On this 4th of July, Springfield looked to take a break from the work week to celebrate its country, its colors — and any and all ways to escape the city’s first-ever 100-degree Independence Day.
story by Stry.us / photos by Bari Bates and Dan Oshinsky
published July 5, 2012
It starts with a bang, as always. And then a whole artillery of fire that comes in bursts. Light floods the lawn and, in the shade of the reds and blues and whites, yellows, greens, you can see people in lawn chairs, hair taken up in ribbons or sweat-soaked against their foreheads, which pick up the light and glisten.
The temperature at the moment hovers around 94, and the sun’s been gone for a while already. Considering the heat that Springfield’s seen today, that’s not a surprise, but people aren’t complaining. They’re dealing with it, they’ve dealt with it, in their own ways.
It’s been six days of record-setting, record-matching temperatures in the past week and a half. Today’s been no exception. By mid-afternoon, temperatures hit 98 degrees, local meteorologists say, making this the hottest 4th since 1978. An hour later, it’s 99 degrees, tying the record set in 1954. And when the official numbers come out by day’s end, Springfieldians discover that they’ve lived through a 100-degree 4th of July — the first in city history.
To handle the heat, the city’s come out with water tents, vendors with their snow-cones, apartment complexes and all the rest with their swimming pools. Lots of water. Lots of air. Lots of things in the uphill battle to maintain sanity in this heat.
Downtown, locals are looking for ways to keep cool. Mediacom Ice Arena hosts families of skaters, people coming into the arena to beat the heat, get in on the ice and away from the sun. They’re decked out in every imaginable stripe (and star) of American flag-themed apparel.
There’s American flag tie-dye, American flag hats with only 13 stars, American flag leis – and that’s just one local downtown.
Outside the doors, out of the air-conditioning and back into the oven, there are the Jordan Valley Park fountains that leap out of the ground at intervals, and there are children who wait around even in the downtime and leap into motion when water begins shooting out of the ground. Water runs and the face paint does, too, American flags and Batman insignia recently brushed onto tiny cheeks. Most every face is smiling, except that of a dog named Nala, recently retrieved from the water and now shivering in its owner’s arms.
Some have found refuge at the few places that stayed open on this holiday. The Aviary, a restaurant downtown specializing in crepes, seems an unlikely place to find open, but it is. Diners enjoy their French treats while tiny American flags sit on each table.
Springfield’s biggest ice cream places — Andy’s and Pineapple Whip — stay open, too. This seems like a more natural fit for the holiday, mounds of custard piled high upon cones. Even local bassett hounds can’t seem to resist.
Back downtown, a crowd of thousands bravely faces the heat to watch the Springfield Cardinals play. It’s a 0-0 game until the 7th inning, when a Greg Garcia double opens the doors to a five-run inning. A half-inning later, a fan successfully finds Waldo in the 8th inning “Where’s Waldo?” game. All in all, it’s good day for Redbirds fans. The team’s won eight of its last nine.
The shadows start to creep across Hammons Field, and the cool comes with it, scorching heat making way for balmy skies. A harvest moon rises over Springfield. Can there be such a thing as a harvest moon in July? Because this one, shades of copper and orange, most definitely is; the thing’s a pumpkin.
At Hammons Field, the crowd stands for the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. Organizers say 10,000 came out for the first-ever Fireworks at the Field last year. This year, they expected more.
And then the fireworks begin, some of those weeping willow-ish fireworks that droop downward, bursts of green that stay low to the ground, and red and blue sparks that light up the Springfield night. By the show’s end, it’s nearly 10:30, and a fog of smoke settles over Hammons Field. Springfield gets back into its cars. Streets that had come to a standstill in awe of the fireworks overhead begin flowing again, while gridlock takes hold downtown. As the people make their way home, a few displays pop in the night, and it’s not difficult to imagine a city settling down after a long day of celebration.
Tomorrow, they will go back into the heat — and back to work.