The “Grandpa Gang” is putting the finishing touches on the 20th annual Light Up Middletown display at Smith Park.
Each year, about 10 to 15 retirees gather at the park starting Oct. 1 and work to get the annual light display ready to open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The event ends on New Year’s Eve.
After Jan. 1, the Grandpa Gang gets to work dismantling the displays, the electric cords and other items for storage in a park building until the next season.
Bill Becker, a longtime member of the Grandpa Gang, said the 1 1/4-mile route features more than 60 displays and will have two new displays this year, a Santa kicking a soccer ball and a Santa swinging a baseball bat. In addition, there are new electric luminaries throughout the route.
Becker estimated that close to 100,000 people visited the 2018 edition of Light Up Middletown. The event does not charge admission but does ask for a donation to cover electricity and other operating costs. He said the event has attracted people on bus tours from as far away as the Carolinas and the Dakotas.
In addition to the core group of retirees, the event gets assistance from other local organizations and companies, such as AK Steel. Crews from the city of Middletown were helping Tuesday checking overhead lights at the entrance of Smith Park. The back gate at Smith Park has been closed and locked in preparation for the event.
“This is one of the most popular things in Middletown,” said Barney Strassburger, a volunteer who has been with Light Up Middletown since the event started with eight light displays. “We try to add new displays every year.”
Becker said more than 50,000 incandescent bulbs have been changed to LED bulbs over the past three to four years.
However, neither Becker or Strassburger knew the precise number of lights of the event. Strassburger said the tunnels have 10,000 bulbs and each of the 54 snowflakes have 100 bulbs each.
Don Owens, a retired Middletown police lieutenant and a Grandpa Gang member, said “there are a lot good things in Middletown. It’s a very positive thing in Middletown.”
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