Fort Wayne’s Fantasy of Lights– a unique holiday experience with a long history

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Fort Wayne, Ind.– Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, television news outlets reported that vandals had damaged some of the Fantasy of Lights displays. The offenders are assumed young. It is also unclear what motivated the crime. The culprits damaged signage, floodlights, and connectors, but not the displays themselves. Nonetheless, by the time it was dark enough to enjoy a series of light displays, there was little sign that any damage had been done.

Fantasy of Lights, two decades and counting

The Fantasy of Lights is held at Franke Park, near the Children’s Zoo on the city’s near northwest side. A series of light displays ranging from nativity scenes to whimsical themes of teddy bears climbing lighted poles. Also featured was Santa stuck in a chimney, or better yet, the famous gift-giver rocking out on a rooftop while playing guitar, backed by elves on saxophone and drums. Signs indicate the names of businesses or individuals who donated each display.

The route is roughly two miles long, and according to information given to attendees last night, plans are to make it longer. When carloads of people pull into the entryway, they are instructed via signage to tune their radios to a certain local station to hear music that goes with the festival and to hear information about the displays, or the evening’s special events.

After we’d been treated to several lighted displays, and little evidence of vandalism (a sign that was supposed to read “speed limit 15,” had been changed to 150), our radio announcer informed us that free popcorn and hot chocolate were available in a small building near the pond. There was also a photo opportunity inside. The refreshments were nice for passengers, less so drivers. Still, that they were offered for free helped to make the season bright. The leisurely pace and relaxed atmosphere made it seem as if the Fantasy of Lights were some kind of outdoor museum tour.

To allow every carload of visitors opportunity to see the sights on both sides of the route, posted signs remind drivers to keep a safe distance from each other and to “be kind” to other drivers. No one had a problem with this except one vehicle, and there are always exceptions. The other thing is, vehicle headlights had to be turned off, or dimmed as much as possible. Some makes do not allow drivers to have the ignition on and drive without headlights. The spirit of the evening seemed to be, “Do the best you can.” There was significant police presence, and it was unclear if that was because of the previous night’s vandalism, or if they had always been there.

The tour through the Fantasy of Lights is relaxing and visually interesting. The route is a relatively quick one, and kids of all ages tend to be disappointed when it is over.

The Festival of Lights will be on display until Dec. 31. The cost is $10 per car. The event  lasts from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 6 p.m.- 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Franke Park is located at 3411 Sherman Blvd., Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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