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Fourth of July

Residents prepare July Fourth at-home firework shows in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Every Fourth of July, if only for a few hours, Long Islanders create their own stars in the night sky.

If one drives down the side streets and residential neighborhoods late at night on America’s birthday, one can hear a chorus of whistles and pops from every direction. People in local neighborhoods sit in lawn chairs with their necks craned to the night sky to watch the lights flash high over their own roofs. All those involved know that, without a license, it’s illegal to own, sell and, especially, to light any fireworks in New York state, but this is Independence Day, and the date demands ceremony.

On one street in Port Jefferson Station, where locals hosted their own fireworks show, the air was suffused with a burning smoke that smelled like brimstone and burning paper. Fireworks enthusiast Louie, who agreed to comment if his last name would be withheld, along with his brother and their friends, laid out rows of mortars stretching more than 10 yards down the street. For close to two hours nonstop the fireworks illuminated the sky and onlookers cheered.

“Jones Beach does it, Bald Hill does it … why can’t we do it?” Louie said.

Louie said he has helped set off his block’s firework display for four years, and each July Fourth his group sets off more than $2,000 worth of fireworks.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) warned residents ahead of the holiday in a YouTube video that the county would be enacting a zero-tolerance policy for the possession, use and sale of illegal fireworks.

“We are here today to talk about the Fourth of July and how we all love to get together and celebrate,” Bellone said in the video. “We always hear about these incidents happening and they are unnecessary, preventable injuries.”

Residents prepare July Fourth at-home firework shows in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

Officials asked Suffolk residents to attend licensed firework shows going on all across the Island, rather than creating their own events. There were shows at Bald Hill, in Wading River, at Peconic Riverfront in Riverhead, on East Beach in Port Jefferson, on Shelter Island and at the Long Island Ducks stadium in Bethpage, to name a few.

Suffolk County is stricter on fireworks than other parts of the state. While New York passed a law in January that made owning sparklers legal, in Suffolk owning a sparkler remains a misdemeanor. Owning certain fireworks, like the M-80s, which were originally designed by the United States military to simulate gunfire, or the mortar-type of fireworks, is a Class E felony subject to up to four years in prison.

Several individuals were arrested this year and charged with crimes of possessing and selling fireworks. In June, a Medford man was arrested for having $100,000 worth of fireworks in a storage facility. Later that same month, an Oakdale man was arrested for bringing $2,000 worth of fireworks home from Pennsylvania and selling them online.

“We take it very seriously,” 4th Precinct Capt. Kevin Williams said at the June 1 Smithtown Town board meeting. “All fireworks are illegal, and that includes sparklers. Some of the larger fireworks that we see today, the M-80 fireworks or the mortars that people shoot up, those are designated as explosives under New York State Labor Law.”

The danger presented by misusing fireworks is real. Nationally, fireworks were identified in 12,900 hospital visits and eight deaths in 2017, according to a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released in June this year.

Suffolk police reported that a man from Gordon Heights lost three of his fingers
after a firework exploded in his hand this year. Another woman, a Florida resident who was visiting her family in Mastic, was injured after she tossed a lit cigarette in an ashtray which caused a firework that had been placed there to explode. The detonation severed the tip of one finger and injured other fingers on her right hand. Both were sent to Stony Brook University Hospital for their injuries.

Dr. Steven Sandoval, medical director of Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center at Stony Brook University Hospital, said the last weeks of June and the first two weeks of July are the peak in terms of burn center patients. On average his unit receives five to 10 patients every Fourth of July season, and that’s not including those who arrive to the hospital with other, non-burn related injuries. By July 5 this year, the burn center received four patients who had injuries related to fireworks, but Sandoval said they would not know the total number of injuries until a month has passed.

“Every other year there’s a fatal or near-fatal event that occurs from fireworks,” Sandoval said. “This is a vulnerable population, who might already be intoxicated, inebriated or have been standing out in the sun all day … people should leave fireworks to the professionals.”

Those people setting off the pyrotechnic display in Port Jeff Station said they understood the hazard that fireworks presented.

“We’re all organized, not drunk, professional and we have order,” Louie said. “We have communication, and communication is key.”

Still, there is always danger when it comes to explosives. The street in Port Jeff Station was bordered by power lines and trees that an off-course rocket could potentially strike. One neighbor put large towels and cardboard boxes on her fence to mitigate any potential burn damage. After the grand finale, where the group let off their last rockets and mortars, they started to throw loud firecrackers into the street. One of them bounced into a neighbor’s yard right next to a fence. The firework exploded and dug a small hole an inch deep into the dirt.

Despite it all, the neighbors laughed and cheered anyway.

