The history behind the Night of Lights

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) -It’s a tradition dating back to the late 1930s.

“Folks that are older now remember to go see this when they were little kids,” said Fort Wayne’s Downtown Improvement’s Rick Zolman. “They could probably be in their 70s or 80s now”

Bringing young and old together to kick off the holiday season.

“As a little girl you look at the lights and it’s like wow that’s a big Santa,” said PNC Bank’s Corinna Ladd. “As an adult the tradition starts to mean more as you spend it with your family.”

The legacy originated from the department store Wolf and Dessauer.

“In the early part of the 20th century it was a very popular place around Christmas Time,” said Indiana Michigan Power’s Tracy Warner. “They had these attractive window displays. People came from all over just for the window display.”

Before the night of lights Wolf and Dasseauer were the key factors into making Christmas in fort Wayne magical.

“This was a major event in this community,” said Mike Eikenberry. “It was probably a lot like what you would have found in New York city at Macy’s department store.”

Wolf and Dessauer opened it’s doors in the late 1930s and around 1940 , the company started what would become one of Fort Wayne’s greatest traditions.

“The window displays they put out, visits with Santa Claus, Wee Willy Wand, all of that was from our history from the 30s through the early 70s.” said Flagstar Bank’s Debbie Demeritt.

The Merry Christmas wreath was one of the original displays for the Wolf and Dessauer era and now hangs high on the Indiana Michigan power building.

“It’s very neat, it’s neat that it could be on a building that’s on the same site as Wolf and Dessauer was,” said Warner.

The other original display was the ever so famous Santa and his reindeer that was on the south side of the W&D building .

“It was done out of plywood and in fact at that time, it was the largest display of the country,” said Eikenberry.

In the 60s, tragedy struck as Wolf and Desseauer burned down. Causing the Christmas wreath and santa and his reindeer to be tucked away in storage for years. With more shopping happening in the suburbs, oppose of downtown, the Christmas tree wasn’t lit for at least 20 years.

“They did not take the Santa or wreath with them, and they were in storage for a long time,” said Warner. “When the reindeer was rediscovered and Santa was rediscovered and put on the PNC building like in 1979, at that point many people remembered going to Wolf and Dessauer as kids.”

In the early 2000s, a change came. Instead of lighting the displays separately, companies came together and created an event called the Night of Lights.

“We have the downtown improvement district that kind of brought it all together and now it got it’s own name , it’s called the night of lights,” said Lad.

It’s safe to say that the Night of Lights is a holiday tradition that is still going strong and will continue to grow.

“It has grown over a number of years. It’s become not just a Fort Wayne event, but it’s a northeast Indiana, event northwest Ohio event , southern Michigan event,” said Zolman. “It’s a large attraction and everyone wants to be transported to that time when they were a kid.”

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