Fatman II, a monstrous firecracker lit by George Plimpton, exploded rather prematurely Saturday night, thus bringing a series of genial fiascos during World Record Week to an appropriate finale.
Fortunately, nobody got hurt, though the blast did sting the eardrums even of veteran residents long accustomed to the sound of rocket launches from nearby Cape Canaveral.
The event was part of a desperate attempt by the Madcap Mischief Makers of Brevard County which runs 78 miles along the Atlantic coast south from the space complex, to get the rest of the country to realize it still exists.
Earlier in the day, the group's most grandiose scheme. "Reach on the Beach" - an effort to line up 60,000 people in the handholding chain spanning 48 miles of ocean beach - had fallen short by 30,000 bodies and 18 miles.
Later, the tourist-minded Brevardians were further embarrassed by unremitting drizzle and unFlorida-like chill that canceled some festivities and made others astrociously tardy.
Then came the firecracker.
For Plimpton, this was a move to reverse his disgrace in the Guinness Book of World Records. The encyclopedia of instant trivia recognizes him for having achieved "the world's lowest fireworkd" in February 1975, with Fatman I, which exploded in New Island instead of above it, leaving crater 10 feet deep.
This time, seeking a more positive accomplishment, the 800 pound Fatman II did climb to 150 feet before detonating. The only trouble was, it was supposed to climb to 1,000 feet. An overload of lifting charge was blamed for causing the cracker to disintegrate before its 8-second fuse expired.
Plimpton, undaunted, vowed "to return to Brevard next year with Fatman III."
It was Plimpton's old pal and Mischief Makeer stalwart Bubba Sutton, an auto dealership sales manager, who cooked up the World Record Week stunt. "We wanted to bring attention to people in the frozen North that we have miles and miles of beach here, so many can't see anybody else," Sutton said.
In a sense, that's indeed Brevard's problem. You can't see anybody else. Since the deflation of the space boom nearly a decade ago, the county has been plagued with shuttered businesses and unemployment climbing to 18 per cent. About all it's known for these days is its Indian River citrus.
"We feel tourism is the cleanest industry to have here, and we hope these visually attractive events will attract it," said Sutton, who once organized a National Football League exhibition game in Paris, France.
"People come and spend money and leave, and then we can go back on our beach again."
As Saturday commenced, it seemed the "Reach on the Beach" would be more like a "ghost of a coast."
When Charlie Hicks, coordinating the event through a simulcast on Brevard's 14 radio stations, cheerily intoned. "The sun is peaking through the clouds, and thousands of people are out here already," the sun wasn't visible, and there were all of 11 souls spotted along one 5-mile stretch of land.
But slowly, people straggled to the beach, killing time by playing volleyball or drawing letters with their big toes.
Pogo, a 6 year old whippet, dashed among them chasing Frisbees hurled by his owner, Mike McLaughlin. Pogo hoped to break the Guinness record for a broad jump by a dog - of 30 feet, set by a greyhound in Gloucestershire, England, in 1849.
Pogo came through, leaping 30 feet, 6 inches, as measured by Plimpton in one of Pogo's lunges of the Frisbee.
By the handholding zero hour of 11:30 a.m., long strings of folks - many of them family clans, others representing businesses and student organizations that had pledged a "mile of people" had formed along the water's edge, posing for press photography planes whizing by.
The spectacle prompted the ebullient Sutton to announce a turnout of 75,000 people, a claim spread throughout the country by radio networks.
However, sheriff's deputy calculated a figure of 30,000, which seems more realistic since there were numerous gaps in the chain.
Plimpton turned out for the handholding after dozing much of the morning in the $110,000, ninth-floor, oceanside condominium made, available to him, and playing tennis in the drizzle with his entourage of ex-baltimore Colts, Tom Matte, Dan Sullivan, and Rick Volk.
Weather complications forced him to miss observing an attempt by a Madcap Mischief Makers speedboat to low 21 water skiers simultaneously off a dock. Eleven stayed on their skies. The others thudded ignominiously beneath the Indian River about 10 feet from dockside.
The author also failed to witness a valiant struggle by oysterman Roland Hill to break the Guinness shucking record, set by a Christchurch. New Zealand, gent of 100 oysters in 3 minutes, 1 second.
Hill shucked his 100 in 3 minutes, 4 seconds.
Since it's still early in the Florida oyster season, "I'm out of practice," he explained.
The weather also grounded plans to launch 45 hang gliders simultaneously.
Fatman II also suffered its share of misery.
Mischief Maker honchos kept hiding the firecracker from authorities, fearing it might be illegal.
"I stored it first in a truck in a parking lot at a motel," said participant Dennis Stallings, "and I think I changed trucks three times after that."
Meanwhile, the launching tube for the behemoth explosive was being ferried south from New York on a truck that broke down in Paducah. Ky.It was transfered to a second truck, which succumbed in Atlanta. A third truck died in Daytona Beach and was towed the 35 miles to Titusville.
But all these mishaps didn't spoil the humor and good spirits of the Mischief Makers. After all, this wasn't any rigorously disciplined rocket launch, but their idea of a countywide party. "This has been absolutely pointless, but it's sure been a lot of fun," said Don Engel; a Mischief Maker official.
"For so many years in this county, we've been mission oriented with the launches. Those are zero-defect projects. People drink a lot of coffee and smoke a lot of cigarettes and have a lot of heart attacks to make them go off correctly. I think the county turned on to World Record Week so much because it was just for the hell of it."