Plans have been announced for the 25th anniversary season of one of the most popular attractions in the Northeast.
Twenty-five years ago this month, Spirit of Springfield President Judy Matt stood in front of artboards depicting scenes drawn from storybooks and local landmarks to announce plans for a holiday lighting display in the city’s largest public park.
It would be called Bright Nights and for a $6 per-car admission fee, people could drive through the park, view the brightly-lit displays, and afterwards enjoy a hot chocolate.
"When we started, we hoped it would be an annual event," Matt said in an interview last week. "Nobody really knew what the success was going to be of this event."
Since opening night in 1995, more than six million people have been entertained by Bright Nights at Forest Park which now stretches for 3 miles and has more than 650,000 individual lights.
" The proof was these gorgeous designs in this gorgeous park and it worked," said Matt.
Matt said, for her, the 25th anniversary is more than a milestone.
"The 25th season is a tribute to the partnership between the city of Springfield, the (nonprofit) Spirit of Springfield, the generous corporate community, and all the people that believed in it," Matt said at a press conferenrce last week to annouce the launch of the 25th season.
For the 2019 season of Bright Nights, Matt said there will be added entertainment and a commemorative hardcover book on the history of the event.
The idea for Bright Nights originated from a childhood memory. Springfield parks director Patrick Sullivan said when a brochure about holiday lights crossed his desk, he recalled as an 8-year-old boy riding through Forest Park in his family’s car to see wooden cut-out displays of holiday scenes lit by flood lights.
" Making that memory for thousands of people, that was the goal," said Sullivan. " I think we succeeded."
David Cuoco, of the parks department, supervises a three-person crew responsible for installing and maintaining the displays.
"This crew, these guys are all perfectionists. If a display is not level, they're out there fixing it even after the show starts," said Cuoco.
More than two-thirds of the displays are now illuminated by LED bulbs, which are more energy-efficient and also brighter than conventional lightbulbs.
A new display for this season has been donated by MGM Springfield. The casino company’s display depicts a lion that appears to walk, leap, and roar. The display is 166-feet long, 24-feet high and has more than 4,700 LED bulbs.
The 25th season of Bright Nights will begin on November 27 and run through January 5th, 2020.