Felix Grucci Jr. — that's "Grucci" as in the famous Grucci fireworks family — is putting the finishing touches on his latest extravaganza. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will look up at the night sky this Fourth of July weekend and see his work.
Grucci gets a lot of questions from awed spectators.
"How do you make the ring in the sky? How do you get that happy face? How do you produce that heart? And like any good magician you hold that inside, and you don't let those secrets out. You just tell them that's the magic of fireworks," he said.
Using computers, Grucci choreographs every boom, flash and sparkle to carefully selected music.
"You try and open with a crescendo," he said. "You open strong so you grab everyone's attention. You then try and level off, and you slow the tempo down a little bit.
"And then you build to a false finale in the program, where everyone thinks that's the end of the show," he added. "Then you bring them to very end. The grand finale is like the piè de résistance. It is the dessert to a great meal."
The business has been run by the family for more than a century. They put on close to 300 firework shows a year, including world's fairs, Olympic Games ceremonies, and presidential inaugurations.
"Once you're in the fireworks business, it gets under your fingernails," Grucci said. "It becomes part of your blood. It flows through your veins, and you never ever get bored from it."
The Gruccis learned their craft in their native Italy and brought their firework skills to the United States in the 1890s. The family and the company have been growing ever since.
"Some [immigrant] families lived over the family grocery store. Ours lived in a fireworks factory," said Grucci. "The firework industry became ingrained into the very fabric of our life, and so that was the lure for me. It was the ability to be connected to my family and stay connected to my family."
In 1983, the Gruccis won the rights to provide the fireworks for the 100th anniversary celebration of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Three years later, they provided the largest display of fireworks the world has ever seen at the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty.
"The moments before the launch of that first show, I could tell you that my stomach didn't have butterflies in it. It had an entire jungle inside there running about," Grucci said.
Rocked by Tragedy
But the family has had its share of tragedy. In 1983, a fire caused an explosion in the Grucci fireworks plant on Long Island, N.Y. Scores of nearby houses were burned, and Felix Grucci's brother was killed.
"It was a tough time for us coming to grips with the death and the loss, coming to grips with the fact that our family's business had been wiped out," Grucci said. "Financially, we were in ruin."
Felix and his sister were determined to keep the company afloat.
This weekend, bigger than ever, Grucci fireworks will dazzle crowds from Omaha, Neb., to Del Ray Beach, Fla.
Said Grucci: "Knowing that we've delivered that excitement and those 'oos' and those 'ahhs' and watching the smiling faces of the little children — that's what gives me the greatest pleasure in the firework business."