How Alaskans Celebrate July 4

Scott Hamman puts on a show every Fourth of July around the Kenai's Cook Inlet. (SCOTT HAMMAN)
Scott Hamman puts on a show every Fourth of July around the Kenai’s Cook Inlet. (SCOTT HAMMAN)


Happy Independence Day, everyone! As we celebrate our nation’s birthday for the 239th time today, be safe with your fireworks, don’t drink and drive and take some time to embrace the struggles of the Founding Fathers to forge a nation out of a ragtag bunch of once British colonists fighting a world power across the Atlantic.

Our Steve Meyer filed this report that’s appearing in the July issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

By Steve Meyer

There are simply not many things that cannot be accomplished when one has an adequate amount of explosives. At least that was what we all thought when in days past, there was always a case of dynamite and several hundred feet of det cord stashed in the shed.

Yep, it hasn’t been all that long ago when you could get those things pretty much when you wanted. And it hasn’t been that long since a get together on the Fourth of July would include them.

Reminiscing from past Fourth of July holidays, blowing stuff up on a small scale was what it was all about. Oh sure, where it actually got dark the fireworks were okay and running around the yard in the dark with a sparkler lit up was sort of fun. It was a lot more fun when you had a compadre willing to sword fight with them.

But mostly it was the firecrackers. Perhaps that should be qualified with “for young boys” it was the firecrackers. With firecrackers there were innumerable things that could be blown up such as ant hills, dirt clods, pop bottles; basically if it looked disposable or otherwise something that wouldn’t draw the ire of parents, it got blown up. A rite of passage was having a firecracker go off in your hand. The little ones, called “Lady Fingers” if memory serves correctly, were fairly anemic and you could get use to and even enjoy them going off in your hand. Granted, they hurt, but there is that pain/pleasure thing.

The bigger ones, “Black Cats” is what I remember, that were about an inch-and-a-half long weren’t so much fun. All sorts of bad stuff could happen with one of those detonating in your closed hand. The fun part with those was grouping them together and trying to get them to go off simultaneously and blow up something really big, like falling a small tree or if you were lucky the swollen stomach of a long dead animal.

The fallout from those episodes didn’t make you popular with your mom, but dad usually thought it was pretty funny – no doubt from previous experience as a youngster.


Christine Cunningham prepares to fire a cannonball into Cook Inlet on the Fourth of July. (STEVE MEYER)
Christine Cunningham prepares to fire a cannonball into Cook Inlet on the Fourth of July. (STEVE MEYER)

Of course, as time has passed and folks seem to have less responsibility, a fair amount of disasters with fireworks occurred. Given that largely it seems we have become a nation that is willing to trade freedom for “safety and security,” the Fourth of July doesn’t seem to garner the celebration of why our country even exists anymore. Many places and more specifically, many places in Alaska, fireworks are prohibited.

Alaska being one of the last strongholds of personal freedom has a more specific reason for prohibiting fireworks than just wanting to take away the fun. Forest fires. With many forested areas of the state inundated with beetle-killed spruce trees the potential for easy ignition of wildfires is a clear and present danger. While there are still some places where fireworks can be used in Alaska, it seems folks here have taken a greater responsibility and generally are pretty careful with their use.

For Alaskans, fireworks are largely now a winter function when fire danger is minimal and it actually is dark enough to see them. Municipal entities around the state put on fireworks displays around Christmas and New Year’s Eve and some, Seward being one example, does have a Fourth of July fireworks display late in the day after the Mount Marathon run. The display is set off over Resurrection Bay, where there is no fire danger.

Alaskans being generally rather patriotic and a bit different breed than most can be rather inventive in ways to celebrate in the absence of fireworks. The proliferation of legal owned automatic weapons is never more evident than the evening of the Fourth. The staccato bursts of M16s, AK-47s, Uzis, Browning automatic rifles, Thompsons and even the occasional M2 Browning .50-caliber machine gun can be heard across the landscape. For those bent that direction the sound of automatic weapons is inspirational and pulse throbbing. And for some, that just doesn’t quite do it.

Fireworks are easier to watch in Alaska in the darker days around Christmas and New Year's Eve. (STEVE MEYER)
Fireworks are easier to watch in Alaska in the darker days around Christmas and New Year’s Eve. (STEVE MEYER)

In the American tradition of “bigger is better;” what could one do that is legal and yet better to celebrate our country’s founding?  For our friend Scott Hamann, a larger than life supporter of American freedoms, not the least being the Second Amendment, who’s work and generosity in the field are legendary, it was easy; artillery!  The ownership of modern artillery is somewhat problematic, the shooting of same even more so but black powder artillery is legal and so Scott obtained a replica Civil War cannon and parked it in his front yard, which overlooks Cook Inlet, the perfect place to lob artillery shells without endangering anyone.

Each firing of the canon requires a pound of black powder and a projectile that Scott makes himself, weighing three pounds. Observing the process is a step back in time and appears pretty much exactly like the old photos from Civil War encounters. The dumping of the powder in the bore, tamping it down, seating the ball with the ramrod and capping the firing mechanism are absolutely authentic and in itself a commemoration of our country’s storied history. In the wake of the smoke from the shot and the whistle of the canon ball over the water the carnage of distant battlefields are felt to the core of the soul.

A magnificent tribute to the men and women who have fought and won the freedoms we enjoy. It seems our freedoms are dwindling away but they don’t have to. It all comes down to “want to” and folks like Scott are an inspiration to where we come from and why we must preserve our way of life at any cost.

Happy Birthday to America.