Independence Day celebrations began a day early in Omaha in 1901 when on July 3, a carelessly dropped match at H. Hardy’s Ninety-nine Cent Store ignited a large stock of fireworks on sale there. The Omaha World-Herald on July 4 reported: “The premature display happened on the sidewalk outside the establishment, where about $1,000 worth of Roman candles, sky rockets, fire crackers, Catherine’s wheels, flying serpents, red fire and other explosive tokens of ebullient patriotism were stacked on tables as a display in charge of Miss Hardy, daughter of the proprietor.”
The culprits were thought to have been “two ragged street urchins,” one of whom burned his fingers with a match after lighting a cigarette near the fireworks tables. “He didn’t stop to study the geography of his surroundings, but wildly threw the match from him. It lit on the fireworks table. Of a sudden there was a fizz and a bang and a bunch of crackers on one of the tables began merrily fulfilling its destiny.”
The Omaha Daily Bee noted on the Fourth that after the initial noise “serving to warn those within earshot that a rare exhibition was at hand, the street suddenly presented a variety of activities. Crowds sprang into existence at both ends of the block and surged toward the center of disturbance, only to be driven back again before a volley of rocket-sticks and other pyrotechnics. Pin-wheels spun madly upon the asphalt pavement; Roman candles sent their colored globes bowling along the sidewalk (apparently under the delusion that the crowd was a set of ninepins), while in the gutter a tangle of electric grasshoppers, Chinese dragons and rainbow snakes writhed and sputtered.” A few opportunistic spectators, mostly young boys, tried to carry off some of the unexploded fireworks under cover of the confusion.
A jewelry store and ice cream parlor across the street from Hardy’s establishment were pelted with debris, and the proprietors and employees “made a precipitous retreat through the back door.” Word spread through the crowd of spectators that two carloads of fireworks were still inside the Hardy store, in storage in the basement. “The spectators understood then why the young women clerks in the store had taken refuge in the alley when the alarm was first given. This knowledge had no effect in the way of dispersing the throng, however, which still closed every avenue of approach, and the fire department had to fight its way through. Several persons were upset by the two-inch stream of water that was turned upon the smoldering rubbish.”
This expensive mishap cost Hardy more than the value of the lost fireworks. The awning to his store had burned, the plate glass window cracked, and the contents suffered smoke damage, but he hoped that much of the damage would be covered by insurance. Fortunately, no serious injuries were reported by either the World-Herald or the Bee.
This undated photograph depicted fireworks at Lincoln’s Capitol Beach amusement park. NSHS RG3644.PH0-32-d
This undated photograph depicted fireworks at Lincoln’s Capitol Beach amusement park. NSHS RG3644.PH0-32-c