Where to find the best fireworks in the suburbs
Sleepy Hollow Service Club member Wayne Eichen said the village is known for two things: The headless horseman galloping around during Halloween and its July 4 fireworks.
The small. quiet bedroom community's booming display, lasting about 30 minutes, is one of the largest in the area.
Eichen said when Sleepy Hollow officials first organized Independence Day fireworks, they wanted to give residents an option to the long drive to downtown Chicago and a chance to see a first-rate display nearby.
"They can see the fireworks in their backyard and go home and be in bed shortly after the show," Eichen said.
Downtown is less of an option this year, as budgetary cuts forced the city of Chicago to cancel its famous Fourth of July fireworks display, which has long been part of the Taste of Chicago.
While officials expect crowds larger than usual at Navy Pier to see shells shot over Lake Michigan in a show funded by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the cancellation of Chicago's premier show leaves an opportunity for suburbs to show off their own fireworks prowess, Itasca Village Manager Evan Teich said.
He's hoping for an uptick in attendance, and he said officials have prepared contingency plans for a larger crowd.
The village's fireworks display, at 26 minutes, is one of the most impressive in the area, and attendance topped 50,000 in 2008 thanks to a performance by alternative rock band Lifehouse.
Other shows large enough to be considered regional draws include ones at Arlington Park and Great Lakes Naval Station.
Suburban fireworks shows have grown much more sophisticated over the years. At the first Sleepy Hollow display, for example, they lit fuses by hand. Organizers now contract companies which use computers to ignite displays choreographed to music. This year, prepare for a steady diet of Katy Perry's "Firework."
"That's probably the most requested (song) for this year," said Bob Kearns, director of operations for Melrose Pyrotechnics, which choreographs many shows.
His business has seen tougher times with the economic downturn. Many municipalities have either cut their fireworks displays like Chicago, or shaved a couple minutes off the length.
The business also was hurt by price increases of up to 15 percent after two explosions in 2008 at fireworks factories in China that decreased supply. But the market has improved, Kearns said.
"Everything seems to be getting back to where it was a few years ago," he said.
Well, not everything. Des Plaines this year canceled its fireworks and Elgin, the eighth-largest city in the state, cut its show in 2009 and has yet to reinstate it.
Elgin's loss is Sleepy Hollow's gain, as it has seen increased crowds as a result, Eichen said. The town's service club organizes the display, leaving it immune to the budgetary difficulties of a municipality, Eichen said.
Arlington Park also lacks municipal budget concerns, and this year it's touting the display as its biggest ever. Spokesman David Zenner said he expects the 30-minute show to sell out, meaning tickets likely won't be available at the gate.
Arlington didn't expand this year's show as reaction to the cancellation of Chicago's display, Zenner said. But the track will gladly reap the benefits.
"We have seen virtually all of the reserve seating go," Zenner said.
Great Lakes Naval Station will host two days of fireworks on July 3 and 4, part of the base's 100th anniversary celebration. The base is prepping for record crowds of about 60,000 over three days, said John Prue, who oversees the award-winning display.
Unlike most displays, Great Lakes produces it in-house without the aid of a contractor.
Not only will Great Lakes see a boost in attendance from Chicago cancellation, but Prue said it'll get crowds from southeastern Wisconsin, as Milwaukee won't host fireworks on July 4.
"I think we will be jampacked," Prue said.
Prue and other organizers scoff at the notion that the duration of the show is the most important.
"I don't get hung up on time," he said. "To me, it's keeping them interested in the show; we don't have too many dull moments."