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Light display: The Cinderella Story
The Cinderella Story, December 1998 Photo: Mary Ann Compton

Festival of Lights at Oglebay Park

Created in 1985, the festival is the largest and one of the most prestigious light shows in the country. Over one million people per year, including 3000 tour buses from more than 36 states, visit this Wheeling park for the festival. Forty-two displays and over one million lights spread over 300 acres are featured in this celebration.

The festival grew out of the decision in 1980 of the staff at Oglebay's Good Zoo to lavishly decorate with thousands of holiday lights in the hope of attracting more winter visitors to the 35-acre facility that had opened two years before. "The Good Zoo Lights Up for You" event, bolstered by special holiday laser-music shows in the zoo's adjoining Benedum Planetarium, made a big difference in winter zoo attendance. Its success caught the attention of park officials.

At the behest of Randolph Worls, CEO of the Wheeling Park Commission, and several others from the West Virginia Governor's Conference on Tourism, the park commission made a commitment to expand the zoo lights show throughout the park in 1985. The first show, lasting less than four weeks, featured about 100,000 lights and fifteen displays over a three-mile drive and was so successful that it drew 500,000 that first winter. By 1999, it had grown to a show featuring over a million lights and forty-two displays spread over 300 acres.

The commission hired world-renowned landscape lighting expert Dick Bosch of Philips International from the Netherlands to design winter lighting for Oglebay Park's trees and buildings, a task made more difficult because the trees are bare during the winter. The success of the light show also inspired Wheeling residents and businesses to create their own new lighted displays.

In 1986 the first animated displays appeared. By 1987, the show expanded, increasing the drive from three to six miles. Displays are not restricted to Christmas themes, and there are lighted images to delight all tastes -- including the Cinderella Story, added in 1994, depicting six dapple-gray festooned horses drawing an ornate Victorian carriage up a lighted road going to the castle of the prince.

The Festival of Lights has provided an economic "shot in the arm" for local businesses during the winter months, infusing $25 million into the local economy. It also has made a deep connection with Wheeling residents, as witnessed by the support they have given the event over the years by erecting their own decorations and displays as a way to enhance the festival.

Project documentation comprises an eight-page narrative, ten slides with accompanying descriptions, facts about the displays, a press release, a 10th anniversary program (1995-96), and a video entitled Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights, 1999-2000 edition.

Originally submitted by: Allan B. Mollohan, Representative (1st District).



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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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