WADSWORTH — City Council and Wadsworth Township trustees voted 9-1 Tuesday evening in favor of keeping the city’s fireworks display exactly where it has been for five years.
Officials approved a new rule that allows both the city and Wadsworth Township to continue using a dumping area in Woodlawn Cemetery as a fireworks launching site.
Safety Director Matt Hiscock said during the meeting that the site has been used by the city six times since 2014 to launch fireworks. Each time, the city has requested permission from the Cemetery Board, made up of one Council member, township Trustee and Wadsworth citizen.
“In February, that request was again made to use the site for the 2019 fireworks display,” Hiscock said. “After lengthy discussions at both the February and March Cemetery Board meetings, some of the board members expressed a reluctance to have the board grant permission for the use of the site this year.
“It was their desire to have another body make the fireworks shoot site approval decision,” Hiscock added.
Per the new rule, the city and the township can only use the debris area of the cemetery as the launching site, and only state-certified fire exhibitors may use the site.
The cemetery will remain closed from the time the fireworks are delivered to the site the day of the display, and will remain closed to visitors until after the conclusion of the fireworks display.
Roy Boyes, 62, has been a vocal opponent of the city using cemetery land as a launching point for its fireworks.
During the meeting, Boyes cited in his remarks a July 3, 1776, letter by John Adams, the second U.S. president, to his wife Abigail. The Founding Father wrote that Independence Day should be commemorated with “solemn acts of devotion” and “bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”
“Nowhere in his letter did John Adams say these things, the pomp, the games, the sport and the illumination and the celebrations be held in a cemetery,” he said.
Boyes said he has family buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, and he believes using any part of the cemetery for a fireworks display is disrespectful to those interred there.
Boyes asked Council and trustees to vote against allowing the fireworks to continue at the cemetery.
“Last but not least, I urge you, don’t let society today be the one to teach these kinds of values to your children,” Boyes said. “I ask you to do the right thing and change that one small rule that allows for this to happen.”
Ward 1 Councilman Ralph Copley was the lone person to vote against the allowing the fireworks to continue at the cemetery.
“It is very disrespectful. I have in-laws buried down there,” Copley said immediately after the meeting. “I just feel that it is the right thing to do because there are graves within 100 feet of the shoot site.”
Wadsworth resident Stephanie Saniga said her late husband is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, and it is a personal matter for her.
“He is buried close to where the fireworks are set up and someday I’ll be there too,” she said during the meeting. “He would love it. He would be so excited.”
Saniga said it is not unreasonable to think that a good portion of the individuals buried in the cemetery enjoyed city fireworks displays in life.
Main Street Wadsworth Executive Director Adrianne Krauss said her organization works closely with the city to put on an event that brings the community together in downtown Wadsworth for the holiday celebration.
She said between 5,000 and 6,000 people assemble in the city’s downtown area during the annual event.
“It is a cherished community downtown event that is a very special time for the community to come together in the downtown area,” Krauss said.
Krauss said that since 2014 she has been one of the volunteers that surveys the cemetery before it opens July 5 to clean up any debris left by the fireworks.
“I can tell you that I have never personally seen any debris on the gravesite area, it usually falls on the tree canopy or on an adjoining field,” she said.