A young girl watches the Independence Day fireworks show Thursday, July 4, 2019, inside Frontier Park in Cheyenne. The show was delayed about 20 minutes due to lightning and rain, but continued as normal after the wait. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Night skies on Thursday looked a little bit brighter than usual, but they were a whole lot noisier.

Despite the threat of potential thunderstorms and tornadoes, Fourth of July celebrations went off with only a slight delay at Frontier Park. The National Weather Service in Cheyenne issued a severe thunderstorm warning and tornado watch for the area around 9 p.m. that included torrential rain and hail.

Cheyenne residents who had celebrated Independence Day by attending Frontier Park festivities and cookouts with friends and family at Lions Park had to wait about 20 extra minutes to see the annual fireworks show.

James Sims said he’s been celebrating Independence Day at Lions Park for the past 23 years. Each year, more and more people attend his get-together. This year, he had a friend come all the way from the East Coast.

“I guess it’s pretty much, for the most part, a friends holiday, if that means anything,” he said.

In the grassy field by his picnic tables and tent, kids played with patriotic-themed “bumper tubes” that Sims bought this year. Sims said each year he adds more to the celebration. Last year, he got a giant beach ball, but the real kicker would come later with the hundreds of water balloons he planned to let loose with the kids.

Eleven-year-old Charlotte Ehlman said she’s been going to the get-together every year and enjoys getting to meet new people.

For her, the Fourth of July “celebrates our independence and how we became one.”

One of the more notable Independence Day events is the Frontier Park fireworks show. Each year, Cheyenne Frontier Days and the City of Cheyenne host the show that kicks off around 9:30 p.m. as a way for the community to get together and celebrate America’s independence.

The event is made possible by the many Cheyenne Frontier Days volunteers that help the 4,000 to 5,000 spectators that fill the stands at Frontier Park.

“It’s volunteers from all different committees in Frontier Days, and we just kind of put together volunteers that like to do this event as well,” said Bob Mathews III, Indians Committee chairman for Cheyenne Frontier Days. “It’s a lot of extra work because obviously we’ve got a lot to get ready for the rodeo and everything else.”

The 123rd annual “Daddy of ’em All” kicks off July 19 and runs through July 28.

The volunteers help with logistics, parking, concessions and more. There also are volunteers from F.E. Warren Air Force Base to help watch the gates and security, he said.

The festivities include entertainment, usually a concert, the national anthem and flag drop, and then fireworks.

“We like to celebrate it … because we think it’s a big sense of pride for our city, as well as our event,” Mathews said. “We love showing off Frontier Park. I think it’s just a good sense of community.”

This is one of those days, he said, where it really doesn’t matter what a person’s political stance is; it’s all about being proud of America.

At the event, there also was a military salute to honor the troops and a flag drop. Spectators also get to sing along to patriotic songs.

“I don’t have many family members in the military, but my wife here, her dad was in the military, and his dad was in the military,” Jacob Jenkins said. “I feel as if it’s a need to thank our troops for what they’re doing for us, giving us freedom and all.”

History of Independence Day

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence. (The same body actually declared the American colonies were independent of British rule two days earlier.)

According to History.com:

The actual Declaration of Independence was finished after being written, largely by Thomas Jefferson, on July 2. John Adams would protest July 4 being regarded as Independence Day and would refuse invitations to Fourth of July events.

Early Independence Day celebrations had more than just fireworks. It was usually commemorated by speeches, gunfire and even mock funerals for King George III as a way to celebrate the end of British rule.

“The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America,” Founding Father John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail. “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival … It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

The Sons of Liberty also shot off fireworks and shells in the Boston Commons, and several cities across the 13 colonies also celebrated this way.

Despite the widespread celebrations, the Fourth of July wouldn’t become an official holiday until 1870, when it was adopted by the U.S. Congress. Now, Americans spend about $1 billion on fireworks annually to celebrate their freedom.

Isabella Alves is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at ialves@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter @IsabellaAlves96.

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