Behind the sparkle, pyro-techs work
WATKINS GLEN--Celebrating America's birthday requires a particularly explosive expertise. Every year people in and around Watkins Glen expect--and get --fireworks. Some park early in nearby parking lots, bringing lawn chairs and picnics. There are people watching from Lakeside (Clute) Park, the Harbor Hotel, the Seneca Lake pier, boats, the highways and the hills surrounding Watkins Glen. It's a spectacular show sponsored by the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce and draws thousands of spectators every year. This year the fireworks are scheduled for about 9:45 on Friday, July 6.
Brittany Gibson, tourism and marketing manager for the Chamber, says the fireworks will cap a gala "Friday on Franklin" where businesses will host tastings of wine, craft beverages, cheese and locally roasted coffee. Participants will begin at the Chamber at 214 North Franklin Street, starting at 5 pm, where they'll get a map and a tasting glass, inviting browsing, tasting and shopping. Friday on Franklin festivities are due to end at 8 p.m.
Meanwhile, Robert Hollenbeck, who works for Rochester-based Young Explosives, will be finishing the long process of setting up fireworks in a cordoned-off area of Clute Park with a crew of trained helpers. This is the eighth year he has planned the fireworks show, and it's one he tries to improve each year. Many years ago, Hollenbeck explained, the fireworks were set off from the breakwater, but these days, they're set up on shore. Even though fireworks no longer are ferried into the lake, setting them up takes Hollenbeck and his crew about five hours, so he starts early. But, he adds, you can't just get them ready and leave for dinner. He stays with the show until it's over.
He begins planning for the next year as soon as the current fireworks display is complete, using notes and feedback from the just-finished display. A fireworks enthusiast, he says he crafts shows year round. When he's not involved with the logistics of and fireworks, he often watches other people do it. "I go to demos, I belong to clubs. We get together and talk about new effects and equipment," he says. For instance, these days he sets off his displays electronically.
"Did you know," he asks, "all fireworks are built by human beings? No machine can build fireworks, they all have to be hand-crafted." And while most of the fireworks used in America are made in China, Young Explosives also packs a few signature fireworks in New York.
Crafting the sequence of fireworks, colors and effects is in some respects akin to conducting an orchestra. There has to be variety, says Jim Young, the second generation owner of the company founded in 1949, who notes the third generation is also on-board. He recalls a wedding where the bride originally suggested all the fireworks should be white or gold to go with her color theme--until he persuaded her to spice things up for a more interesting display.
The fireworks used in the Independence Day celebration will include shapes characterized as peony, chrysanthemum, diadem and willow, among others. There are ones that bang, and large Roman candles to emit a bouquet of sparks across the sky. The ones that bloom high in the sky may offer secondary and tertiary bursts of different colors. Some burn close to the ground, but the lion's share burst high enough to be seen from fairly far away.
"The great thing is that people can see them from all over around Watkins Glen," Gibson says.
Fireworks celebrating July Fourth have a unique feature --many of them will be red white and blue, says Hollenbeck. "This is definitely one of the more elaborate shows," he says, adding that he's always a bit nervous, hoping it will all go well.
"It's a bit of a challenge to make sure it's a really good show," he says. "At the end of the night, you can have a great show but then when they walk away, what they'll remember is the finale."
And he's planned a grand one. "There are over 700 shells in the finale and that's quite a few," he says, explaining that they will mostly be red, white and blue. He says, "I love it, it's a passion of mine and I hope it's reflected in the show."