File photo

By Desirée Keegan

The Suffolk County Police Department Highway Patrol Bureau, assisted by the New York State Police, arrested 14 people and seized one vehicle during an overnight sobriety checkpoint in Port Jefferson Station June 30.

Police officers from the SCPD highway patrol were assisted by New York State Troopers in conducting a sobriety checkpoint at the corner of Route 112 and Hallock Avenue. The checkpoint was conducted as part of an on-going July 4th holiday enforcement operation for the prevention of injuries and fatalities associated with driving while ability impaired by alcohol and drugs.  A total of 716 vehicles went through the checkpoint.

The following people were charged with driving while intoxicated:

  • Sandra Ventre, 50, of Port Jefferson
  • Robert Paddock, 28, of Stony Brook
  • John Young, 40, of Centereach
  • Jeffrey Gerlin, 57, of Centereach

The following was charged with driving while ability impaired by drugs:

  • Nicholas Cappelletti, 31, of Centereach

The following was charged with driving while ability impaired by a combined influence of alcohol and drugs and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance:

  • Justin Maldonado, 24, of New Jersey

The following was charged with seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance:

  • Justin Wienckowski, 23, of Commack

Ventre’s vehicle was seized due to a prior DWI conviction. The individuals were be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip July 1. Additionally, six individuals were arrested for unlawful possession of marijuana and issued field appearance tickets and will be arraigned on a later date.

This post was updated Feb. 12, 2018 to remove an accused person whose charges were dropped after pleading guilty.

Dear Readers,

Curious to find out how the North Shore community spent the Fourth of July, TBR News Media’s star reporter, Kevin Redding, took to the streets of Port Jefferson to interview local residents before the holiday. Here are some of their responses:

Jackie and Chris Buzaid, Lake Grove

Jackie: We usually go to my grandma’s in the Jersey Shore and watch fireworks and have a big cookout, stuff like that. We go to the beach, have barbecues, do sparklers.

Chris: I just like spending time with my extended family and seeing them, because we don’t usually see them that much over the years and it’s always nice seeing them and spending time together in the summer.

Devon Buckley, Poquott:  All of my friends … around six or seven of us … are gonna go on my family’s sailboat and go out to Pirate’s Cove, the first cove right at the mouth of the entrance of Port, on the night of 4th of July to see some fireworks. It’s usually a leisurely day, [but] we kind of do that every year. We just hang out, we’ll have a grill onboard, grill some food, go swimming. [Fourth of July] has always been a family and friends ordeal every year.

Pat Morelli, Setauket: I’m actually going up to New Hampshire for my brother’s wedding. It’s not on the 4th of July, but it’s going to be a long weekend type of thing with the whole family. Usually the family that’s here on the Island, we try to get together every 4th of July. It’s a nice, summer holiday where we get to remember how great this country is and hang out with each other.

Avery Looney and Michael Famiano, Port Jefferson Station:

Avery: We’re going to a pool party.

Michael: There’s gonna be barbecue, a fire pit, some fireworks. It’s just partying, [red, white, and blue] themed.

Jenna and Jeannette Cleary, Coram

Jeannette: Well, on the 2nd, we have a big family reunion. And then on 4th of July, we have Grandma’s birthday party first and then to my sister, who’s been having an annual party at her house in Manorville forever. We’ll be busy. My brother’s here this weekend from Hawaii and he plays games and is like the event coordinator. He’s bringing fireworks from out of state, there’s a pool. We split the time between my mother-in-law’s birthday and that. We do fireworks, they play horseshoes and volleyball. Then my brother makes up these games. Not a bad weekend

Jenna: Yeah, like egg tosses and stuff like that. You get covered in eggs. I got it last year..

Bill Evans and Kristine O’Brien, Holbrook: We live in Holbrook but we’re doing a little getaway for two days, staying at Danfords and hanging out in town. We’re just gonna walk around, enjoy the atmosphere, have dinner. For us at home, we show patriotism, but here, we’re really just looking to get away and have a 24-48 hours escaping from our four girls, ages 11 to 18, and throughout the weekend we’ll celebrate

.John and Nicole Goncharuk, Selden

Nicole: We’re just taking a walk out here today with the family, and then we’re gonna barbecue at the house for 4th of July.

John: Just barbecue stuff at the house. Not so much, since we have the kids now, nothing too big or extravagant. It’s low-key. We’re in Selden, so we’re way up high and we can see the fireworks at Bald Hill. But we might venture down here [to Port Jefferson] and we have pamphlets that show where fireworks are going on so we might check that out. There’s plenty to see and plenty to do [on Long Island]. We used to get dressed up nice, go out to dinner and stuff like that but now our priorities are different.

