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Fireworks explode in the air above Riverside’s Mount Rubidoux on July Fourth as people enjoy the sight from Evergreen Memorial Historic Cemetery, a popular watching spot. A nonprofit sells tickets and uses proceeds to support upkeep of the grounds. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
Fireworks explode in the air above Riverside’s Mount Rubidoux on July Fourth as people enjoy the sight from Evergreen Memorial Historic Cemetery, a popular watching spot. A nonprofit sells tickets and uses proceeds to support upkeep of the grounds. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
David Allen
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The fireworks might have been loud enough to wake the dead. But the dead kept slumbering.

I was above ground, as were hundreds of others, at on Thursday night amid the monuments, stones and markers.

A nonprofit sells tickets to watch the fireworks. Evergreen is in the shadow of Mount Rubidoux, from which the city’s fireworks show is launched. We were gathered there to glory in the display from one of the closest, most picturesque vantage points.

Shooting fireworks from the mountaintop is a tradition that began in 1964. That’s 60 years.

A reference to that date grabbed my attention when I read Riversider magazine a week ago. Philip Falcone, a councilmember as well as a history buff, wrote that after the mountain was gifted to the city in 1955 by Frank Miller’s heirs, public events began taking place on what was designated a new park.

“On July 4, 1964, to make the city’s fireworks display more visible across town,” Falcone wrote, “the tradition began of setting off fireworks on the mountain between the iconic Serra Cross and American flag.”

At 1,331 feet high, Mount Rubidoux has proved a wildly popular place from which to launch fireworks even higher into the air. They can be seen for miles around. And the show highlights Mount Rubidoux, one of the city’s most distinctive, most loved features.

Attending a Riverside fireworks show was something I meant to do some year. The round-number anniversary spurred me to make 2024 the year.

Besides, this is my 60th year too. . The fireworks and I could celebrate together.

People watch the July Fourth fireworks show from amid the tombstones and grave markers in Evergreen Memorial Historic Cemetery. Riverside's fireworks display was first launched from Mount Rubidoux in 1964, 60 years ago. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
People watch the July Fourth fireworks show from amid the tombstones and grave markers in Evergreen Memorial Historic Cemetery. Riverside’s fireworks display was first launched from Mount Rubidoux in 1964, 60 years ago. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

I confirmed the anniversary from newspaper coverage with the aid of Ruth McCormick of the Riverside Main Library.

“Riverside city’s annual fireworks display, presented by the Parks and Recreation Department, this year will be held on top of Mt. Rubidoux as in previous years,” the Riverside Press wrote on July 2, 1964, “a move which city officials hope will prevent the traffic congestion which has been an annual problem in the past.”

There would be no point in spectators trying to get close to the mountain, parks director Don Derr told the newspaper: “Actually the farther away you are the better the perspective will be.”

This gives new meaning to the phrase “farsighted leadership.”

As a historical sidelight, a second Riverside fireworks show also debuted in 1964. That was in the newly annexed La Sierra neighborhood and was sponsored by the Lions Club, with a full day of activities. That show, now under the city’s sponsorship, also marked 60 years on Thursday, it appears.

Fireworks have been launched from Mount Rubidoux annually except for 2020, when no show took place, and 2021 and 2022, when . The Fire Department lobbied against the return to Mount Rubidoux in 2023 due to fire danger, .

In the early evening, I parked on 13th Street at Chestnut, about as close to the cemetery as I was likely to get. After slathering on insect repellent, I began hoofing it to the cemetery along 13th, a residential neighborhood.

The scene was quietly festive. At one house, a woman tended an outdoor grill, no one else in sight. In the driveway of another, a dozen people sat around a long table, Thanksgiving-style, as the smell of grilled meat wafted to the sidewalk.

People enter Riverside's Evergreen Memorial Historic Cemetery on July Fourth for the fireworks viewing. A nonprofit foundation sells tickets. Proceeds help fund upkeep of the cemetery, which opened in 1872. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
People enter Riverside’s Evergreen Memorial Historic Cemetery on July Fourth for the fireworks viewing. A nonprofit foundation sells tickets. Proceeds help fund upkeep of the cemetery, which opened in 1872. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

At the cemetery, I paid my $15 admission to the friendly folks at Evergreen Memorial Historic Cemetery, the nonprofit. Proceeds help with upkeep of the oldest parts of the cemetery, , almost as long as Riverside has existed.

In the grass, people spread out blankets or sat in camp chairs. A band, Shameless Dawgs, performed “Sweet Caroline” and other oldies. Tacos, barbecue, shaved ice, kettle corn and soft drinks were sold from trucks or stands. People played cornhole. It was very wholesome.

Jennifer and Pete Wohlgemuth — “common spelling,” Pete deadpanned — have attended almost annually since 1991. Their son, Darren, was 6 months old that first year. He’s now 33.

There’s nothing the couple doesn’t treasure about the event: being surrounded by Riverside’s history at the cemetery, contributing to its preservation via their entry fee, the community feeling of watching the fireworks with others.

“With everything that’s going on in our country and our world, we need things to keep us united,” Jennifer said.

She’d been in Sacramento that morning to see her brother but raced south to Riverside to attend as always.

“Other cities have fireworks,” she said, “but not off the top of a mountain.”

I ran into a friend, , who invited me to sit with her, husband Greg and daughter Emma.

By 8:25 p.m., Mount Rubidoux was in darkness, outlined in sharp relief against the glow of the sun setting behind it.

At 9 p.m. sharp, the first firework was shot. The “oohs” and “aahs” began.

Recorded patriotic music played in the cemetery, underscoring the fireworks bursting in mid-air. They’re fired from the plateau atop the mountain. The American flag and Peace Tower are lighted. The cross would light up with each flare.

Late in the show, a small brush fire could be seen halfway up the mountain, bright against the night sky. The fire was small and didn’t spread.

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It’s a mordant Riverside expression: “It isn’t July Fourth until Mount Rubidoux burns.” I don’t know if that’s a 60-year tradition too, but if I was going to attend my first Riverside fireworks show, it was nice of Riverside to give me the full experience.

At 9:25, the show ended with a bang. People applauded, then packed up and headed for the exits.

I was glad to have been there.

I walked the five blocks back to my car. A long line of vehicles was heading east toward Market Street, tail lights red, backed up for three blocks at least.

What was that they were saying, back in 1964, about how fireworks from Mount Rubidoux would prevent traffic congestion?

David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, explosively. Email dallen@scng.com, phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on X.

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