Celebrating the Declaration of Independence!

OBSERVER Photos by Marilyn Kurzawa Above: Hanford Bay residents and guests celebrate the Fourth of July with a fireworks display at the beach. Below: Andy Allaire leads the Hanford Bay Fourth of July parade.

Hanford Bay residents stay with tradition


OBSERVER Lifestyles Correspondent

The Fourth of July is many people’s favorite summer holiday. In some parts of the country, it marks the beginning of summer, and in many places, it offers the opportunity to gather with family and friends to hold a big party and watch fireworks displays. For most people, the real reason for the holiday has been obscured by the ways in which we celebrate.

In reality, the Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. They’d been working on it for a couple of days after the draft was submitted on July 2 and finally agreed on all of the edits and changes. July 4, 1776 became the date that was included on the Declaration of Independence, and [on] the fancy handwritten copy that was signed in August (the copy now displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.). It’s also the date that was printed on the Dunlap Broadsides, the original printed copies of the Declaration that were circulated throughout the new nation. So, when people thought of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776 was the date they remembered.

Most people with whom I discussed this holiday had different reasons for a celebration, but that does not take away from the importance of the day. When I was growing up, my next door neighbor, Hamilton Ward, had a small cannon that he packed and ignited too many times at 8 a.m. on the mornings of the Fourth. As a teenager, I was outraged by being awakened so early in the morning, but now I recognize the historical significance of that act.

People celebrate the Fourth in a big way in our small summer community. Since my childhood, the Fourth of July has meant a time to enjoy the company of as many relatives as we could gather together, and a meal that always included roast beef on kimmelweck rolls, made from beef that was roasted on a rotisserie over a grill. Following all of that, there have always been fireworks displays and huge bonfires to round out the evening. Over the years, many things have changed, but not this tradition.

In Hanford Bay, cars line our narrow streets from the start of any weekend that is close to the Fourth to at least the day after. Parking is at a premium in a community where there is little vacant land and few driveways. License plates from many states can be found, as people return to visit family and friends who are fortunate enough to enjoy summers on Lake Erie.

Everyone with whom I spoke talked about the arrival of relatives and wonderful pot-luck meals presenting traditional, as well as new dishes, to delight the crowds. My current next-door neighbor, Sharon (Allaire) Klug, noted that before her parents bought the house which she now inhabits, her entire family came to the Bay to celebrate the day with her Uncle Dick’s family. Her family of 10 children joined her uncle’s family of 11 children, so crowds abounded all in one location.

Today, Klug’s family still gathers with another uncle’s family, the Chuck Allaires. Sadly, Chuck died just last month, but many members of his family will gather with Sharon’s family to celebrate the Fourth. Sharon’s father, Bob Allaire, continued his brother Dick’s tradition by creating “Chuck Allaire Day” at the lake, and to this day, Chuck’s family continues to gather in the bay and celebrate with a great potluck dinner, marking a 60-year tradition. Even the recipes are memorialized in a family cookbook. Today’s generations do not have so many children, but there are still enough relatives to make it a large celebration.

Another bay family, the Evans, did a bit more to celebrate the Fourth. According to son Bob Evans, from Lake George, “All of our celebrations as kids included cake for dessert, to celebrate the historic occasion. Today, my wife and four daughters and their friends gather in Lake Placid where we take kayaks out on Mirror Lake to watch the town’s fireworks from the water. It is dazzling to see the huge blazes of light overhead.”

Nancy Evans Hargrave and her husband David had their own July 4 traditions when their children were growing up. Nancy reported, “Our three daughters, Amy, Elizabeth and Sarah, would create and put on a Fourth of July play for all of our relatives, who would watch from the chairs set up on the driveway. As they grew older and now bring families of their own to the bay for the holiday, the plays have switched to games, such as ladder ball, corn hole, croquet, and bocce.”

This year, as a first ever event, there will be a coloring contest for all the grandchildren to calm them down as the excitement of the days begins to overwhelm them. “Anything to quiet the chaos,” said David.

Even families that are relatively new to the bay build strong traditions to mark our national holiday. Grace Duggan, age 12, told me, “I love the Fourth because we have all our cousins at the beach and lots of people come from out of town. We spend the whole day together and then relax at night watching the fireworks and Chinese lanterns in the sky.”

Ten-year-old Jack said, “The best part is seeing all the huge bonfires light up all the way down the beach as far as you can see!” Their 8-year old brother Charlie then added, “love swimming all day with my cousins and watching the fireworks at night and getting to play with sparklers.”

I suspect that it’s the sparklers, reserved for the Fourth, that create much of the excitement for Charlie.

Our community stretches along the lake for about a mile, so it’s easy to lose track of what is going on at one end or the other. The north end residents have created a parade for the kids from that neighborhood, followed by the singing of “God Bless America” accompanied by those children who play instruments. The children then recite the Pledge of Allegiance, all done on the beach. From there, they all proceed to a neighbor’s yard where traditional competitive games are played, such as a wheelbarrow races and sack races. All participants receive a treat bag, filled with trinkets and sweets. Children of the founders of this event are now the current organizers, so this has been going on for a long time!

As the grand finale of the celebration, everyone in the bay descends to the beach to watch the lighting of the bonfires, so long as the winds aren’t blowing, but rather waft gently toward the lake. It seems that the fires grow taller and taller each year, but that’s probably only because there is so much wood to clean up from the winter storms. Beach clean-up takes many hands and muscles to complete, and is frequently assisted by a huge tractor driven ably by Frank Pagano or Dan Young.

And, along with the fires come the fireworks. So, why in the world are fireworks so closely associated with the Fourth of July?

“John Adams wanted us to. Before the Declaration of Independence was even signed, he envisioned fireworks as a part of the festivities. In a letter to Abigail Adams on July 3, 1776, he wrote that the occasion should be commemorated “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

The first commemorative Independence Day fireworks were set off on July 4, 1777. The Pennsylvania Evening Post stated that in Philadelphia, “The evening was closed with the ring of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with 13 rockets) on the Commons The paper noted that “Everything was conducted with the greatest order and the face of joy and gladness was universal.”

And in Hanford Bay, we continue to carry on the great tradition called for by John Adams, to celebrate the final approval by Congress of the Declaration of Independence. Loud bangs, fizzes, and pops, accompanied by brilliant colors and bright lights dot the night sky. From the beach you can hear “oohs and aahs” after each blast, and applause resounds at the end of each performance. It’s another piece of tradition that is tightly held and much appreciated. Long live our traditions, and the U.S.A.!