Philadelphians are taking out the noise-canceling headphones and preparing for what is sure to be a highly explosive Independence Day after a year when fireworks came to feel like anything but celebratory.
Philadelphia’s relationship with fireworks goes all the way back to July 2, 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was adopted in the city. In a letter to his wife, John Adams wrote that the day ought to be “solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
Just as the date we remember as Independence Day would change, our relationship with Adams’ “illuminations” has evolved.
When Ava Schwemler of Fairmount hears fireworks, she thinks back to the protest last year following the murder of George Floyd, when people were exploding ATMs, helicopters were flying overhead, and the National Guard was patrolling Center City. At night, around 8 p.m., she would hear the snap of fireworks rocketing into the sky above.
“It was like psychological warfare,” she said.
Loud noises had never frightened Schwemler before. She began to think about people with disabilities.
“I started to think about how it affected people with sensory disabilities or people with autism. I read about how it affected people with PTSD and people’s dogs would go crazy,” Schwemler said.
It’s not only dogs.
Marie Elcin, an Old Richmond resident, has seen her cat affected by the explosions.
“You can see fear in his body as he sneaks off and hides under a chair,” Elcin said. “It’s that visual of him slanking and tightening his body that makes me think about how this is happening to all of us. Whenever we hear that sound, the boom, it sends everyone into a fight-or-flight mode.”
The cat owner can tell the difference between fireworks and gunshots, but she said the loud noise still makes her tense up.
Not everyone finds fireworks stressful, though. Trisha Crowe, a former Philadelphia resident, is looking forward to the weekend’s pyrotechnics.
“Love, love, love fireworks! Some of my best memories are at fireworks,” Crowe said.
In Harrisburg, the State Senate is also divided on the issue. In 2017, the legislature passed Act 43, which legalized the sale of Class C fireworks, such as roman candles and bottle rockets, to residents. Ever since then, opponents have wanted to repeal the bill, citing the noise and quality-of-life issues, as well as safety hazards and pollution caused by the chemical explosions.
According to a report by City and State, two newly introduced bills revive the call for a repeal, but they are unlikely to get the votes they need to pass.
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