The Peace Candle has undergone several changes and variations over the last 58 years. The current candle was built in 1985 and is expected to last until about 2014, after which time Easton officials expect to build a new one. As of 2009, the central main candle stands 94-foot (29 m), and the base brings it to about 106-foot (32 m). It reaches a height of about 118-foot (36 m) above ground level when factoring the monument it rests atop. When the candle is assembled, several 8-foot (2.4 m) by 8-foot by 10-foot (3.0 m) box pieces are placed around the Soldiers' & Sailors' Monument, a Civil War memorial in Centre Square, the town square of Easton's Downtown neighborhood. The box pieces are stacked vertically until the structure is assembled, and then bolted together using about 500 bolts inside the Peace Candle. The flame placed atop the candle is about 15-foot (4.6 m) high and illuminated with 31 bulbs. The entire structure weighs between eight and 10 tons. The main candle is surrounded by four, 15-foot (4.6 m) high side candles, and a fountain that surrounds the Peace Candle's base is filled with a ring of Christmas trees.
Easton, the county seat of Northampton County in Pennsylvania, was considered one of the earliest cities to feature elaborate Christmas decoration displays on its city streets, with brightly-colored lights and ornamental displays adorning its homes, businesses and residences long before they appeared in other American cities. By the mid-20th century, however, the predominance of Christmas decorations began to diminish in Easton, and support among city officials and residents began to wane as interest in the tradition dropped. Bethlehem, another Northampton County city, came better known for its elaborate Christmas decorations, although it has been suggested it followed the example first set by Easton. In 1951, Mrs. Hutton Hughes wrote a letter in the city's newspaper, The Easton Express, urging that a new holiday program of Christmas lighting be established in the city. On June 13, 1951, the Merchants Association of the Easton Chamber of Commerce responded to the letter by forming the Easton Area Christmas Committee, which set a goal of restoring the prestige of Easton's old Yuletide decorations. Several suggestions were made for a Christmas centerpiece in Centre Square, the town square of Easton's downtown neighborhood, to serve as the focal point of the Christmas program and promote downtown shopping. One of the suggestions was to pile evergreen trees around the Soldiers' & Sailors' Monument, a Civil War memorial located in Centre Square, but it was deemed too expensive to pursue. Another suggestion was to attach a giant candy cane atop the monument, but it was dismissed as too secular. During one of the committee meetings, Easton resident Dorothy Purdy suggested the idea of assembling a large candle in Centre Square, "because it would have no commercial aspect and it would serve to further good will in the community". The proposal was accepted.
The Peace Candle lit at night in 2009.
Easton Councilman Frank Bechtel was named chairman of the Easton Area Christmas Committee, and W. Nilan Jones was appointed chairman of the construction subcommittee. Jones, with the help of committee member and architect William Tydeman, studied the engineering angles involved in building a wooden candle structure that could be assembled over the Soldiers' & Sailors' Monument. After determining such a project would be feasible, Jones drafted plans for a 96-foot (29 m) candle-shaped tower. The committee sought $4,000 for the Christmas display, and asked about 1,200 businesspeople were asked to make donations. Volunteers from the community, as well as members of the Local 239 United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, dedicated time, money and materials to the project, and Theodore Bean, proprietor of the local contractor company Bean, Inc., arranged for the use of his equipment and services to erect the candle. However, four days before it was scheduled to be built, Tydeman determined the structure design was too high to withstand the winds, and that there was a risk that it could topple along with the Soldiers' & Sailors' Monument. The committee considered piercing the plywood panels to allow wind to travel through, but Jones said "some of the wood could have splintered apart and taken someone's head off". The proposal was completely redesigned and cut to 80-foot (24 m).
