The Fourth of July is a time to celebrate American independence.
It also offers a chance to look back fondly at the time the federal government nearly set fire to the National Mall.
In 1996, the Clinton administration’s Consumer Product Safety Commission held a very real display of just what can go wrong when fireworks are used improperly.
“The first demonstration on my right will show how easily sparklers can ignite clothing or cause burns,” former CPSC Chairwoman Ann Brown says in the nearly two-decade-old video. “They are especially hazardous to small children.”
A man lights a sparkler, then lets it burn both the doll and its clothing for an agonizing minute before mercifully dousing the doll with liquid. While tourists can be seen in the background, none rush over to save the burning doll.
“In the second demonstration on my left, we will show the potential for serious burn injuries when bottle rockets are carried in clothing or used without following instructions,” Brown deadpans.
The bottle rockets explode out of the mannequin’s pants pocket, leaving the dummy a smoking ruin. A man then extinguishes the embers as the mannequin falls helplessly to the ground, another grim reminder of the need to be careful around fireworks.
“To simulate the danger of highly explosive illegal devices, we have placed an M-80 in the hand of this mannequin,” Brown continues. “Every year, adults and children lose fingers and hands when this type of firework explodes before they release it.”
The M-80 then blows off the dummy’s hand, and that mannequin will never play the fake piano again.
Apparently tired of blowing up fake people, the CPSC then turned to blowing up fruit.
“To show the terribly explosive power of these illegal salutes, we have placed an even larger one right beside the watermelon,” Brown says. The salute explodes, leaving no trace of watermelon in an act that would surely have left prop comic Gallagher slack-jawed had he been present to witness it.
The agency then set up a fake living room showing a mannequin teenager, whose backstory is that he has concocted a homemade explosive while his parents either weren’t watching, or were powerless to stop him because they are immobile mannequins.
“Illegal fireworks are also made from chemicals found in the home and sold in kits,” Brown says. “We are using a single quarter-stick to demonstrate what a teenager might make from a kit in his home.”
The resulting explosion devastates the desk and tosses the mannequin up in the air as if it were just a large, life-sized doll.
After showing the dangers of multiple-tube firework devices, Brown — at this point surrounded by government-wrought carnage — then wishes everyone a happy and safe Fourth of July.
“At CPSC, we hope you will enjoy the freedom of the holiday, without the fear of injury,” she says.