The Skyrockers are a non-profit, 100% volunteer organization that performs fireworks and pyrotechnic special effects (SPFX) as a community service in the La Crosse, Wisconsin USA area. Our group has a history going back to the 19th century when we were known informally as the “Fireworks Committee” for many of the Independence Day and New Year’s Eve celebrations in the City.
The group was named the “Grandad Sky Rockers” in 1929 only a few months after the market crash of the Great Depression that had already gripped the farm economy of the Midwest. As a sign of optimism and faith, The Original 10 donated $10 each of their own money, purchased fireworks from a catalog and started the formal tradition of the New Year’s Eve fireworks from atop Grandad’s Bluff.
They began with a small parade from Downtown, down Main St. to the Bluff, shooting firecrackers and Roman candles along the way. A large bonfire was built at the top of the Bluff in keeping with an already well established tradition some of them and others had been doing on and off for years. At Midnight, a small fireworks display was performed. Over the years, friends of the Original 10 also kicked in a little money too.
This tradition has continued every year through to the present. The only exception was during World War II because gunpowder production went towards the war effort and because of the mandatory the blackouts.
We celebrated our 80th Anniversary on December 31, 2009!
The “Committee” also put on a small fireworks show from the Levee along the Mississippi River every 4th of July. Later, this show was moved to the County Fairgrounds in what is now Myrick Park until the Fairgrounds moved to West Salem. The show was then performed from Pettibone Park on Barron Island across from Riverside Park, except for a few lean years when fundraising was a problem.
The group not only performed the display, we raised the money for it until 1975. As the Bicentennial neared, the La Crosse Jaycees were approached in order to increase the efforts for fundraising and they held a small carnival in the empty lot bounded by State St., Front St., Mt. Vernon St., and 2nd St. in what is now known as Harborview. Currently the Jaycees sponsor the 4th of July fireworks during Riverfest and this show is regularly viewed by an audience larger than the City itself, in spite of a budget only 1/4 the amount spent on fireworks in cities of comparable size!
We also shoot the Onalaska Independence Day fireworks display every year, as we have since 1962 and other smaller displays such as at the La Crosse County Fairgrounds.
Anytime there is a special event and fireworks are requested, we are there as volunteers to provide the best possible display for the money. When the Main Channel bridge was dedicated in September 1939, a precursor for the modern Riverfest, we were there doing the fireworks. When Oktoberfest wanted special shows for their 25th Anniversary, we were there. In 1991, we hosted an international pyrotechnic convention here that was the largest convention in La Crosse history.
We also work with technical theatre directors for plays, concerts or other events that need pyrotechnic special effects. It may be the La Crosse Symphony doing a Sousa Revival, or the Riverfest float in the Oktoberfest Torchlight parade, or a play at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse (UW-L) or Viterbo College, or a rodeo at the La Crosse Center, or the Rotary Lights opening, or the naming of the Oktoberfest Festmaster or Riverfest Commodore, or a Boy Scout Awards Banquet.
The group also holds educational conferences and seminars for pyrotechnicians, law enforcement and fire department personnel, at schools and Scout events too.
The Skyrockers New Year’s Eve fireworks shows are the oldest community sponsored displays in the country. The Early Bird show at 6PM is a tradition from the 1950s for the young people and others who want to enjoy a celebration at a more convenient time. The Midnight show has been broadcast on radio since 1957 and on TV since 1985.
Our group of about 50 members spends hundreds and hundreds of hours preparing for all of these performances, in all kinds of weather and conditions. We may be up in the trusses of the La Crosse Center one evening running wiring harnesses or repelling off the face of the Bluff in the snow and ice placing Niagara Falls sticks on another. We use the finest materials and equipment on the market too, so what people see here rivals the best in the world. Our members may work all weekend to prepare effects that will last only a few seconds each, just to add some sparkle to a community event.