I remember a spectacular fireworks display on the river during the World's Fair in 1984 that may have come from Japan. Works of art were created as they exploded! Choreographed pyrotechnics displayed a flower stem, then leaves and finally a blossom atop it. Fireworks adorned the skies almost every night for the four months of the Fair, but this was a special treat. Can you tell me more about this?
"Captain" Lee Mullikin
Dear Captain Lee,
Wasn't that amazing? This one-off event stopped traffic on Sunday, June 3, 1984. The display, which lasted 70 minutes, was a jaw-dropping presentation of pyrotechnics. It was not like the usual American firework displays, which gradually build to a finale. This exhibit consisted of separate scenes as more than 50 tableaus were shot from a 290-foot long barge from mortar tubes 6 to 10 inches in diameter.
Folks gathered for hours in front of the Japanese Pavilion and along the riverfront; it was estimated that between 60,000 to 70,000 people saw the show. We were reminded of Canal Street on Mardi Gras, with spectators 100 to 200 feet deep. Traffic on the Mississippi River Bridge closed and the gondola stopped running while the Kase Company of Nagaoka, Japan fired 4,000 electronically ignited shells into the air and gave us a show not to be forgotten.
But for the day-to-day fireworks displays, there were other companies contracted, the first of which was Pyro Spectaculars. Working for the company were the husband-and-wife team of Jim and Linda Burton of Southern California. The Burtons put in six hours each day assembling a show that lasted just nine minutes each night. The fireworks were located on a barge docked downriver from the fair. About 9 p.m. each night, a tugboat pulled the fireworks-laden barge to the fair site where residents oohed and aahed at the brilliant show set to music.
In September, another firm took over the finale for each day — Ruggieri, one of the oldest fireworks manufacturers in the world. It has a list of historical celebrations behind it including the coronation of Napoleon, every Parisian commemoration of the French Revolution since 1790, displays at Versailles since 1862, seven world's fairs and the American Bicentennial salutes in Washington, D.C. and New York Harbor. The company's first big job was for King Louis XV of France, who hired the Ruggieri brothers for the wedding celebration of his daughter's marriage to the son of King Philip V of Spain. King Louis was so impressed that he created a new position of King's Pyrotechnicist and gave the job to Petronio Ruggieri.
The company that bears the Ruggieri name was the first to create colored fireworks. And when we saw their beautiful displays in 1984, they were specializing in "pyromelody," the marriage of fireworks with music with split-second timing. Unlike the typical American fireworks displays which go up high and make a lot of noise, the Ruggieri fireworks were more artful, consisting of a series of tableaus keyed to music.
No matter which company staged the displays, fairgoers loved the thrilling end to each day.