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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Red, white and boom

  • For 125 years now, Larry Smith’s family has used the same firework to celebrate Fourth of July. Not the same brand, or the same variety. The exact same item every year.

     


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  • For 125 years now, Larry Smith’s family has used the same firework to celebrate Fourth of July. Not the same brand, or the same variety. The exact same item every year.
    Smith, who grew up in Leavenworth but has lived in Brunswick, Ga., since 1989, said a tiny cannon has for 125 years provided his family its own little “rocket’s red glare,” along with a bit of the boom-laden finale of the “1812 Overture.”
    Smith said he doesn’t have all the details, but knows the cannon was forged in 1887 at the Great Western Stove Factory at Esplanade and Choctaw streets by his great-grandfather, Fred Smith. It was given to his grandfather, George H. Smith, as a gift, one of three such small cannons made at the same time — the other two were reportedly given to Ralph Combs, later a Leavenworth physician, and Tommy Bradford. Larry said he was unsure of the fate of the other two cannons.
    The Smith family’s cannon has been passed down through the generations, from Larry’s grandfather George H. Smith to his father, Lawrence Smith Sr. It’s been fired off many years and in many different places, both in the city of Leavenworth and beyond.
    “Wherever my father was, or my grandfather was, that’s where they shot it off,” he said.
    This year will be something of a homecoming. Larry said the cannon has been with his parents at their home in Forsyth, Mo., for the last few years. He said his father died four years ago and his mother more recently, meaning that it was finally time for the relic to come back to its home.
    It’s small, less than a foot long, and Larry said it was “pretty much
    indestructible.” Even the wooden base on which it rests is still mostly intact, though it does bear some battle scars.
    “We haven’t tried to alter anything or change anything,” he said, aside from adding new metal brackets to hold the cannon onto its base.
    But Larry warned that its appearance as a toy can be deceiving.
    “It’s a thumper,” he said. “It thumps pretty good. And (the blast from the cannon) will kick it back maybe 10 feet. Most people are pretty shocked the first time it goes off.”
    The cannon is now always stuffed with black powder and newspaper. Larry said he and his five siblings are all familiar with the process — the tighter the paper is packed, the louder the boom, it seems.
    Maura Fulk, a childhood neighbor of the Smith family, said the concussions from the cannon were sometimes loud enough to shake plaster from the walls. At a party in Leavenworth Wednesday, Larry said he planned to ceremonially fire the cannon throughout the day — neighbors had been warned beforehand.
    Page 2 of 2 - As for the far-flung future of that tiny piece of Leavenworth’s history, he said he foresees the tradition continuing.
    “I have a son, so it’ll be passed on to my son,” he said. “It’ll probably be good for another 50 years.”
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