July 4th Fireworks & Festivities!

Jul 4, 2016 by

July 4th Fireworks & Festivities!

Many Media-area residents have memories of the decades of July 4th festivities and fireworks displays in Glen Providence Park! Annual July 4th fireworks spanned 35 years, from 1952 to 1986. The fireworks drew crowds in the thousands, with 10,000 estimated in 1958! July 4th celebrations included contests, concerts, Revolutionary battle reenactments(!), and movies. Chester Times and Daily Times articles track the evolution of these festivities in the park.

1950 Centennial Celebration

The first instance we could find of fireworks in Glen Providence was not for July 4th, but for the exuberant week-long Media Borough Centennial celebrations in June 1950, attended by Governor James H. Duff! On Monday, June 5, that day’s “motorcade parade” route ended at Glen Providence, where the US Air Force Band played and the Governor spoke – all followed by the  “brilliant spectacle of aerial fireworks” in the park.

There are at least two other times when Glen Providence Park hosted fireworks for non-July 4th festivities – for “Media Week” in August 1951, and “Pennsylvania Week” in October 1954. There seems to have been a lot of civic pride in the 1950’s!

1955 fireworks in Chester Times

1955 fireworks in Chester Times

Start of a Tradition

The first July 4th fireworks in the park were in 1952, as part of quite a celebration! After a musical program with singing, dancing, and instrumental and baton twirling competitions(!), “In the evening the entire community will come together in a gigantic evening music festival, which will feature a motion picture and a fireworks display that will equal the aerial beauty of the Media Centennial fireworks.”

It is unclear whether there were fireworks in 1953, but by 1954 an annual tradition had begun, with fireworks held most years until the last fireworks in the park in 1986. Early fireworks were sponsored by the Media Businessmen’s Association, then were abandoned in 1961. In 1962, the tradition was reinitiated by the Media Junior Chamber of Commerce (later called the Media Jaycees), until at least 1974. The Jaycees also ran the Great Media Easter Egg Hunt in Glen Providence Park for over 30 years, from 1954 to around 1989!

Concerts & Kids

Most years, fireworks were preceded by concerts at the historical stage in the Glen Providence Park. Performers included the Media High School Band, Elwyn School Band, Fawns all-girl drum and bugle corps, barbershop quartets, Delco-Aires, Delco-Ordinators, and Haverfordians. In 1970, the Jaycees shook things ups with “a two-hour open-air “rock” band festival preceding the fireworks” featuring The Final Assembly and The Brass Menagerie.

Years of firemen’s parades in Media preceded the concerts, and there were other activities and free ice cream for children at the celebrations in Glen Providence. As described in 1971, “The Jaycees will fill a gallon jug with beans… Girls and boys will be asked to judge how many beans are in the jug and during the evening two bicycles will be awarded.”  Member Jaycees would also distribute American flags to children in the park.

Redcoats in the Park?!

The most unique pre-fireworks event in Glen Providence was a mock Revolutionary battle  in 1972! “The Battle Between the Redcoats and the Patriots” was enacted by Moody’s Militia, a Delaware County historical group.  “In Tuesday’s battle, the British will come from the left side of the pond in the park… They will attempt to capture an artillery piece held by American forces. The artillerymen, resplendent in gold braid and yellow all over their coats, will get help from the infantry which will try an encirclement movement, popping from behind trees and brush. Muskets will fire blank charges of black powder, and cries and shouts of the participants will be realistic.”  This was followed by a craft show in the park, then folk singing before the fireworks!   

Paring down the festivities

With all the side events, the fireworks remained the central element of July 4th celebrations. In 1974, the Jaycees reported, “Because we are strapped for money, our annual gala… has been trimmed to the bare essentials.” The “main essential” was the fireworks, “which annually draws 7,000 to 8,000 persons at dusk to Glen Providence Park.” Preserving the patriotic intent of the event, the Jaycees also budgeted for 2,000 free American flags for the crowd. There would, however, be no concert or parade. Sometime after 1974, Media Borough took over the annual fireworks, and aside from music and dancing in 1976 for the Bicentennial, it is unclear whether there were more July 4th concerts.

