A Pyrotech's Spectacular
Meet Jim Souza, The Fireworks Impresario Orchestrating Macy's July 4th Show in New York City
Happy Independence Day weekend! A personal recollection before the profile….
July 4, 1976. I was five years old and living in St. Louis. In the early evening, my parents bundled my siblings and me into our blue whale of a station wagon. From the quiet suburbs, we were headed downtown to the Bicentennial celebrations. Now I didn’t know what a bicentennial was, nor really the importance of July 4th, but clearly, something big was happening, and we were going to be part of it.
Memory has only left me with certain moments. Bumper-to-bumper of honking traffic and parking what must have been legions away from the Arch. As we neared a grassy hilltop, the fencing that channeled us seemed to converge into a V. The crowds pressed tighter and tighter around us. I felt like a piece of sand being pushed through the narrow of an hourglass. Everyone carried stick flags and the occasional pop-pop-pop of firecrackers startled. Fearing I might be swept away by the surging tide of legs surrounding me, I clutched at the arm of my big brother, sturdy as marble.
We found a spot on a slope. It was too packed to sit down. The air smelled of cigarette smoke, Busch beer, and caked sweat. I remember whining about not wanting to be there, and if I’m honest, I probably cried. We waited and waited as the sky darkened over the still black ribbon of the Mississippi River. I wanted to go home.
And then there was a hush of expectation and thin streams of color rose into the sky. The first explosion pushed me back on the heels of my white sneakers. Quickly there was sound and wonder everywhere. Now, over four decades later, I can still vividly recall dazzles of red reflecting off the Arch’s silver sheen and wondering why the thunder of explosions always came after the bursts of light.
In honor of those pyrotechnicians who dazzled a young me, here’s a WorkCraft profile of a fireworks impresario:
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“If you want to make a real living, there are other things to do. The payday for all of us is really the oohs and aahs. When you work this hard, as we do all year long, and then we get out there on July 4th and set everything up, and the lights go down, and the crowd cheers, and we start firing the first shell…”
This is Jim Souza, president of Pyro Spectaculars. His company is putting on Macy’s Independence Day firework show in New York City, along with 400 others across the country. Jim is 65 years old with thick sweeps of peppered gray hair, a sturdy build, and eyes that seem to dance in their sockets as he recounts past and future shows. One gets the sense that he is seeing the bursting flowers and cascades of shimmering light.
“After the opening, we hear the crowd roar. There’s excitement and Fiddle-Faddle and American Yankee Doodle and all that. Then the show, as we designed, builds into something big and emotional, creating a sense of pride in being an American. Then the finale comes, and everybody is high-fiving and you can see the smiling faces of kids, grandkids, grandpas, and grandmas. As my Dad said, fireworks are a medium, the one form of entertainment, that is satisfying to all people of all ages of all backgrounds in the world. It’s a big statement, but it’s tested and true. And you can’t say that about much else. We do one thing, and everybody’s happy with it. I mean, that’s a pretty big deal.”
It might be fair to say that Jim has gunpowder coursing through his veins. He was definitely born into the fireworks trade. He is the fourth generation of Souza to run the business. His sons, who design shows of their own, are the fifth.
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