At this year’s Saginaw fireworks, Independence Day took on a new meaning
SAGINAW, MI – At the Saginaw fireworks show on Sunday, some celebrated the 245th anniversary of United States independence. Others celebrated a sense of their own renewed freedoms after spending months restricted and isolated.
People from across the nation gathered near – and on – Ojibway Island, where a $ 100,000 firework display set the sky ablaze for 30 minutes just after 10 p.m. has attended a municipal event in the city since before the pandemic.
Amid the harrowing explosions and bursts of color, people enjoyed the celebrations in ways they may not have until 2020; People like Ora McGregor.
The 68-year-old Memphis woman volunteered on the island for Saginaw Area Fireworks, which coordinates the annual affair. McGregor said she spent much of the pandemic in isolation at her Tennessee home. Then she traveled to Michigan this May to celebrate her granddaughter’s graduation from Bridgeport High School.
For McGregor it was a feeling of relief and comfort to see the scene where hundreds of people gathered in one place on the island.
“That’s amazing,” she said.
“It feels so good to be with people; to see how people have a good time together without masks. I’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time. “
The island around her was full of life … and loads of sparklers too. Vendors there were selling hot dogs and sno-cones. Inflatables with children playing in them. Before the main event began, musicians performed under the band. Sometimes the sounds of bass and drums drowned out the crackling of smaller fireworks that preceded the big show.
Troy Encisco was sitting on the tailgate of his black Silverado, which was parked on the lawn in front of the band. There he watched his father play guitar during the day’s live entertainment, One-Shot Whiskey. Encisco – who was traveling to the island with his wife and two children – said he was glad to get back to some normalcy.
As a child in the 1980s, the Saginaw native watched the city’s fireworks display with his family from a nearby estate: Tri City Urology. When the trees got too tall there and blocked the view of the sky, the family tradition moved from Encisco to the island. The 45-year-old was looking forward to sharing the fireworks experience with the next generation.
The experience was especially sweet, he said, considering the 24 month gap between shows. The 2020 event in Saginaw was canceled three weeks before July 4th, with organizers raising concerns that such a large gathering could spread the virus. This year, part of the community – including Encisco – is vaccinated and there are relatively few new cases reported, alleviating worries about such a large outdoor gathering in 2021.
“It’s good for the children to get back to normal like this,” he said. “It’s good for all of us. The past year has been a terrible one for so many of us, and this is a great way for the community to get back together. I think everyone on this island feels the same. “
Hundreds of people sat near the north coast of the island and looked across the river. During the day, high temperatures and humidity kept the browbones wet with sweat. Ice in coolers turns into water in coolers. The sky was clear and the sun blinded the surface of the water. During the busiest moments of the day, about 50 boats swam in a half a mile stretch of the river wedged between Court Street and the G. Stewart Francke Bridge.
In the hours before the fireworks, music played on both sides of the river. One-shot whiskey covered “Sweet Home Alabama” while at the same time loudspeakers near the business district of Bruno Mars’ old town blew up “Uptown Funk”. The sounds collided somewhere over the water, where boaters danced, their legs dangling over the stern and their feet dipping into the cool water. Some jumped in. Some fished.
Amid the noise and festivities, Detrick Traylor, a 27-year-old Saginaw native, was walking his 7-year-old son near the coast of the island.
“Tell him your name,” Traylor asked his son Jordan, who seemed too shy for an interview for this story.
“This is the first time in a long time he’s been with people like this,” explained Jordan’s father. “We are happy to be here.”
People were less shy about the private party that gathered at the Reaction Powder Works, which was on the north side of the river about a block from Court Street Bridge. A decade ago, owner Rick Coombs began keeping family and friends in an enclosed space on the property during the Saginaw fireworks display. Over the years the number of visitors approached 100; until last year when the canceled show prompted the 35-year-old Saginaw native to organize a smaller get-together from home.
“Not having the fireworks display last year was a huge disappointment, to say the least,” Coombs said. “This is my favorite vacation. I look forward to being with my family and friends. “
On Sunday the tradition was resumed at the location in the old town. Dozens of people attended the gathering, enjoying each other’s company while enjoying roasted ribs and adult drinks, among other things. As day began to give way to night, Coombs turned a series of red and blue lights against the outside walls of his building. From there the sounds of karaoke carried down the block.
“I really missed that last year; all of this, including the fireworks, ”said Marissa Lewis, a 29-year-old Saginaw native and a regular at Coomb’s parties. “I missed my friends.”
As the sun set behind Saginaw’s horizon, the crowds near the island grew. In the neighborhoods surrounding the district, cars lined the curbs as families prepared to watch the show from their porches and courtyards.
Court Street Bridge was teeming with people lounging on lounge chairs and blankets being thrown over the concrete walkways. Law enforcement officers parked vehicles along the bridge road. The Saginaw County Sheriff’s deputies saddled the division’s horses, padded alongside pedestrians, and sometimes stopped so the children could admire the animals that towered over them.
Marcus Wright was on public safety duty near the island on Sunday. The 26-year-old member of the Saginaw fire department was ready in case fireworks caused an actual fire there. With no fire to be put out, he was excited to see the celebration – and the people who showed up to see it all.
“It’s a relief to be after this final year with human interactions,” said Wright, a Saginaw native who grew up in town with the annual July 4th show.
“I missed that.”
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