In a sad chapter in the annual fireworks, there were fights after the fireworks in 1972, 1973 and 1974, with the 1974 fights requiring a response by 50 police officers from eight departments. Fortunately this did not end the annual fireworks, which continued for another twelve years.

The end of a decades-long tradition

In two 1987 articles, the Philadelphia Inquirer documented the decision by Media Borough and Delaware County to cancel the annual fireworks, due to “crowd control problems in 1986,” safety concerns, and liability insurance.

“Media Fire Chief James Jefferies said that as other communities, such as Springfield and Marple Townships, eliminated their firework displays, the crowds in Media increased. ‘Last time people were actually sitting on State Street,’ Jefferies said. ‘There just would not have been a way for the police to get into the park to assist anyone and to get someone out of the park. You could not even form a lane on State Street.’”

There had also been an accident in 1986 where a man sustained second-degree burns to his leg, and was treated at Riddle Memorial Hospital. Delaware County Fire Marshal George T. Lewis Jr. indicated that “The people watching the fireworks at Glen Providence Park were within 50 feet of the display,” while the borough’s insurance required watchers to be seated at least 600 feet from the fireworks display – which would mean the watchers would have had to be seated outside the park, no closer than Lemon Street.

The end of the fireworks “also marked the end of a long tradition involving the Valenti family and Media. John Valenti, who came to Media in 1911, and later his son, Robert, were responsible for many years of fireworks displays in the borough” – John Valenti was listed among members of the fireworks committee in 1954. It was reported that in 1987, Robert Valenti went on to set off fireworks for Lansdowne.

The July 4th fireworks in Glen Providence Park had an amazing run, but  it is hard now to imagine thousands of people in the park, and it is certainly understandable why they ended! As there seems little chance of fireworks returning to the park, the annual July 4th fireworks will remain an exciting chapter in Glen Providence Park’s history.

 

In all of the articles about fireworks in the park, we only found one photograph from 1955! If you have any photos of the July 4th fireworks and festivities that you are willing to share, please email me at FriendsoftheGlen [at] gmail [dot] com.


Sources:

Chester Times and Delaware County Daily Times  articles researched on the Newspaper Archives of Delaware County Library:

Chester Times:
Centennial Program, June 2, 1950
Media Crowded, June 5, 1950
Media Holds Open House, August 16, 1951
Evening Festival, July 3, 1952
Media Reveals Program for July 4 Affair, May 25, 1954
Media BMA Ups Cost of July 4 Celebration, June 8, 1954
Parade, October 13, 1954
Media’s July 4 Plans Approved, May 24, 1955
Fireworks Sparkle at July 4th Fete, July 5, 1955
7 Fireworks Displays Set, July 3, 1956
Media Plans Gala 4th Celebration; Fireworks to Close Day’s Events, June 26, 1958
10,000 Watch Media Show, July 5, 1958
Media Plans All-Day July 4th Celebration, June 18, 1959

Daily Times:
Parade to Feature Celebration, June 25, 1960
Fancy Fourth Planned, June 30, 1962
County Marks Holiday, July 3, 1963
Fireworks To Be Seen, July 3, 1964
Fireworks Displays, July 3, 1965
Media July 4 Plans Announced, July 1, 1966
Community Fireworks Shows Listed, July 3, 1968
11 Areas Schedule Fireworks, July 3, 1969
County Communities Schedule July 4 Programs, July 3, 1970
Countians to help Nation Mark Birthday, July 3, 1971
Moody’s Militia to Battle in Media, July 1, 1972
Police say 42,000 watched fireworks displays in county, July 5, 1972
Media, July 3, 1974
Street fights follow fireworks in Media, July 5, 1974
4 arrested following Media fights, July 6, 1974
Great weather for fireworks, July 4, 1975
Media to note Bicen Saturday, July 9, 1976
Media, July 1, 1977

Philadelphia Inquirer on Philly.com:
Annual Fireworks Canceled; Problems with ‘86 Crowd Cited, June 21, 1987
Accident Halts Fireworks Displays in Media, July 2, 1987

 

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