Somber Prelude to the Fourth

A faulty bridge and an untamable river claim eight lives

Every era looks back to good old days, often foolishly. The memory of earlier Fourths of July, with their pop-bottle rockets and Black Cat firecrackers, is apt to be a lot more cheerful than the real thing. Still, viewed from an often difficult present, it seems that not many years ago, an ear of sweet corn and a gin fizz were enough to turn Independence Day into pure bliss.

By that wistful reckoning, the last such ingenuous summer came along about 1960. American self-confidence was at its zenith. Ambitious public works were in...

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