The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights
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The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is a display of Christmas lights and decorations at Disney's Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida. Initially constructed by an Arkansas businessman as a gift for his six-year-old daughter, the display has become one of the most popular attractions during the park's holiday season.
Jennings Osborne, along with his wife Mitzi, founded a medical research facility in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1968. The business' success allowed he and his wife to eventually purchase a large estate outside of town in 1976. In 1980, after five miscarriages, the Osbornes welcomed little Breezy into the world.
In 1986, Breezy made a very simple request of her parents for Christmas ... to decorate their home in lights. Jennings gladly complied, stringing 1000 lights around their home. "Each year after that, it got bigger and bigger," Osborne would later recall. So big, in fact, that Osborne purchased the two properties adjacent to his own and expanded the display into them.
By 1993, the display had over three million lights. Some of the more prominent features included:
- an illuminated globe, with Little Rock and Bethlehem marked, mounted in the back yard;
- two rotating carousels of lights, placed on each end of the estate's circular driveway;
- a 70-foot-tall Christmas tree of lights with 80,000 lights in three colored layers, mounted atop the home's kitchen; and
- a canopy of 30,000 red lights over a section of the driveway.
- The lights were a wildly popular attraction, both in Arkansas and around the world, as news crews often visited to film the display.
The display was, however, not as popular with the Osborne's neighbors. They claimed that the display created massive traffic jams near their homes, and filed suit in 1994 to have the display turned off. Ultimately, Osborne agreed to several conditions on the display, such as a set schedule for when the lights would be turned on and hiring off-duty police officers to help the neighbors enter and exit their properties.
Much as generosity spurred the creation of the display, another act of generosity may have spelled its doom in Arkansas. After a family arrived just after the display had been turned off for the night, Jennings agreed to switch the lights on for them, in violation of the court order and netting him a $10,000 fine. The neighbors returned to court, which sided with them and ordered the display turned off permanently. Osborne appealed to both the Arkansas Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court, where Justice Clarence Thomas refused to hear the case.
The Disney connection
The story of the light display's court case brought national attention, including offers from several cities to host the display. Walt Disney World project director John Phelan contacted Osborne's attorney about moving the display to the Orlando resort, and eventually discussed the potential move with Osborne himself.
Osborne was intrigued by the offer, but initially understood that Disney wanted to put the display on another residential street in Orlando. What Phelan actually offered was to install the display on "Residential Street," a backlot section at Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park (then known by its original name, the Disney-MGM Studios). Being a fan of the resort himself, and realizing where the display would go, Osborne accepted Disney's offer. In 1995, the display was set up on Residential Street as "The Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights," becoming an immediate success.
Disney's Hollywood Studios display
Residential Street was visited using the backlot tour's tram vehicles. When the light display was in place, however, the tram tours would stop before sunset, allowing guests to walk amongst the displays. Initially the display was purely the original lights from the Osborne estate, but in subsequent years the display was augmented to its current size of over five million lights. The display's Disney caretakers have also added a number of hidden Mickeys into the lights. The 2007 edition of the display features over 40 of the icons.
The display is made up of over 10 miles (16 kilometers) of rope lighting connected by another 30 miles (48 kilometers) of extension cords. The extension cords and lights are held together using two million ties. It takes 20,000 man-hours to install the display each holiday season, starting in September. The lights are turned on at dusk each night, starting in mid-November and running into the first week of January, and require 800,000 watts of electricity.
In 2004, the park began construction on a new arena for its upcoming Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show, set to open in 2005. Part of the construction included the demolition of Residential Street, thus necessitating another move of the display. The solution was to move it to another part of the park, the New York Street set (now known as the Streets of America). As part of the move, the Studios added an artificial snow effect to the display, made up of 33 snow machines that use 100 gallons of fluid per evening.
In 2005, Sylvania became the presenting sponsor of the lights, as part of parent company Siemens' long-term sponsorship deal with the Walt Disney Company's theme parks, which also included the Spaceship Earth and IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth attractions at Epcot.
For the 2006 edition, the park added over 1500 dimmer relay circuits and control switches to the display to enable the lights to switch on and off electronically. The switches were choreographed to a musical score, and the display was given its current name. In this variation, a musical selection is played, during which the lights "dance" to the music. After each performance, the lights remain steady for about ten minutes before "dancing" again to another selection; other holiday selections play during the intermissions. The dancing segments cycle roughly every 30-40 minutes. For 2007, the "dance music" selections include:
- "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12-24)," by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
- "Jingle Bells," by Barbara Streisand
- "A Mad Russian's Christmas," by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
- "Feliz Navidad," by Jose Feliciano
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