Monday, July 4, 2016

Amish Country Fireworks, Arthur Illinois

Putting the pyro in pyrotechnics.

From the Chicago Tribune:
If you have a good spot, you don't just witness the town of Arthur's fiery Fourth of July display.
You also feel its heat on your skin.

That's what people in the town of 2,300 south of Champaign say about their traditional celebration, which features fireworks, yes, but also plumes of fire, reaching hundreds of feet into the air.

The blazing display draws upward of 40,000 out-of-towners who choke the surrounding central Illinois country roads with bumper-to-bumper traffic by midafternoon. Many members of the nearby Old Order Amish population — about 4,500 strong — sit atop the roofs of their sheds, barns and houses to watch the fireworks and flames.

"They're indescribable," said Christy Miller, the town's tourism director. "It'll put you to tears."

From start to finish, Arthur's Independence Day show lasts 24 1/2 minutes and features everything from the fireballs to classic fireworks and a horseman dressed in 19th-century riding clothes who gallops through a Niagara Falls of bright white sparks, U.S. flag in hand.

Larry Schlabach, a former member of the Amish community turned pyrotechnic, spends all year preparing for it.

In the minutes leading up to the portion of the show when he launches a carefully choreographed spectacle of fireballs, Schlabach said he thinks about the crowds spanning up to 10 miles in each direction who for months eagerly await his show.

"When you have a stage like that, it really motivates you," Schlabach said. "I only have a three-minute window every year … I like to take advantage of it."

An ex-Amish pyrotechnic
A homemade cannon with bowling balls as ammunition gave Schlabach, his brothers and his cousins — all of whom were raised Amish — their start in pyrotechnics.
Larry Schlabach and Merle Miller
Larry Schlabach, left, talks to Merle Miller, neighborhood handyman, after applying a few decals on a fireball cannon named Vesuvius. (Brandon Chew / Chicago Tribune)
When they learned how to ignite a fireball in a bucket using black powder and coffee creamer, the Schlabach boys filled a minivan full of the stuff, effectively cleaning out Sam's Club. From there they graduated to buckets, then 50-gallon tubs and eventually propane tanks that spouted fireballs 200 feet.

"When you do it," Schlabach said, "you know you shouldn't be."

In 2003, Schlabach inaugurated Arthur's Fourth of July pyrotechnics segment by lining up and lighting a 500-foot row of simultaneous fireballs. Some residents remained convinced the fiery exhibit was a horrible accident until it happened again the next year — and every year since....MORE
Do click through for the video, these people are nuts.

Here's some amateur video of the whole show, filmed July 2: