Grant Keltner

The House of Blue Lights

“The House of Blue Lights” By Grant Keltner

My grandfather started to display his Christmas lights back in 1962. They illuminated his home located in Vancouver, Washington like a beacon in the night; the entire neighborhood was ablaze with blue sparkles of light. He gave people a chance to see a visual extravaganza: over 3,000 outdoor lights, covering almost every inch of his home.

The lights were placed on all of the bushes, shrubs and trees on his property. They smothered the roof. The windows were framed with the lights and the walkways up to the house sparkled a bright path leading you up to the front door. The sidewalks that bordered the lot had long rows of blue that traced the outline of the front and side yards of his property.

My grandfather was a businessman in the area and originally had decided to display the lights as a promotion for the Oregonian for his company. He bought his home back in 1952, a large brick ranch on a corner lot located in the west section of Vancouver, Washington.

I first remember the lights as a four year old back in 1962. By that time award after award had been given to my grandfather through state and local organizations for his light show. The Oregonian and the Columbian newspapers had written articles about “The House of Blue Lights”. Most organizations finally asked my grandfather to stop competing, knowing he would win the events.

Cars lined up to see the lights, at times six blocks long. Police had parked on the corner of Lincoln and West 43rd and on the corner of Lavina and West 43rd, helping to direct the traffic. It was a sight to see, lights all the same hue of midnight blue. The cars would crawl to a standstill. People would get out of their cars and stand in amazement.

A big star illuminated the center of the home. The lights inside the house had to be turned off at 5:00 p.m. sharp every night. Nothing was to interfere with the lights outside; he wanted the inside of the house to be pitch black. My grandfather had to have everything look perfect.

Electric candelabras glowed in every window inside of the house, with blue lights screwed into the sockets. Christmas hymns blared over loud speakers strategically set in the rhododendrons. The songs could be heard from blocks away. Classical Christmas tunes drifted through the air…the music could be heard through the night.

A choir of angels was placed in the yard, accented by outdoor flood lights strapped to the trees surrounding them. A huge flocked Noble Fir stood in the front room. It was the center piece of the show. Spot lights placed on the floor projected shades of blue on the tree. It lit up the entire living room. Blue decorations were scattered on the tree and blue bulbs were placed in specific locations, along with strings of blue lights that wrapped themselves around the branches.

This undertaking took my grandfather’s hired hands close to two weeks to complete. I remember them spending hour upon hour each day stringing out the long electric cords, checking the lights, making sure they all worked. Spare lights, electrical wiring, and decorations were jammed into the garage.

“We’ll eat dinner in the basement!” exclaimed my grandfather. “That way we won’t have any indoor light interfere with the blue lights!” I learned to eat dinner next to the fireplace located downstairs.

People would walk up and down the sidewalks surrounding the house, taking photographs of the sparkling lights. Families would come up to the front door and ring the doorbell to ask questions about the display.

Two nuns traveling from Sacramento, California to Vancouver, British Columbia knocked on my grandparents’ door at 11:30 p.m. one cold winter night. They had heard about “The house of blue lights” and wanted to know if my grandfather could turn the lights on for them. He gladly turned the switches on letting the power flow into each bulb. He even played the music over the loud speakers. The nuns were amazed at the spectacle as my grandmother made them cinnamon toast and cocoa in the kitchen.

My favorite memory of his light show was the night snow fell in the winter of 1965. Close to eight inches fell that night. The lights beamed through the snow, illuminating the flakes and casting long abstract distorted shapes and shadows through the snow. It was surreal.

On Christmas Eve family and friends would come over to celebrate. My grandmother would play Christmas music on the piano, food was served, and kids ran through the house excited to see what presents were awaiting them under the tree. My grandmother’s cat would disappear for days due to the frenzy.

The police would stop in to say “Hello”. My grandmother would serve them coffee and cookies; it had to be the safest place in the neighborhood. The home was under a microscope for nearly three weeks each year. Local radio and television crews would report the event.

This ritual continued for several years to follow…this celebration of life, love, Christmas and community. It was an amazing spectacle. I have never seen anything close to this kind of outdoor display with lights and doubt if I will ever see anything close to it in my lifetime.

My grandfather died of brain cancer when I was ten years old, the last year of the lights. To this day I drive to his home, long since sold. I drift back to a time that will always be ingrained in my memory. Even though it’s been over forty years since the lights were burning bright, families still tell me of the special memories they had with “The House of Blue Lights”.

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