Archive for July 4th, 2017

Bombs Away

It’s the Fourth of July, people. Let’s have bombs!

Ye gods. I am not exactly sure precisely what those Italians were up to, but I do know that George Plimpton would approve. Because, until his death in 2003, Plimpton was known, among other things, as the most avid amateur fireworks enthusiast of all the Americans. Except, as I once saw him confess on a television, what Plimpton most enjoyed were not really “fireworks”: “they’re more, frankly, bombs.”

As a young man, Plimpton was plucked out of life, and forced into the United States military, where he was eventually sent to Italy as a tank driver. Fortunately for him, the tanks stopped rolling soon after he arrived. He then trained as a demolitions expert. And never thereafter did he lose his taste for things that go Boom. Except he didn’t want to Boom to hurt anybody. His aim, with his Booms, was to wow. Those Italians in the video above, they are Plimpton’s spiritual children. And maybe—who knows?—his biological ones.

In 1975, after half a lifetime of fun bombs, Plimpton announced he would seek to establish a world record for the largest-ever “firework.” He assembled a 720-pound roman candle he dubbed “Fat Man”; the behemoth was expected to rise some 1000 feet in the air, and then produce a massive starburst.

Instead, Plimpton more or less recreated the infamous Battle Of The Crater of July 30, 1864, when Union forces, attempting to break the siege at Petersburg, set off “mines” beneath Confederate positions; these exploded with such force they opened up a yawning hole in the ground, into which many Union troops charged, never to come out again, as the irredeemable blood-sucking slave-owning traitors simply fired down upon them, as they attempted to scrabble out.

Similarly, Plimpton’s 1975 “Fat Man” didn’t make it into the air, but instead blasted a crater 35 feet wide and 10 feet deep; it subsequently entered the Guinness Book of World Records as a record-setting “lowest firework.” Plimpton’s next attempt at the record, fired at Cape Canaveral, did make it 50 feet into the air, but meanwhile shattered more than 700 windows in nearby Titusville, Florida.

Plimpton was in constant tension with the local constabulary in the Hamptons, as he believed just about any occasion festive enough for him to get into his bottomless bomb stash and start firing the things off in and around his Wainscott beach house. Any old excuse would do. Whether it be his annual Bastille Day celebration, or the fact that Teddy Kennedy had lumbered over for a quick drink or nine. When the bombs started going off, inevitably the police would arrive. Plimpton would claim to the gendarmes that he possessed the required permits—whether he did or not—and also note, correctly, that he had been proclaimed Fireworks Commissioner by New York Mayor John Lindsay. This was a purely unofficial post, but Plimpton clung to it proudly, and insisted it was Real.

Sometimes people would get snitty: one guy claimed an “ember” from a Plimpton bomb-bash had “singed” his arm, and so sued Plimpton for $11 million. Plimpton replied that “anyone who has an arm valued at $11 million should be pitching for the Chicago White Sox.” According to Plimpton, this lawsuit went away after “I got a call from Frank Sinatra’s lawyer, who had heard about the case and asked me who was handling it. I said my father’s firm was, and he said ‘Well, you’ve got the wrong people. You should get a tough lawyer to countersue and suggest he is causing you psychological damage. And if that doesn’t work, I will make some phone calls to people in Chicago.'”

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