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Duc said that the report to identify the cause of the accident revealed that the assembly work of the fireworks, which was in the charge of the provincial ...
Fireworks Plant Explosions and Bootleg Traffic In Illinois
A Report to the Illinois General Assembly
Scanned and edited. /djh/
E. The Bangs Lake Park Explosion at Wauconda
Edward Bulger, 24, 2709 Pueblo, McHenry suffered a tragic and avoidable death on
July 4, 1972, while employed as an assistant to Robert H. Van Schoick, who was
conducting an Independence Day fireworks display on the beach at Bangs Lake Park in
Wauconda. Eight persons were also injured.
Fifteen steel mortar tubes were partially buried in the park sand beach. Fireworks shells
of various sizes were being dropped into the mortar tubes and then ignited by both
Bulger and Van Schoick. Water in the sand had seeped up through and into the base of
the mortar tubes, moistening the shells. This moisture caused one shell to explode
inside the tube, leaving a crater five feet wide and one and one-half feet deep. No one
It was subsequently established that the catalytical action of the water caused the shell
to explode. Instead of stopping the ignition of further shells, Van Schoick proceeded
with his display. Twenty minutes later another shell was ignited, and it exploded, killing
Bulger who was standing in the nearby firing area, and injuring eight other persons. The
explosion created a crater three feet wide and two feet deep.
The Commission was unable to determine from the official reports it examined, from the
coroner's inquest, or from persons it interviewed the exact portion of Bulger's body that
absorbed fatal damages. However, it is safe to assume that fragments from the
exploded steel mortar tube hit different portions of his body, mortally wounding him.
Shrapnel from the explosion fell as far as two and one half city blocks away from the
site of the display. Unexploded shells and debris littered the site of the beach display.
Van Schoick feebly attempted to blame the premature explosion of the shells on their
inferior manufacture by the Carpentersville Fireworks Company of Huntley from whom
VanSchoick had purchased them. When questioned by a Commission investigator he
denied knowing that there was water in the steel mortar tubes. Yet, evidence received
from official reports and through interviews of several witnesses established he was
well aware of the water situation at the time of the July 4, 1972, fireworks display.
Several pyrotechnics experts consulted by the Commission all agreed that the water
inside the mortar tubes acted as a catalyst on the fireworks shell therein, causing it to
2. Investigation by the State Fire Marshal
According to a report dated July 10, 1972, by arson investigator Roger Sutton of the
State Fire Marshal's office, a six-break shell exploded inside a four inch, heavy wall,
rolled steel mortar tube at approximately 10:00 a.m. on July 4, 1972, during an
independence day celebration. Shrapnel from the blast killed Edward Bulger. The
explosion also injured: Craig Steiner, Philip H. Marquardt, ; Dean Lisi;
Roger Henring; Lawrence Lehnert\; Roger Hackl; Lawrence Kapelke; and Walter G. Dale.
After the show had been underway for several minutes, Dale said that one of the aerial
shells exploded inside the launching tube. No one was injured, but a brief intermission
was called. During the intermission, Dale and Marquardt docked their boat at a pier
about 300 feet from the display area to get a soft drink. while still on the dock the
A few minutes later, another shell exploded inside the tube. The second explosion killed
Edward Bulger and injured eight others including Dale and Marquardt. Dale was struck
in the thumb by a piece of shrapnel and Marquardt was struck in the face. Both were
knocked back into the water.
Sutton examined the site of the two explosions and found that the first created a crater
five feet in diameter and one and one half feet deep. The second blast created a crater
three feet in diameter and two feet deep. Dale informed Sutton that the crowd was kept
back from the launch area approximately 50 feet by a chain link fence. Dale also said
that the display should have been halted when the first rockets did not appear to be
firing properly, and it most definitely should have been stopped after the first shell
exploded in the tube.
When Van Schoick was interviewed by Sutton, Van Schoick stated that after the first
explosion he asked Fire Chief Kenneth McGill and Commissioner Buschick if he should
halt the display. McGill and Buschick, according to Van Schoick, said that he should
not. Van Schoick also said that the two shells that had exploded had been
manufactured by the late Louis Maretti, owner of the former Carpentersville Fireworks
Company. Two shells of the same type, stated Van Schoick,exploded at a show fired by
his men in Fontana, Wisconsin, and one exploded at Palatine, Illinois. There were no
injuries at these locations.
Van Schoick told Sutton that he does not manufacture fireworks but purchases them
from other companies. Normally Van Schoick purchased his fireworks abroad, but for
the 1972 shows he said he was short of the particular kind of shell that exploded at
Wauconda, Fontana, and Palatine. Therefore, he purchased a quantity of these shells
from Maretti's company in Huntley.
