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'Rang Fire

Tom Fitzgerald throws spectators for a loop with his pyrotechnics-aided "Nighttime Boomerang Show"

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This Saturday night at Jefferson Barracks Park, Tom Fitzgerald will calmly open the doors of his van, crank up the volume of his powerful sound system, begin strapping fireworks to boomerangs, light the fuses and whip the projectiles over the heads of a bedazzled throng.

Fitzgerald has been performing his Nighttime Boomerang Show since 1995, using custom boomerangs with LED lights, chemical light sticks and fireworks, including sparklers. "We turn the music up loud and throw boomerangs, and the crowd oohs and aahs, and it's a lot of fun," he says. He will be one of many cool acts appearing at the St. Louis Juggling Club Festival this weekend.

Fitzgerald, who is also a professional baker and proofreader, has introduced the boomerang to scores of children through speeches and demonstrations at schools. Amazingly, he says that when he performs these demos in the wintertime, he throws boomerangs inside the school gym. At the festival, he plans to teach all comers the joys of throwing the 'rang, and he'll probably have a few for sale, too.

The boomerang evolved from a thrown hunting club used by Australian aborigines. The blades, which may number two, three, four or more, are simple airfoils. Fitzgerald makes plastic and wooden boomerangs himself, and he reports that some fly in a circle whereas others make a teardrop shape as they cross the sky and return home to the thrower. "There are boomerangs that are designed to come in real fast," he says, "and then there are boomerangs that are designed to climb up real high and just flutter down very, very slowly, like a maple leaf."

The boomerang aficionado was inspired by an Australian friend who also developed a nighttime show. Fitzgerald says that he does not attempt to catch these flaming projectiles when they come back, adding that many of his boomerangs are now charred as a result of contact with sparklers and burning steel wool. He also says that he is working on some new pyrotechnic effects for Saturday's show but that he's "not putting M-80s on these things, although that would be a spectacular finish, I'll tell you that."

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