Despite a threat from protesters, residents and visitors gathered last night in downtown Grand Haven for the annual Light Night celebration sponsored by the Grand Haven Board of Light & Power and the Downtown Development Authority. The gala was interrupted only once, by a small band of protesters who managed to unplug and destroy an entire string of twinkle-lights before a show of force from Sherriff’s Department Officers led by Deputy Bernard VanderFifen corralled protesters into a parking lot behind the Jumpin Java coffee shop on Washington Street. “It was hard to get an exact count in the dark, but there had to be at least eight or ten troublemakers, and it’s quite possible there were even eleven or twelve”, VanderFifen told The Times from the booth at Jumpin Java being used as his Command Center for the evening. “It’s a tragedy they destroyed a string of twinkle-lights before we arrived on the scene, and of course our thoughts and prayers go out to the men and women who invested so much time and care hanging those lights earlier in the week, but once the Sheriff’s Department joined with the Public Safety Special Incursion Unit, it wasn’t hard to contain them in the parking lot.”
According to VanderFifen, the parking lot detainees were all wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the Yin-Yang symbol associated with a protest group operating behind a newly-created Facebook Page called ‘No Light Without Dark’, thought by authorities to be a “rogue splinter-group” of the protesters currently trying to remove Grand Haven’s cross from Dewey Hill, who are now arguing – via their Facebook ‘Manifesto’ – for the City to establish an annual ‘Dark Night’ event in order to “address the imbalance in public opinion and perception about the merits and values of Dark relative to Light, and to preserve the universal and unalienable balance between Light and Dark, as mandated in the Book of Gaul, from Volume III of the The Saga of Blandor-The-Supreme.
Fortunately for event organizers, with any threat of violence or disruption safely contained, Light Night was able to proceed with no visible diminishment in fun or positive spirit. A number of civic dignitaries and several community luminaries even sported black tie and evening gowns, in cheerful holiday defiance of the sub-freezing temperatures, although most folks opted to enjoy the festivities under the comforts of down jackets and thermal underwear. With free roasted chestnuts and hot chocolate in limited-edition, glass collector’s mugs, served in an atmosphere described by one reveler as “a winter wonderland”, even most children appeared to be enjoying themselves, although officials later reported that 17 children suffered breakdowns from iPad Separation Anxiety (IPSA) and were rushed to the First-Aid Tent, where they were each treated with fifteen minutes of Candy Crush Saga and a free selfie posted to Instagram before being released.
Light Night has been a cherished Grand Haven tradition for 175 years, since the first Havenites gathered on a late November night in 1839 to watch William Ferry light a giant candle on the front porch of his home at Harbor & Washington Street (where The Kirby is today). Festivities were cut short that year, as wind blew out the candle in seconds, forcing Ferry to move the eight-foot tall candle indoors and deliver his holiday speech to a much smaller audience. Two years later, however, Light Night became the true spectacle it’s known for today, when William Ferry teamed with Henry Griffin in December 1841 to build a large cross on Dewey Hill, illuminated by over 120 kerosene lamps attached to the cross. Residents were said to be dazzled by the brilliant light from across the river, and Grand Haven’s first schoolteacher Mary A. White was quoted as calling it “enchanting and uplifting”. The cross didn’t last long, however, as three years later William Ferry was sued in State Court by a local Band of Ottawa Indians, after denying their application to use Dewey Hill for display of Ottawa spiritual symbols, rejected by former-pastor Ferry as “pagan, and therefore incompatible with our public standards”. (more on that local historical drama in a future installment of The Times’ “This Day In History” series).