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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette People look up at the lighting of Santa and his reindeer on the side of the PNC Bank building at Main and Calhoun streets during the downtown Night of Lights event Wednesday evening.

  • Volunteers Haylie Miller, left, and Jennifer Robles, both 17, wrap presents for children at Santa’s Workshop at the Community Center on Main Street during Wednesday’s Night of Lights.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Volunteer Haylie Miller, 17, wraps a present for a child at Santa's Workshop at the Community Center.  

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Dottie Mack plays the handbell with The American Legion Band in front of Santa's Workshop at the Community Center during the Night of Lights in downtown Fort Wayne Wednesday.  

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Guests fill the street down on Main Street during the Night of Lights in downtown Fort Wayne Wednesday.

Thursday, November 22, 2018 1:00 am

Night of Lights draws thousands

Feast for the senses downtown

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

The winter weather was Hoosier perfect for the annual downtown Night of Lights.

Not too cold at 35 degrees. No bitter wind to chap the lips. And for just a few hours, no precipitation.

The large crowd Wednesday night – which Bill Brown, executive director of the sponsoring Downtown Improvement District, estimated could have been close to 25,000 people – milled peacefully from one downtown venue to the next as Christmas displays lit up the sky.

The real pleaser was Santa Claus mounted on the north side of the PNC Building at Calhoun and Main streets. Santa and his reindeer was the display 21-year-old Jacob Medina remembered so well from when his grandmother first brought him at age 2.

His second favorite memory was the enormous wreath, another relic from the bygone days of the legendary department store Wolf & Dessauer, now installed for the season on the skyscraper at the I&M Power Center Plaza.

Third is Aunt Millie's, the yellow brick building on Pearl Street, where the aroma of bread still filled the downtown air just a few months ago.

Some form of the Night of Lights has been around since forever as far as Kelly Cumberland is concerned. Cumberland, 53, still remembers Christmas windows at Wolf & Dessauer and has attended the Santa lighting ceremony for as long as she can remember.

“It's gotten a lot bigger,” she said as she and her son, Dylan, waited in line outside Fort Wayne's Famous Coney Island for hot dogs, a family tradition for many families.

Inside, the hungry customers watched as Coney cooks prepared the links as fast as they could.

Pat Green, a waiter there since 1995, said the landmark restaurant would serve between 3,000 and 3,500 hot dogs when, any other night, that number would be 1,500 to 2,000.

While some people waited outside Coney Island, the largest crowd steadfastly followed the night's program. Closing in on 7 p.m., the crowd stood in Calhoun Street and on the sidewalks waiting for the I&M wreath to light up. Fifteen minutes later, the lights would go up at Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory.

The night kicked off at 5:45 p.m. at the History Center, followed by the Christ Child Festival Nativity scene on Wayne Street, close to Aunt Millie's, which was programmed to light up at 6:05 p.m., then the Community Center at 6:20 p.m.

Christmas music boomed from the PNC Bank site where children and parents stood in line to see Santa while others were seen dining in downtown restaurants.

At DeBrand's in the Ash Skyline Plaza building at Harrison and Wayne streets, patrons were treated to a vanilla butter cream chocolate bonbon and a sample of the store's Indiana popcorn tasting bars while the music of “The Nutcracker” played overhead.

Meanwhile, Medina and his friend Lucrecia Cardenas held their two pit bulls, Taz and Blue, on a short leash, training the dogs to behave in crowds.

“Can I pet your dog?” one young man said as he eyed the dogs, both dressed in holiday ribbon. Medina didn't see any reason why not.

The holiday spirit seemed to fill the streets.

“You come down. You see Santa and you get Coney dogs and that starts the holiday season,” Cumberland said.

jduffy@jg.net