Credit: Bill Smith

Bruce Baumberger has been personally involved in half of the 100 celebrations put on by the Evanston Fourth of July Association.

A highly-involved volunteer since 1972, and now trustee emeritus of the association, Baumberger said this year’s fireworks show had to be the best ever.

“I’ve been watching Evanston fireworks for more than 50 years,” Baumberger told Evanston Now, and the pyrotechnic display Tuesday “was the all-time most spectacular.”

Add in the morning games for kids, afternoon parade and evening band concert, and Baumberger said “the community was exhilarated about the opportunity to come together for a traditional Fourth of July celebration.”

This was the first “normal” 4th since 2019. 2020 and 2021 saw COVID-related cancellations. Last year’s parade and fireworks were also cancelled due to the mass shooting in nearby Highland Park.

Both city and parade officials were unsure what impact, if any, the Highland Park tragedy would have on attendance in Evanston this year.

“We were concerned with what the public reaction might be,” Baumberger said.

Plus, there had been several other mass shootings around the nation within the past few days.

However, Baumberger said there did not appear to be any noticeable drop-off in Evanston attendance this year.

Evanston police, he said, added extra staff for parade and fireworks security.

“I think that everyone felt very secure the entire day,” Baumberger noted, to the extent that “it seemed half of Evanston was in the parade, and the other half was watching.”

The Backlot Neighborhood Association parade float. Credit: Desiree Shannon

There were about 80 entrants in the parade. In some years there have been as many as 120, but Baumberger said the key is “quality, and diversity, not just quantity.”

Getting the parade and fireworks back in person, Baumberger said, helped generate enthusiasm for more volunteers, who are needed to plan and run 4th of July events in the future.

“We now have a cadre of people to call upon to develop, in terms of leadership,” he noted.

“There is a very firm foundation in place” at the Association.

Baumberger also said the excitement and success of this year’s event might also lead to more financial contributions. The Fourth of July Association is an all-volunteer group that runs the festivities without city funding.

And, after taking a few days off, and sharing a few celebratory hugs, it will soon be time to start planning for next year’s celebration … and some potentially big changes will apparently be studied, although not necessarily implemented.

Nationwide media reports, in both the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, have noted that fireworks discharge particulate matter which can be unhealthy to breathe.

Locations such as Salt Lake City and Boulder, Colorado (a college town like Evanston) switched to synchronized drone shows, and Minneapolis had a laser display.

Baumberger said the Fourth of July Association will at least look into alternatives to fireworks.

“It’s a delicate area,” he said, “but we are always looking at ways to improve the celebration and are open to innovation.”

In a progressive town such as Evanston, where environmental issues have a definite political constituency, Baumberger said “as we think of our environment, we need to look very carefully at future celebrations.”

That does not necessarily mean the “boom” of fireworks will be replaced by the “whirrr” of drones. It just means that the folks in charge of the show are at least going to think about options.

In fact, despite the 4th of July’s great traditions, the big celebration underwent a big change about four decades ago. That’s when Baumberger and the group switched the fireworks show from a paid event at Dyche Stadium (now Ryan Field), to a free event at the lakefront.

So modifications can happen.

“Our association has been serving the community for a century, and we have every intention of doing it for another century,” Baumberger said, with pride.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. Fireworks are once a year. How much can they really effect the climate? I don’t think you can replicate with drones. Need the ooohs and ahhhs.

      2 second Google search will clearly tell you how fireworks impact the environment, animals, and can be triggering for many. There are thousands of sources siting the dangers of particulate matter released, as well as other potential negatives. Easy enough to say because they don’t bother you, it’s fine to continue. Please do some research before so blithely dismiss their negative impact.

      1. I’m with JP!

        Liz- this is a farce. Another strong arm attempt to destroy anything by your kind that does not comport to your ideology.

        If there are so many effects of fireworks- how come no one cited this 3, 10, 20 years ago. But now and only now we have to change?

        Go on- be progressive, save the world, ruin everything for all of us- especially something as wholesome as the 4th of July.

        Is there any tradition you will not destroy?

        1. I got an air quality meter because of an issue with our water heater, but turned it on during the recent forest fire downdrafts, and hadn’t turned it off. I was surprised to see that the air quality on Tuesday night was a lot WORSE than it had been during the forest fires. My reading was 284, and only in the 190s during the fires.

          I don’t want to ban fireworks, and this year’s show, particularly it’s finale, was amazing.

          But if you’re honest, there’s 10-15 minutes in any half hour fireworks show that is pretty dull. I yawned a few times. I think a show that mixed things up with a creative light show replacing some fireworks would probably be better, and have less of an air quality impact.

          But I also think Evanston should take a stronger approach to stopping private fireworks after midnight. There were really loud boomers going off after 1:00 am, and since official fireworks had been over for hours, these were a big part of the continuing air quality problem.

  2. The fireworks were the most amazing I’ve ever seen. People were still talking about them the next day. But I’d be interested in a drone show too, if that turned out to be better for human and animal health because of noise and particulate matter.

    1. This is Evanston. The progressive city that so wants to be Boulder. The city that does more to get in its own way. Creates self inflicted problems and stifles growth. Look around.

      The city of decline by its own zealot hands.

  3. I’ve seen videos of some drone shows in other towns and I think they can be way more interesting and amazing than fireworks. I’d love to see Evanston at least try them in the near future.

  4. We used to love the Palatine Municipal Band tradition at The Lagoon. I told everyone for years how great to hear back-to-back patriotic songs and marches. But, not this year. Why such a drastic change to the set list? On the 4th of July, seems folks would rather hear rousing USA traditional tunes, like a Souza march instead of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Love the band but please bring back the patriotism next year.

  5. I agree that the fireworks were quite soectacular, but I was glad I was watching them from a distance. I agree with Ryan about the private fireworks. There were kids setting off fireworks around Lincolnwood School until well after midnight creating terrible air quality resembling smog. I think we should give other options a chance. Who knows! The traditionalists may even like them!

  6. Yes, change can be good. Back in the day, the organization was known as the North Evanston Fourth of July Association – just peel back a layer or two of paint on the concrete viaduct wall on the NE corner of Green Bay Road and Central Street to have a perspective on how the City saw itself back in the day. My family was among many that used to drive over and park in the neighborhood around Asbury and Isabella in the ’50’s and ’60’s to sit on someone’s parkway and watch the aerial fireworks from the paid show within Dyche Stadium. This was after a day begun with races at the city parks where the individual winner of the running, jumping and sack races would compete for the All City Championship at Dyche Stadium, followed by the parade and cook outs before capping the celebration with fireworks. I think drone displays are an amazing example of technology and very cool to watch, but will never create the same excitement of a fully immersive pyrotechnic display. Yes, there is smoke and paper schrapnel, but possibly some NU materials science professor will come up with something a bit more clean-burning. While we’re at it, if you truly want to impact air quality then we should also ban all charcoal grilling in the summer as well as all fire pits, fireplaces, and camp fires. And especially, eliminate the worst thing to hit Evanston in decades – concrete speed bumps in alleys.

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