Daily Picture Show

Pyromania: An Ode To American Fireworks

In 2010, photographer Bill Vaccaro and his son, Chris, set out on a 3,500-mile road trip across America. Vaccaro's mission was twofold: Get some quality time, and get some photos. His son's: Get some fireworks. For both of them it was a successful trip.

Chris and his Stash. Grand Island, N.Y. My son with most of the fireworks he purchased during our 3,500-mile fireworks store road trip. ... We managed to set off about half of his stash that night. i i

Chris and his Stash. Grand Island, N.Y. My son with most of the fireworks he purchased during our 3,500-mile fireworks store road trip. ... We managed to set off about half of his stash that night. Bill Vaccaro hide caption

itoggle caption Bill Vaccaro
Chris and his Stash. Grand Island, N.Y. My son with most of the fireworks he purchased during our 3,500-mile fireworks store road trip. ... We managed to set off about half of his stash that night.

Chris and his Stash. Grand Island, N.Y. My son with most of the fireworks he purchased during our 3,500-mile fireworks store road trip. ... We managed to set off about half of his stash that night.

Bill Vaccaro

I met Vaccaro this past December, and he's not what you would imagine a pyromaniac to be. He's as gentle as can be, and refreshingly unironic about the things he photographs.

"I love fireworks," he writes on his website. "I love to hear the oohs and aahs of a crowd as they sit on their blankets and lawn chairs looking skyward at things that go flash and boom on a warm summer 4th of July evening."

  • Country Boy Gift Shop. Bean Station, Tenn. This store is located less than 35 miles from the Cumberland Gap and is run by Raymond Layel Jr. and his wife, Barbara. They grew up in Bean Station and have been married for nearly 50 years. They were the sweetest couple and regaled me with stories of her Confederate ancestors and his previous career in the U.S. Air Force.
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    Country Boy Gift Shop. Bean Station, Tenn. This store is located less than 35 miles from the Cumberland Gap and is run by Raymond Layel Jr. and his wife, Barbara. They grew up in Bean Station and have been married for nearly 50 years. They were the sweetest couple and regaled me with stories of her Confederate ancestors and his previous career in the U.S. Air Force.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • Boomtown USA Fireworks. Merrillville, Ind.
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    Boomtown USA Fireworks. Merrillville, Ind.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • Crazy Joe's Fireworks. Hardeeville, S.C.
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    Crazy Joe's Fireworks. Hardeeville, S.C.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • Parking Lot. Howe, Ind.
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    Parking Lot. Howe, Ind.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • Granny's Fireworks. Chattanooga, Tenn.
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    Granny's Fireworks. Chattanooga, Tenn.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • What A Deal Fireworks. Gary, Ind.
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    What A Deal Fireworks. Gary, Ind.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • B&B Family Fireworks. La Verne, Tenn.
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    B&B Family Fireworks. La Verne, Tenn.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • R&B Meat Center. Lancaster, S.C. We discovered this place by sheer luck when we were looking for a gas station on our way toward Rock Hill, S.C.
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    R&B Meat Center. Lancaster, S.C. We discovered this place by sheer luck when we were looking for a gas station on our way toward Rock Hill, S.C.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • Golf Ball Outlet and Fireworks Mega Store. Hardeeville, S.C. We did a double-take when we came across this store, a serendipitous find on our way from Savannah, Ga., to Charleston, S.C.
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    Golf Ball Outlet and Fireworks Mega Store. Hardeeville, S.C. We did a double-take when we came across this store, a serendipitous find on our way from Savannah, Ga., to Charleston, S.C.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • Rambo's Auto Sales and Fireworks. Florence, Ala.
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    Rambo's Auto Sales and Fireworks. Florence, Ala.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • Emergency Exit. Convoy, Ohio. I was taking a photograph of a fireworks store sign on Route 30 just past the Indiana border when the owner of the store ran up to our car and asked if we could give his truck a jump-start. ... After doing our good deed, we got a tour of the store, a look at some of the "professional" grade explosives, and a discount to boot.
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    Emergency Exit. Convoy, Ohio. I was taking a photograph of a fireworks store sign on Route 30 just past the Indiana border when the owner of the store ran up to our car and asked if we could give his truck a jump-start. ... After doing our good deed, we got a tour of the store, a look at some of the "professional" grade explosives, and a discount to boot.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • Crackers. Bravo Fireworks. Chambersburg, Pa. Pennsylvania is a funny state when it comes to fireworks sales. Out-of-state visitors are allowed to purchase consumer fireworks but Pennsylvania residents must get a state permit before they can buy anything.
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    Crackers. Bravo Fireworks. Chambersburg, Pa. Pennsylvania is a funny state when it comes to fireworks sales. Out-of-state visitors are allowed to purchase consumer fireworks but Pennsylvania residents must get a state permit before they can buy anything.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • Patriot Fireworks. Chesnee, S.C. This trailer store is located just a few miles from the North Carolina border where fireworks sales are illegal. The owner told me that it has been a family business for nearly three decades.
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    Patriot Fireworks. Chesnee, S.C. This trailer store is located just a few miles from the North Carolina border where fireworks sales are illegal. The owner told me that it has been a family business for nearly three decades.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • Wake The Neighbors. Huntsville, Ala.
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    Wake The Neighbors. Huntsville, Ala.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • Big Dave's Fireworks. Ravenel, S.C.
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    Big Dave's Fireworks. Ravenel, S.C.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • Things That Go Boom In The Night. State College, Pa. A local volunteer group has held this spectacular fireworks display on the campus of Penn State University for over a decade. ... I purchased tickets for my son and me to sit in the unobstructed VIP section for the 2011 show. ... We were sitting so close that we could literally feel the pressure of the explosions against our chests.
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    Things That Go Boom In The Night. State College, Pa. A local volunteer group has held this spectacular fireworks display on the campus of Penn State University for over a decade. ... I purchased tickets for my son and me to sit in the unobstructed VIP section for the 2011 show. ... We were sitting so close that we could literally feel the pressure of the explosions against our chests.
    Bill Vaccaro
  • Roman Candle. Chicago. On the night of independence at the beach in my Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago, the locals come out with their stashes of fireworks purchased in Indiana and Wisconsin and put on their own show on the Lake Michigan shore under the watchful eye of the police.
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    Roman Candle. Chicago. On the night of independence at the beach in my Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago, the locals come out with their stashes of fireworks purchased in Indiana and Wisconsin and put on their own show on the Lake Michigan shore under the watchful eye of the police.
    Bill Vaccaro

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On the phone he explained that his genuine love of explosives inspired this documentary project, which he calls Boomtown. But it was also a curiosity about those small businesses that spring up along the interstate this time of year. There's an entire economy to fireworks sales, and for some, like the owners of Patriot Fireworks in Chesnee, S.C., it's been a family business for decades.

I'll go out on a limb and wager that these roadside stands are a distinctly American thing. As for why: I'll let the historians and sociologists parse that. And in the meantime, I'm sure my holiday, like many of yours, will be spent on a sidewalk with a sparkler and a Popsicle, watching people launch bottle rockets out of beer bottles.

God bless America; let's blow some stuff up!

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