Wauconda Fire Chief Kenneth McGill, when questioned by Sutton did not know the
cause of the two explosions. McGill was in the display area at the time of both
explosions, and contrary to Van Schoick's statement, said Buschick was not there.
McGill did say, however, that he had noticed water seeping into the mortar tubes when
they were buried along the beach. He felt this might have caused the accident. McGill
also mentioned that Wauconda had no ordinance governing fireworks displays.
3. Investigation by the Wauconda Police Department
Buda explained that after the first shell exploded inside the tube he saw Fire Chief
Kenneth McGill knocked to the ground by the concussion. Buda was 30 feet from the
fence, next to the beach house. After the second explosion Buda approached Van
Schoick and asked him what caused the explosions. Van Schoick appeared dazed to
Buda, and said that he didn't know what caused the explosion. However, he told Buda
that the explosions could have been caused as a result of water that was seeping up
through the base of the tubes.
Freeman and Wauconda Police Chief John Now interviewed Fire Chief McGill to obtain
his version of the evening's events. McGill said that he arrived at the site of the
fireworks display prior to the beginning of the show, but after the mortars had been
buried along the beach. He checked the mortars and noticed that at least two had water
in them. McGill said that he told Van Schoick about the water in the tubes and asked if
it made any difference. Van Schoick responded that he did not know how water would
affect the shells, but he believed it would be alright.
After the show began, McGill noticed that the shells did not appear to be rising to their
proper height before exploding. The display had been in progress for several minutes
when a shell exploded inside one of the mortars. The concussion from the blast
knocked McGill to the ground, but no one was injured.
There was a short intermission before the show resumed. When it started up again,
McGill noticed one shell that launched properly, but did not burst in the air. It returned to
the ground unexploded. Three or four more shells were fired and then another shell
exploded inside the mortar. This blast killed Edward Bulger and injured eight others.,
McGill immediately questioned Van Schoick about the cause of this second explosion.
Van Schoick could offer no explanation other than the possibility that the water in the
bottom of the tubes had caused it.
Freeman reported that the first explosion broke out two windows in the beach house
near the launch area. The second explosion, which occurred about 20 minutes after
and five feet away from the first, resulted in the death and injuries and also broke three
more windows in the beach house.
Freeman recovered numerous pieces of the shattered tubes from all areas of the
beach, park, and adjoining areas.
Shortly after the second explosion, Freeman interviewed Van Schoick and questioned
him about the accident. Van Schoick told Freeman that he believed the explosions had
been caused by either extra large salutes or by the shell exploding all at once instead of
in stages. Freeman also overheard a conversation between Alexander C. Anderson,
and Van Schoick. Anderson had been working for Worldwide helping fire the display.
He mentioned to Van Schoick that there had been water in the firing tubes but Van Schoick
responded that he felt the water would not have any bearing on the malfunction.
The day after the explosion, according to Freeman's report, numerous unexploded
shells and other debris were found littered along the beach. Also found was one
unexploded shell ten inches in diameter with the fuse burned half way down. Freeman
took some of the debris, some metal fragments of the shattered tubes, as well as the
base plate of one of the mortars that Freeman dug out of the bottom of one crater to the
Northern Illinois Crime Lab in Highland Park, Illinois.
On July 7, 1972, Sgt. Freeman and Chief Now interviewed
Robert Van Schoick at his home in McHenry. Van Schoick told them that he and his
employees had driven to Wauconda on July 4th, in a station wagon, a pickup truck and
a panel truck. They carried the display materials with them in these vehicles. When they
arrived, they buried 15 launching tubes in the sand along the beach. Two tubes were
three inches in diameter, three were four inches, three were five inches, three were six
inches, two were eight inches, one was 10 inches and one was 12 inches in diameter.
The vehicles were parked between the launching tubes and the spectators area for the
protection of the crowd.
Van Schoick said that when the display began, his employees loaded the tubes, and
he, alone, would light the fuses with a railroad flare. Van Schoick told Freeman and
Now that he knew there was water in some of the launching tubes and said that he
would get sprayed by water when he fired a shell from these tubes. He also stated that
water would have no effect on the shells, except that if the powder got wet the display
would not fire.
When questioned about the cause of the two explosions, Van Schoick theorized that
there was either a heavy charge of powder in the base of the shells or there was a
powder leakage in the shells somewhere ahead of the lifting charge. Van Schoick then
gave Freeman and Now a six-break, four inch diameter shell, which Van Schoick said
was the same type that exploded at Wauconda.
Van Schoick had purchased several of these shells from the Carpentersville Fireworks
Company in Huntley. Some were included in the display at Bangs Lake Park, two of
which exploded prematurely. Another exploded prematurely in a fireworks display he
fired at Palatine, and the same thing occurred in another display fired at Fontana,
Wisconsin. No injuries occurred either at Palatine or Fontana. Another was used at a
display at Great Lakes; it did not explode prematurely but the fuse fell out before it
could be fired.
