An Explosive Day in Martinsville Uptown
Tuesday July 1, 2014
History abounds in Martinsville-Henry County, Virginia. Come explore our eight local museums to learn about our areas past and the many interesting tales. Have you ever heard about the explosive fireworks show in Uptown Martinsville? It was the first and only of its kind!
On the quiet streets of Martinsville, the Christmas shoppers went about their business cheerfully on December 12, 1936. The entire town was the epitome of peace and good will until 3:45 p.m. on that fateful Saturday.
Fireworks in that day and time were highly prized and a new enterprise had opened in the Stultz-Shumate building on the Courthouse square for the creation and sale of that popular commodity in time for the holiday season just ahead.
Unfortunately, a clerk who was demonstrating a new cap pistol provided a spark that landed in a pile of firecrackers and that set off a chain reaction. Within seconds, the whole square was besieged by explosions of firecrackers, pinwheels, skyrockets and other items contained in what was thought to be two truck-loads of fireworks.
Local citizens were as panicked (as might be expected under such circumstances) and were convinced we were being invaded by hostile forces or taken over by robbers and gangsters, intent on plundering the town. Some thought the bank was being robbed while employees of a jewelry store nearby were sure they were the target and duly hit the floor to avoid being shot. One individual yelled out his conviction that "some mean devil has blowed up the jailhouse!" One woman who was trying on shoes in a store raced down the street in an irregular gallop with one shoe on and one off.
The clerk who had caused the problem left the building by a rear window and sprained his ankle. He was apparently the only casualty if you discount shattered nerves. Damage to the building was extensive and a few coffins stored upstairs were scorched, but none were required for victims. The people of Martinsville and Henry County had a lot to talk about that Christmas and for many days thereafter.
A special thanks to Carl DeHart of the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Museum for sharing this wonderful story of our colorful past!
MHC Historical Museum,