CENTERVILLE — © 2014 Enfys McMurry. All rights reserved.
Independence Day, 1881; Part 2: After dark that evening, people on the Courthouse Square waited for the firework display. Five hundred dollars had been spent on fireworks. The event was promoted as "the grandest display of the kind ever witnessed in Southern Iowa." Groups of the fireworks were assembled in a formation, each resembling a pigeon. When the fireworks were lit, the "pigeons" were to be pushed from the cupola of the Courthouse (Courthouse #2...not the present Courthouse) to travel along a wire stretched to the new Bradley building on the Square south side. The fireworks were designed to burst and explode in the air above the crowd. On the first run, halfway along the wire, the lit "pigeon" suddenly stopped, then started back to the cupola, landing and setting alight the reserve stock of fireworks. The whole cupola with its woodwork burst into shooting rockets and flames. The four men working in the tower found their trap-door exit sealed shut and escaped by jumping through side windows onto the roof 18 feet below. People raced to help. The fire department, with the town's new fire engine, went into action. Men climbed onto the roof, dragging up the fire hose, which burst, was repaired and for over an hour supplied a steady stream of water from the Square's four cisterns, finally extinguishing the fire. Haemmerle Williams from the tin shop on the north side said the event gave new meaning to the words the "rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air." The next line of the national anthem was given new meaning that night as well — people looked up, noting that "our flag was still there." Above the fire and the surging crowds below, it waved from the top of the cupola, unscorched and unhurt. (92)