Parade brings light to first night of December

By Gus Bode

Steamboats and flying saucers do not generally travel on U.S. highways, but such a sight is a yearly tradition in Carbondale.

Thousands of onlookers lined the streets of Carbondale Saturday night to watch a variety of floats strung with many more lights, marching bands and Girl and Boy Scout Troops. Together, the groups were part of the 17th annual Lights Fantastic Parade.

Tom Redmond, who has been a parade coordinator each year, said 51 floats and community organizations marched in the parade. Some of the floats, like the lead float built by the city 17 years ago, were fitted with more than 20,000 lights.

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Nancy Stemper, a member of the Lights Fantastic Committee, said she was pleased with the parade’s fabulous crowds and weather.

“It’s hard not to be positive about an event like this,” Stemper said.

Stemper, and 14 other volunteer members of the committee, work year-round to organize the parade. She said the committee will meet today to begin work on the 2008 parade.

Eight-year-old Austin Gulley and his 10-year-old sister, Gina, said the float welcoming Santa Claus was the best. But 5-year-old Christopher Hexmoor said his favorite flying saucer float could have taken off and flown in any direction.

Parade participants began getting into lines and preparing floats by 5:00 p.m. on East Mill Street – where the parade would begin. Bryan Vagner, driver of the Rotary International float, was one of the participants lining Mill Street making sure the lights on his float worked, the generator in the back of his truck had enough fuel to last the parade and a fire extinguisher was handy.

Saturday’s pleasant weather was a rarity for December in Illinois. Most northern and central regions of the state had sleet and freezing rain. But with warmer temperatures in Carbondale, and a stroke of luck holding off rain, the parade carried on as originally planned.

Redmond said the parade was originally modeled after the Festival of Lights Parade in East Peoria. Since then, other cities in Illinois are modeling their light parades after Carbondale.

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People in town to support the Salukis may be one reason crowds were larger than previous parades, Stemper said. The crowd got to be so large that three children climbed the roof of Carbondale Trophy Company to watch the parade.

Traffic traveling on portions of Route 13, U.S. 51, Mill and Washington Streets were redirected from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. to make way for the parade. City officials and the Carbondale Police Department mapped alternate routes almost a week in advance.

The parade was not the only weekend event requiring traffic direction.

The SIUC football team played in the playoff quarterfinals at McAndrew Stadium, the Saluki men’s basketball team took on the Indiana Hoosiers in front of a sell-out crowd at the SIU Arena and Carbondale Community High School’s boy’s basketball team faced East St. Louis at home.

Brad Barham, Sunday’s day-shift manager for the SIUC Police Department, said officers began directing traffic at 9:30 a.m. around the football stadium and were not dismissed until 11:15 p.m. after the SIU v. Indiana basketball game. None of Saturday’s events had traffic problems other than crowding, he said.

Barton Lorimor can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 274 or [email protected]

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