The birth of the Fourth celebration in PTC
When a close friend told me last week that she didn’t know about the origins of the Peachtree City July 4 celebration, I had to pull this up from my archives. Excuse me for its coming after the holiday instead of before.
Celebrating the Fourth of July is not optional, you know.
July 3, 1776 – A future president wrote to his wife words we should consider again:
“Yesterday, the greatest question was decided which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps never was nor will be decided among men. ... A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony, ‘that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.’”
Later in the day, aware that he was attending the birth of a nation, John Adams wrote again:
“This day will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”
At the risk of serious braggadocio, let me tell you how Peachtree City first realized John Adams’ mandate.
Forgive me for beginning with words Southerners hate, “Back where I come from...,” but I don’t know how else to say it. Back where we came from in 1971 – southern New Jersey – the Fourth was a Big Deal. It began with a parade and a decorated bike contest, and moved on to a flag ceremony at the cannon in the park, complete with a speech by the mayor.
There were events all day – races, contests, softball games – and then everyone lugged charcoal grills and lawn chairs to the ball fields on the east side of town where, amid clouds of citronella and punk sticks, they picnicked and visited until dark.
And dark was when it happened. “Bonfires and illuminations” in the sky, booming and roaring and lighting up the trees and sending delicious vibrations through our chests and down the dark streets and into all the empty houses. The rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air!
All of us, grown folks as well as kids, walked home under street lights, exhilarated and exhausted, feeling part of something as big as a whole country founded in freedom. And wasn’t this happening all over the U.S. of A.?
Apparently not. On July 4, 1972, we dressed in red, white and blue, as we had done back where we came from, and went forth into the heat of our new Georgia abode to join in the events of the day.
But there weren’t any. Except that the mail was not delivered, there was nothing to distinguish July 4 from any other day.
I was crushed with disappointment, especially for my daughters, who could no more imagine a year without a Fourth of July than a year without Christmas. I vowed there would be a Fourth of July in 1973, and thanks to a superb community effort, it happened.
The then-fire chief, “Brother” Leach, agreed to lead a parade with fire trucks, and we blitzed the local papers with invitations to a decorated bike and golf cart contest, a picnic at the park, and then, oh boy! We’d get some real fireworks and set them off.
We raised the money, around $300, door-to-door. The developer contributed generously.
The great day arrived and so many people joined the parade, there were hardly any bystanders. No one cared – we were birthing tradition, and we knew it.
It was so hot, we poured ice water from drink coolers on two stalwarts riding bikes, dressed as clowns. Sack races and egg tosses and games kept everyone busy through the afternoon, and then we spread our suppers on the grass at Picnic Point.
There were probably only a few hundred people – the park easily contained the crowd – but officials estimated it was the largest gathering in Peachtree City’s short history.
When the sky began to darken, volunteers lit off the fireworks, and the crowd oohed and aahed its appreciation. So far as anyone could tell, this was the first public fireworks display in Coweta, Fayette, and Spalding counties. I learned later that for some adults in the crowd, these were the first fireworks they’d ever seen “live.”
Year followed year. The parade grew, especially in election years when it became a natural stomping ground. The fire department added the water battle; firefighters from Atlanta to Griffin came to compete. Each year, there were more pyrotechnics. I remember my shock when the city fireworks budget topped $1,000.
When a firefighter got a concussion from a rocket gone astray, we turned the launching over to professionals. This year’s price tag was $23,000.
Do you think John Adams would be pleased? I did – until I read the next lines of his letter to Abigail:
“You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not,” he wrote. “I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these states.”
Heed his words, even today.
[Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician. She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is SallieS@Juno.com.]