The Neighborhoods - July 4th edition
Never whisper, always yell
I’m out of town again for the 4th of July, so instead of visiting a new neighborhood, I decided to dig into my archives for this set of images featuring the stars and stripes throughout NYC.
I’ve also included a poll to gauge how everyone feels about the frequency of this newsletter. As a tsundoku practitioner and a New Yorker subscriber, I know how the tyranny of the unread can weigh one down. I want to be sure that the weekly arrival of this email in your inbox doesn't precipitate any undue stress. So, with that in mind, please take a second to answer below. Or you can leave a comment.
All the big names in fireworks these days are families of Italian or Portuguese descent. The Gruccis, “America's First Family of Fireworks,” got their start when Angelo Lanzetta immigrated to New York in 1890. Lanzetta brought a shoebox full of firework recipes he picked up from his days as a fuochi d'artificio apprentice in Bari, Italy.
Fireworks by Grucci, named after Angelo’s great-great-grandson Felix Grucci Sr., have provided fireworks for countless independence day celebrations, the Brooklyn Bridge Centennial, and the last seven presidential inaugurations. The Gruccis’ explosive acumen was so renowned that they were commissioned to build an atomic bomb simulation for the Department of Defense. In 1982, an explosion at the Grucci factory in Long Island, even larger than their simulated atomic bombs killed Jimmy Grucci and his assistant, injured 24 people, and damaged more than 100 homes.
Fireworks aficionado and Grucci family friend George Plimpton wrote a terrific piece on the explosion and its aftermath in Vanity Fair. This excerpt is from the eulogy Plimpton gave at Jimmy’s funeral:
Of his family Jimmy was the one involved to the point truly of passion. He worked in the fireworks assembly area for as many as ten hours a day, six days a week. He turned and admired a fireworks shell in his hand as a collector might relish a statue of jade. His favorite was the split comet—perhaps the most famous American shell ever made—tendrils of gold that split at their ends, and then once again, until the entire night sky seems like latticework. He also liked noise, of course. Big reports. He would be letting the tradition down, certainly the Italian tradition, if there weren't a loud report or two, preferably nine or ten, to accompany things. He understood that curious aesthetic balance that comes with the combination of beauty and harsh concussion. In the evening, after work, after all those hours of making fireworks, Jimmy would reach home and immediately telephone his brother just down the street to talk—fireworks. His recreation after dinner was to relax and sit and watch tapes of his favorite Grucci fireworks shows on the great curved extra-size television screen at the foot of his bed. What woke him in the morning— and, I might add, everyone else in the Grucci household—was an alarm-clock system rigged to that same TV screen. At the wake-up hour it burst on and showed the climactic moment of the Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture as played outdoors by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops—the fireworks booming and echoing over the Esplanade.
Currently rethinking my alarm clock situation.
The Gruccis were able to rebuild after the tragedy, and the 6th generation continues the tradition started by Angelo Lanzetta in 1890
Some red, white, and blue from the five boroughs
For a 360° tour of the new and improved Grucci factory, grab your Apple Vision Pro headset and check out this link.
On July 4, 1976, New York Harbor was the site of Operation Sail, a boat festival commemorating America's bicentennial. The harbor was bustling with numerous tall ships, 20,000 private vessels, and an 80,000-ton aircraft carrier carrying President Gerald Ford—In other words, the perfect spot to orchestrate a massive dropoff of illicit Colombian cargo.
Two theories of crime dominate the underworld. According to the first, crime is best carried out in secret, where no one can see and thus no one will know. That’s true, but according to the second theory, the best way to keep something secret is to do it out in the open, to act like it’s the most natural thing in the world. In other words: never whisper, always yell. That way no one will listen.
Taking advantage of the maritime chaos, drug smugglers docked and unloaded six sailboats full of 8 tons of Colombian marijuana surrounded by Coast Guard and Navy ships. You can read about the operation here, extracted from Tony Dokoupil’s book, The Last Pirate: A Father, His Son, and the Golden Age of Marijuana.
Back to normal neighborhood programming next Thursday. Have a great week!