By: Barb Sauer – President, Light Up the Fox
It was the darkest day of the year, December 21, 2013 – the Winter Solstice. Over 125 community members gathered together to walk across the Olde Oneida Street bridge, stop at the riverside green space on Water Street, count down for the switch to be ceremoniously flipped, and watch the inaugural lighting of the illuminated artwork. Light Up the Fox hosted the event and this riverfront light display. The goal is to shed light on the history of the Fox River, which is the mission of this newly formed non-profit organization.
The event itself ‘walked’ through the history of the river. It began with a connection to a time when the river ran wild, before the eyes of any white man ever settled upon it. Wind Eagle, a drumming group from the Menominee Nation, performed and taught the crowd how this traditional music is used in their American Indian culture. Shane Webster, the leader of the group, shared how the drumming artists draw upon their surroundings to create songs. Some tunes mimic the highs and lows of the tree lines, others capture the melodies and interplay of animals in the forest. Many of the artists get their inspiration from their family and tribal members. Shane began the session, as he does every time the group plays. He called upon the spirits of his ancestors in his Menominee native tongue. He respectfully spoke words that are cherished, having comeback from near-extinction caused by the forced assimilation of the European settlers.
After a half hour of music and stories, the pedestrians set out for a candlelight walk. They were encouraged to think of times past, when candles were the only light available to overcome the darkness in households. And to think of early Appleton, the location of the first home ever to be lit with a Thomas Edison light bulb powered by hydroelectricity. Ironically, many opted for the flickering LEDs over wax and wick. Clearly evidence to how electrical innovation stands up against the wind.
The route went across the Olde Oneida Bridge. It was the first December since the bridge had been remodeled, including wider sidewalks and biking lanes. Under each street light on the bridge a posted sign shared insights into Native American culture, triumphs and challenges.
The procession began its return to where it started, the historic Atlas Mill. Wooden posts, stood upright in a circle, divided into quadrants by North-South and East-West lines. They were located on a mound in the green space where the old water treatment building once stood. A fence along this hill displayed informational signs about the teachings of the Native American Medicine Wheel. “Candles” carried during the walk, were placed on the posts, lighting up the group’s own Medicine Wheel, as a sign of hope for the holistic health of our community.
The group then gathered in front of large structures, black against the darkness of night. These frameworks stood as tall as 15 feet and spanned up to 25 feet. All total, they held over 30,000 soon-to-be-lit energy efficient LED lights. Wisconsin Representative, Penny Bernard Schaber, flipped the switch! The crowd ooh’d, aah’d and applauded. Mike Catellino, associate Dean at Fox Valley Technical College, recognized the efforts and creativity that went into building these pieces of illuminated art. They were created by students at Little Chute and Appleton East high school and boy scouts.
The lights will continue to brighten the night until February 11th, Thomas Edison’s birthday (1847). To further commemorate Thomas Edison, his electrical innovations and how they touched the Fox Cities, there will be a closing ceremony on Saturday, Feb 8 at Jones Park. Light Up the Fox will host an afternoon open skate and at 6:30pm, the Valley Figure Skating Club will perform, including a few illuminated routines. Everyone is welcome to this free community celebration.