After 45-year Absence, Independence Day Fireworks Return To Veterans Field

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Independence Day

First Night fireworks at Veterans Field. An Independence Day fireworks display will return to the field this summer after a 45-year absence. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – For the first time in 45 years, the town will usher in Independence Day with a fireworks display at Veterans Field.

The display, scheduled for Thursday, July 2, is a cooperative venture between the Chatham Athletics Association, Chatham Bars Inn, the chamber of commerce, Chatham Cookware and the town. It's a “community effort to do something special for the biggest weekend of the year,” said CBI General Manager Gary Thulander.

“We're excited about it,” added Athletics board president Steve West. “It's good for the town. We've got the best parade on July Fourth, we've got the best fireworks on First Night, but we don't have fireworks in the summer.”

Early-evening fireworks have been held at Veterans Field on First Night for the past seven years, but the decades-long July 4 display at the field ended in 1975 due to safety concerns.

But that's no longer a concern. There have been no problem with the First Night displays, said Fire Chief Peter Connick. Fencing around the field, which may not have existed before 1975, complies with state safety regulations, and the state fire marshal has inspected the site. In fact, the fire marshal enforcement officer made a surprise inspection prior to last year's First Night fireworks at the field and found everything in order, the chief said.

“He stayed for the show,” said Connick. The size of the fireworks that can be used at the field is limited, however. “They can do smaller shells, but a bigger shell requires more space,” he said. Fireworks technology has also improved, and the technicians controlling the display have the ability to stop it at any time if there is an issue, he added.

The Chatham Athletics Association, sponsors of the Chatham Anglers Cape Cod Baseball League team, has had a long relationship with Chatham Bars Inn, West said. When Thulander came to the inn last year, they talked about other ways the inn and the association could collaborate.

“I love fireworks,” Thulander said, and when he learned that Chatham did not have its own Fourth of July display—the Wequassett Inn-sponsored fireworks over Pleasant Bay and the Rock Harbor display in Orleans are the closest—he offered the inn's sponsorship. Fireworks had been shot off at Veterans Field in 2012 after the Cape League All Star game, West recalled, and he was involved in bringing the early fireworks display to First Night that same year. The field seemed a better spot than along Chatham Harbor, another idea that was considered, since it is centrally located, has plenty of parking and is already approved by the fire marshal.

West and Thulander brought the idea to Town Manager Jill Goldsmith, and while they still need to get the OK from the park commission, which will discuss the idea on Dec. 10, and the board of selectmen, the town is behind the event. But Chief of Police Mark Pawlina advised that July 4 might not be the best day for the fireworks.

“Having the fireworks on the same night as the parade, plus the Wequassett fireworks at Pleasant Bay, we would be stretched extremely thin,” said Pawlina. Friday night also doesn't work; that's the first Chatham Band concert of the summer, and officers on the midnight shift will be busy setting up for the parade. West said given those complications, it made sense to start off the holiday weekend with the fireworks display on Thursday night.

“So we're going first, is the bottom line,” he said.

Thulander brought the idea to the chamber of commerce board, of which he is vice president. The board voted to provide $2,500 toward the fireworks, which will cost about $10,000; CBI is kicking in $5,000, with Chatham Cookware contributing $1,000. The Chatham Athletic Association will make up the difference.

Fourth of July fireworks displays were held at Veterans Field from the 1950s through 1975. According to an April 24, 1975 story in The Chronicle, Fire Chief Robert Greenough had several concerns in making the decision to end the display. Veterans Field did not meet fireworks safety standards at the time, and so many people crowded into the area—10,000 to 20,000, according to the story—that it was impossible for the police and fire departments, headquartered up the hill from the field, to respond to emergencies elsewhere in town. While there had been no serious injuries or fires attributed to the fireworks, on the previous July 4, a child suffered a burn, an unexploded firework fell on a pregnant woman and a small fire was ignited on the roof of the railroad museum, according to the article.

“For 15 minutes of entertainment, the risk is too high,” Greenough said.

Fireworks did not return to Chatham until First Night began midnight displays over Oyster Pond in 1991. The early evening fireworks display at Veterans Field was added in 2012.

The July 2 display will be similar to the First Night fireworks and will be put on by the same company, Northstar Fireworks of Montpelier, Vt., said West. The show, he added, will have a few “nuances and twists to it,” and may be a little longer and louder than the First Night display. “But essentially it will be the same footprint as the First Night fireworks,” he said. The Anglers will be playing an away game at Brewster that day, so the players will be able to attend the fireworks, expected to start after sunset, around 9 p.m. West added that the concession stand will be open for the event, and there may be some pre-fireworks entertainment.

“That's in the works,” he said.

Businesses or individuals wishing to contribute to the event can contact West at steve.e.west@me.com.

Email Tim Wood at twood@capecodchronicle.com