All photos by Kevin Redding

Nomi Dayan gives a lecture at the Whaling Museum in Cold Spring Harbor

By Nomi Dayan

While most people today visit The Whaling Museum while on vacation or during the weekend, there was no vacation or days off for a whaler. Work was paramount for whaling crews. However, a whaler might look forward to the three holidays for which there was a chance of observance while at sea: the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas (with Thanksgiving bring considered the most important holiday at the time).

Captains dictated if and how a holiday was observed. If there were instruments on board, nationalistic music was played and sung. Some crews engaged in whaleboat races for sport. If the captain was feeling generous, a special meal might be extended to even the lowest-ranking crew members. Culinary celebrations gave welcome respite from a monotonous and dreary diet of food that was often infested or spoiled. On a holiday, whalers might enjoy sea pies, a kind of pot pie that sometimes contained dolphin meat, or lobscouse, a stew of salted meat, onions and sea biscuits. Dessert might be mincemeat pie — which consisted of chopped meat, suet, raisins, apples and spices; dandyfunk, a baked mass of hard tack crackers and molasses; or duff, a boiled pudding.

 

Robert Weir aboard the Clara Bell journaled about a distinct feast on July 4th. He wrote how the crew fired salutes and enjoyed “coconuts, roast pig, minced pie, soft tack, ginger cake, pepper sauce, molasses, pepper, rice and pickles — quite extensive for a sailor.”

Aside from the chance of a special treat, July 4th — as with other holidays at sea — was likely to be a disappointment for those hoping for a break from work. Whaler William B. Whitecar Jr. recalled that when a crew member protested spinning yarn on the Fourth of July, the commanding mate’s answer was “Yes — it is fourth of July at home, but not here.”

Many logbooks, official records of daily activity on whaleships, do not document any festivities on this date, instead solely focusing on catching whales. The logbook of the Lafayette off the coast of Peru recorded July 4, 1843, only as an unfruitful day: “So ended this Fourth of July pursuing whales.”

Women who joined their captain-husbands at sea often noted the marked lack of observance of July 4th. Eliza Williams, who sailed with Captain Thomas Williams on the Florida from Massachusetts to the North Pacific and birthed two children during the voyage, wrote in her journal in 1859 in the Shantar Sea: “July 4th … some of the boats, it seems see aplenty of Whales, and once in a while are lucky enough to take one, but not often. Our boats lost two of their Men and that was not all … It doesn’t seem much like the Fourth of July, up here.”

Above, patriotic-themed scrimshaw from the collection of The Whaling Museum in Cold Spring Harbor. Photo from Cindy Grimm

A few years later in 1861, she recorded: “July 4th. Today is Independence. Oh how I would like to be at home and enjoy this day with family and friends. We cannot celebrate it here with any degree of pleasure. Just after dinner, we spoke the bark Monmouth [Cold Spring Harbor ship], Capt. Ormsby … He reported the loss of the clipper ship Polar Star, Capt. Wood, Master. Capt. Ormsby also told us that the Alice Frazier is lost …”

Mary C. Lawrence also described July 4th as being subdued while aboard the Addison with her husband Captain Samuel Lawrence, having sailed from Massachusetts to the Pacific and Arctic during 1856-1860: “The Fourth of July today and the Sabbath. How different our situation from our friends at home! A gale of wind with ice and land to avoid. The ice probably would be a refreshing sight to them. Probably the celebration, if there is any to come off, will take place tomorrow. We had a turkey stuffed and roasted with wild ducks, which are very plenty here. Perhaps tomorrow we may get a whale …”

In 1861, her journal followed the same theme: “July 4th. Minnie [daughter] arose early this morning and hoisted our flag, which was all the celebration we could boast of, as we did not get that whale that we hoped to. A beautiful day, which I improved by washing, after waiting ten days for a clear day.”

Martha Brown of Orient, Long Island, who had been dropped in Hawaii to give birth while her husband and crew continued onward to hunt whales, described her feelings of isolation. She addressed her husband in her journal on July 4th: “Yes the 4 of July has agane passed, and how think you, love, I have spent the day? Not as I did the last in your society, with our Dear little Ella [daughter left at home], but alone. Yes, truly alone. … My thoughts have been far from here today.”

There is great irony in considering how the very workers who powered America’s signature industry could not in reality celebrate its iconic national holiday. On the day when citizens on land joined feasts illuminated by whale candles and enjoyed parades wearing clothing stiffened by whalebone and fabric produced on machinery lubricated by whale oil, the very workers who produced these products were kept working, their eyes focused on catching the next whale.

Nomi Dayan is the executive director at The Whaling Museum & Education Center in Cold Spring Harbor.

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