VIDEO: The Lights Never Came On Again

Friday, December 21, 2012

Many long-time residents of West Baltimore remember when the Edmondson Village Shopping Center was illuminated with "tiny white lights" beginning on Thanksgiving night. Residents from all over Baltimore would flock to the shopping center throughout the Christmas season to see the glow.

While the exact date of when the tradition began is unknown, most can trace it back to the early 1960's.

John "Jack" Nethen, executive of Claude Neon Signs in Cherry Hill, was responsible for flipping the switch. 

Jack Nethen died in 2003. One of his sons, Jan Nethen, 64, lives near Bel Air. 

Jan said the process of lighting the Village Shopping Center included synchronizing five stopwatches, crane trucks and setting up in the summer months to take advantage of the lighter limbs.

"We would test each string, and we would test them live," Jan said.

Jan said the strings of lights would stay up year long and the crew that lit the Village Shopping Center would buy up stocks of white lights from everywhere they were sold.

Jan said when he was around the age of 13, his father would let him turn on the lights. Jan estimated that the light show started about 50 years ago, but it when it stopped, he was unsure.

"When the lights stopped, I don't know, maybe 30 years ago," Jan said. "I guess it got too expensive."

Charlene Clark, a local artist, was influenced by the tradition and painted "Edmonson Village at Christmastime." She described the lighting on her blog in 2010.

"Christmastime at Edmondson Village was almost indescribably special. Every year on Thanksgiving night they would throw the switch to power lights strung across the rooftops and over the trees that grew near the brick wall by the busy Edmondson Avenue. Santa, as I recall, was driving his reindeer on the roof of Hochschild’s. What a splendid sight for everyone to see. It brought gawkers from everywhere in the Baltimore metropolitan area," Clark wrote.

In this video, Inez Haynie-Dodson shares her memories of taking her children to see the lights until one night, the lights ceased to shine.


Front page photo credit: Flickr/brettneilson