Fifty years ago, head groundskeeper Pete Koopmann talked with his bosses at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville about a way to keep his workers busy in the slow winter months.
They came up with the idea of stringing lights on the trees and bushes on the grounds, starting with about 25 strands and a generator.
“I had to decide where to put those on the bushes,” says Koopmann, now 85. “They were real small at the time. We decorated them, and we weren’t sure if it was going to work out.”
The crew got the go-ahead to expand the display and put up about 50,000 lights that first year. It grew and grew, and for the past several years, the shrine has told the story of the birth of Christ with a display of more than a million lights. About 350,000 visitors passed through last season.