4. Investigation by Insurance Company
Following the intermission, Edward Bulger began firing the shells. Steiner stated that
both Bulger and Van Schoick were lighting the fuses during the second half of the
show. A short time later, another shell exploded inside the tube and Steiner, his back to
the explosion was knocked to the ground by shrapnel. Steiner did not know whether
Bulger or Van Schoick had lit the shell that blew up.
Steiner said that the only training he received prior to helping with the display was to
make sure he loaded the right size shells in the tubes, and to make sure the shells
dropped all the way to the bottom of the mortar. According to Steiner, the shells were
separated in different piles, according to their size.
5. Coroner's Inquest into Edward Bulger's Death
A coroner's inquest into the death of Edward Bulger was held on October 12, 1972.
Wauconda policemen William Ramage and Bruce Freeman, and spectators Ronald
Buda, Donald Murphy and Lawrence Kapelke testified that the display had been
plagued with numerous problems. Many of the shells were not going high enough into
the air before they exploded, and several shells failed to explode in the air. These un-
exploded shells were found the following day scattered over the beach area.
Fire Chief Kenneth McGill testified that prior to the demonstration he had inspected the
fireworks and launch area. The metal mortars had been buried 18 to 20 inches into the
sand, but he noticed that water had seeped into some of them . McGill asked Van
Schoick if it would hurt anything. Van Schoick responded that it would not. There were
no sand bags around the exposed portion of the tubes.
In retrospect, McGill thought that Van Schoick had not used sufficient safety
precautions. However at the time of the explosion, not having had any prior knowiedge
concerning fireworks displays, he thought Van Schoick was employing proper
After the first explosion when McGill was knocked to the ground, he asked Van
Schoick if that had ever happened before and if it was alright to continue the show. Van
Schoick replied it was the first time it had ever happened at any of his shows, and said
it would be safe to proceed.
Van Schoick was not available for questioning at the inquest. He had been excused
due to illness. Nevertheless, the coroner's jury found Bulger's death to be accidental,
and they further determined "that there was a lack of safety precautions on the part of
the fireworks people."
The explosion of the shell that killed Edward Bulger was undoubtedly caused by the
water inside the metal mortar tube.
Robert Van Schoick contended that the explosion was caused by improper
manufacture of the shell by the Carpenters ville Fireworks Company from whom he had
purchased it and other identical shells. The Commission was unable to interview Louis
Maretti, the owner of the Carpetnersville Fireworks Company, because he died from
cancer in 1972.
The Commission rejects Van Schoick's contention, nevertheless, and we accept the
independent judgment of various pyrotechnic experts who all said that moisture inside
the metal mortar tube caused the explosion. It is also noted that Van Schoick had
furnished conflicting accounts concerning the water inside the mortar tube. When
questioned by a Commission investigator, he denied there was any water in the mortar
tubes during the July 4, 1972, fireworks display at Bangs Lake Park. Yet official reports
we examined and. several persons the Commission interviewed agreed that Van
Schoick had been well aware of water, in the mortar tubes.
Commission investigators interviewed several fireworks experts who said that water in
the firing tubes would cause malfunctions because of the way fireworks are
constructed. They asserted that the fuse that ignites the lifting charge inside the shell
also ignites the time fuse that bursts the shell in the air. The fuse first ignites the time
fuse, then ignites the lifting charge. If the lifting charge, which is at the base of the shell,
gets wet the shell will either fail to launch or it will fall short. The time fuse will still
continue to burn. Therefore, when the shell does not launch, it will explode inside the
In our opinion Robert Van Schoick demonstrated gross negligence which significantly
contributed to Edward Bulger's death. He should have known that it was dangerous to
ignite a shell while it was inside a mortar tube contaminated by water, yet he proceeded
to fire the shell. Had the mortar tubes been buried deeper into the ground there would
not have been as many metal fragments. There were no sand bags surrounding the
area of the mortar tubes to absorb flying metal fragments.
Donald j haarmann
The most singular properties of this
salt [potassium chlorate] consist more
particularly in the violent
mode of action it exhibits with combustible
bodies. This may even be considered as
surprizing, when compared with those
afforded by all the other known
saline substances. The super-oxigenated
muriate of pot-ash seems to include the
elements of thunder in its particles. A
chemist can produce effects almost
miraculous by its means, and nature
seems to have concentrated all its
power of detonation, fulmination,
and inflammation in this terrible
Antoine-François de Fourcroy (comte)
A general system of chemical knowledge,
and its application to the phenomena of
nature and art.
Volume 3 Section fifth
Concerning Alkaline and Earthy Salts