In cities and towns across Wyoming, people see July 4 as a time of fireworks and blowing things up. But one town tops all the rest in the state and perhaps the nation.
While watching televised images of the nighttime bombing of Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I turned to someone and said:
“I’ve seen that before.”
It looked just like a typical night of July 4 in my hometown of Lander.
The Independence Day holiday has always been a big deal for Lander since it is the home of the oldest paid rodeo on earth – predating Cheyenne’s by one year.
But in recent years, this holiday has become a pyrotechnic maniac’s dream.
In this town of 7,000 people, you can find at least 75 different locations where neighbors have banded together to light big displays of fireworks.
And this is in addition to the fire department’s official fireworks on the night of July 4. Plus Lander folks enjoyed the largest private fireworks show in Wyoming for almost 20 years put on by the family of the late orthodontist Dr. Brent Bills. Since Dr. Bills was killed in a plane crash two years ago, this year marks the first time the show will not be held.
But the other fireworks are still going off all over town.
Sharing the credit (or blame) for Lander’s pyrotechnic excesses is Mayor Mick Wolfe. A Lander native, he has always felt this was a “tradition” that he can remember during his entire life of growing up locally.
“We want people to be safe and to be responsible,” he says. “But people deserve to enjoy fireworks on the fourth. It has always been a tradition here, where Independence Day is our biggest holiday of the year. As long as I am mayor, we will try to make it as much fun as possible.”
There is another side to the story. Lander resident, Nancy Debevoise has this to say about all the racket: “From sun up until late at night on July 4, I feel as if I'm in some bomb-besieged third-world country.
“While some people are fairly responsible about fireworks, too many seem to spend the entire day and evening (and their paychecks) setting off round after round of peace-shattering noise, with no consideration for neighbors, others' property or passersby’s."
Each July 4, I flee Lander early. I find nothing interesting or funny about this mindless siege, and neither do my friends, who also get out of town,” she concludes.
It should pointed out that the Lander Pioneer Days holiday includes three days of rodeo, a wonderful parade on the morning of the fourth, a huge Buffalo Barbeque at City Park at noon on that day plus lots of other activities. Because the 4th is such a big deal in my town, just about all the high school reunions are held during that time, too. It is truly a homecoming for folks to remember.
In our case, my family always shoots off fireworks on the evening of the 4th, but not to the extent of our neighbors. One of our traditions is to use cigars to light them.
Some years ago I had been to Europe and managed to sneak home five Cuban cigars to smoke at some later time.
Imagine my surprise (and horror) to come home to where our fireworks display was already starting and seeing that my wife Nancy had passed out my Cubans to the folks there to use to light the fireworks instead of my traditional Swisher Sweets. Incredible!
Lucie Whisler recalled a fun-filled July 4 when her neighborhood at Lucky Lane in Lander, which consisted mostly of mountain climbers, lived there. “Some bright souls decided to put a big firecracker in a bowling ball. The ball went to pieces, flying over houses, cars and people. Fortunately, no one was hit or hurt, and nothing was damaged. Don't try this at home,” she cautions,
The folks in Indian Lookout neighborhood pool their resources and explode perhaps the serious “amateur” show. People are stationed with hoses to extinguish fires that may erupt in the neighboring nature preserve.
It is almost impossible to adequately describe what Lander on the night of July 4 looks like. You just have to experience it. The sight is incredible. Lander sits in a valley and a lot of folks live in the hills around town. They tell amazing stories of what it looks like, peering down at the siege.
Probably somewhat like Baghdad, huh?
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written four books. His most recent book is “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders” which is available at www.wyomingwonders.com.