JOLIET – Look up in the sky Friday night at Joliet Memorial Stadium and you’re likely to see magic balls, green hour glasses, and purple and gold jellyfish.
The psychedelic assault – complete with booms, crackles and plenty of oohs and aahs – signals the annual Fourth of July fireworks display in the city.
“This thing has sustained itself for the last 68 years, and it’s the last free thing in the world,” said Mary Jaworski, executive vice president of the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry. “We don’t charge for entry, and we don’t charge for parking.”
The show, which is funded by the Joliet business community and local residents, costs about $30,000 to produce each year, Jaworski said.
Five years ago, at the height of the recession, the show almost was canceled because of lack of funding. The Joliet July 4th Celebration Committee met to look for alternatives to fireworks.
The committee included local businessmen Terry D’Arcy and Steve Randich, the Chamber’s Jaworski and chief executive Russ Slinkard, WJOL-AM’s Scott Slocum and Dominic Egizio, executive director of the Joliet Park District.
“It was like two days later, after we tried to put something else together, that we asked ourselves ‘What did we just do?’ ” Jaworski said. “This doesn’t feel right, this is a tradition we need to keep. We immediately put our minds to it to keep it alive.”
“Terry stepped up and said we’re going to raise the money and do this,” Egizio recalled.
D’Arcy said the group decided that Joliet had been “doing fireworks way too long to let this get in the way.”
“We basically went door to door in the community and among businesses to raise funds,” D’Arcy said. “That’s the neat thing about the town of Joliet – when you put out a call for help, people show up.”
D’Arcy Motors became a major sponsor for the event, along with Rasmussen College and Union Pacific Railroad. WJOL-AM launched an annual radiothon fundraiser to garner donations.
Since then, funding almost takes care of itself, Jaworski said.
“This business community is so tremendous for stepping up and keeping it alive,” Jaworski said. “I don’t even have to make a phone call, the money just comes in.”
This year’s display will be produced by Melrose Pyrotechnics Inc. of Kingsbury, Indiana, the same company that has overseen the Joliet display for the past 22 years.
The 18-minute show will be choreographed to patriotic music, opening with “America the Beautiful” and closing with “Stars & Stripes Forever,” said Bob Kerns, director of operations for Melrose Pyrotechnics.
Hundreds of hours of work go into the display, which will feature about 1,500 aerial shells, Kerns said, everything from 1¼-inch low-level displays to monster six-inch mortar shells the fill the night sky.
About 30 percent of the display will feature new fireworks not seen before, Kerns said. New displays for this year include:
• Magic balls: “They open up to reveal a specific pattern, usually a flower, then disappear and then reappear again,” Kerns said.
• Green hour glasses: Shells that burst in the shape of a figure-8.
• Jellyfish: “The top is green or purple, and then its kind of like a ball shaped like a half circle, with gold arms that come down from below,” Kerns said.
• Six petal design: A shell that expands into six distinct petals, with crackles and strobes in the center of the display.
Then there are the old favorites, like the huge shell bursts that fill the night sky, and graceful gold streamers.
“Most of the oohs and aahs come from pattern shells that feature stars and smiley faces,” Kerns said. “And from longer duration stars. They’re usually gold and stay lit for an extended period of time as they come shooting towards the ground. It gives you a big, beautiful chandelier look. Those always seem to get a lot of attention.”
New for 2014
The audience for the show fills the stadium. Thousands more set up lawn chairs on Jefferson Street, spread out on picnic blankets at Inwood Golf Course or find other favorite spots in surrounding streets and parking lots.
New this year will be beverage carts set up on the driving range at Inwood Golf Course. The carts will serve alcoholic drinks, pop, water and light snacks, Egizio said. The course’s club house also will be open for food and drink service.
“The golf course and the park are always packed solid,” Egizio noted.
The event soon will be entering its eighth decade.
“There are people three generations ago that saw these fireworks, and now they have the good fortune to sit there with their grandkids and see it again,” D’Arcy said. “It’s a neat family tradition.”
IF YOU GO
What: Joliet Fourth of July Fireworks
Where: Joliet Memorial Stadium, 3000 W. Jefferson St.
When: Stadium opens at 8 p.m., with fireworks beginning at 9:20 p.m.