those of you in the 20-30-40-year-old age brackets — what in the world are you waiting for. What is it that you want for yourselves and your children? Why do you live here? It is not easy to be a resident of Peabody and work somewhere else, so there must be something that makes you want to stay. If you want to preserve this lifestyle, if you want your children to be the kids you were in this town several decades ago, then you need to help keep Peabody a viable community.

It’s time to step up to the plate. It’s time to take on some of these celebrations, events, and committees, not just kick back and wait for someone else to do it while you watch. The Fourth Fest group had a couple of meetings already to plan this year’s celebration. Five people showed up at the first and one person showed up at the second.

Shame on us. It’s time to get on board before it is too late. By next June, we won’t have a chance to salvage the celebration. We need to do it now. Please help!

— Susan Marshall

Last modified June 4, 2009

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