Construction of the Peace Candle began on December 8, 1951. Using a crane with a 95-foot (29 m) berm, as well as electrical equipment and other tools, 20 workmen placed the heavy plywood sheathing sections along all four sides of the Soldiers' & Sailors' Monument. The structure was red with speckles of gold and silver, and green fir foliage around the base. It was assembled in four sections, which each ranged between 300 pounds (140 kg) and 750 pounds (340 kg) in weight. Once the tower was complete, it was topped off by an electric neon "flame". Since the Peace Candle design was cut to 80-foot (24 m), the top of the candle reached the base of a bugler statue at the top of the memorial. The flame consisted a cage-like frame of curved steel bars covered with yellow neon lights. The flame was placed over the bugler, and a yellow cotton sack was placed atop the statue to further create the image of a flame, and so the bugler would not be visible atop the candle. Plastic wax drippings were designed to extend downward from the top of the candle beneath the flame. Construction of the Peace Candle progressed slower than expected because Bean Inc. contractors had trouble attaching the base sections. The work was not finished until December 9. The original Peace Candle display cost $3,390.92, all of which was offset by donations from about 271 donors amounting to $4,055.35 in total.
The first candle (1951-1968)
"Thus there was a living evidence of unity such as this nation needs in these fast-moving and dangerous times. ... The giant candle in the Circle can be a symbol of peace and good citizenship, and of that unity without which this nation could not exist. Again, all honor to the public-spirited citizens, men and women, whose concerted efforts made possible the placing of such an unusual Yuletide decoration."
he Easton Express editorial, 1951
On December 10, 1951, Easton Mayor Joseph Morrison flipped the switch to light up the Peace Candle during its first dedication ceremony. Joining Morrison and Frank Bechtel in the dedication were a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi and a Protestant minister, to demonstrate the Peace Candle was meant to serve as a symbol of peace for all religions and denominations. More than 500 people attended the ceremony. In addition to the candle, the decorations included Christmas trees, smaller candle displays, large plywood wreaths and Christmas lights set up by students from the Easton High School and the city's Wolf and Schull junior high schools. It also included plaques honoring the Easton area men and women on active duty in the United States armed forces. The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission decorated the nearby Northampton Street bridge, which crossed the Delaware River, with its first Christmas light display in 14 years. A series of nightly Christmas choir concerts were held in front of the Peace Candle starting December 18, and organ music was piped to the Centre Square from the city's First Presbyterian Church. Downtown business owners participated by decorating their windows with Christmas themes. Morrison called the Peace Candle display "the most elaborate in Easton's history". The Peace Candle was so large it drew the attention of airplanes passing over the city, and Easton officials described it the largest candle in the United States.
On December 11, however, one of the neon lights in the flame structure short-circuited and started a fire on the yellow cotton sack placed over the bugler statue, causing an actual fire on the Peace Candle flame for a brief amount of time. The blaze caused only minor damage to the Peace Candle, but the bugler statue was exposed and visible inside the flame for the rest of the season. Despite this setback, the Peace Candle was widely considered a success, and the Easton Area Christmas Committee signed a charter on December 17, 1951, tasking itself with organizing a yearly holiday program revolving around the Peace Candle. The candle was assembled again every Christmas season until 1961, with ceremonies generally including holiday decorations, Christmas carols, refreshments, appearances by Santa Claus and other forms of entertainment. The Easton Area Christmas Committee was responsible for raising the funds and encouraging the civic interest necessary to keep the program active.
In 1952, a new, fireproof flame as designed in response to the previous year's fire. The new flame design enclosed the steel tubing of the flame (which concealed the bugler statue), looked more realistic and better matched the flames on the four smaller candles at the Peace Candle's base. The 1952 Peace Candle display included further expansions from the previous year, including the addition of 20 new plywood light standard plaques by the Easton High School, as well as decorations on the Bushkill Street Bridge in addition to the Northampton Street bridge. With the hopes of increasing nationwide publicity for the Peace Candle, the Easton City Council started dubbing the structure, "the world's largest Christmas candle". The Easton Area Christmas Committee continued raising the funds for the Christmas program up until 1957, when they needed to raise $3,500 from the public to make necessary repairs to the Peace Candle for safety reasons. The next year, the committee started to receive a budget from the city, and were approved for $3,000 by the city council in 1958. The program continued to grow each year, and included 3,000 Evergreen trees assembled around the Centre Square by 1957, when more than 500 people attended the lighting ceremony in 20-degree weather.
Removal and reconstruction
In 1961, the Peace Candle fell into a state of disrepair, and the contractors who assemble the candle for discounted prices in previous years informed the city they could not handle the project again. The Easton Area Christmas Committee also had trouble raising additional money needed for the repairs, For all these reasons, they decided not to assemble the candle again. The candle was placed into storage at an old incinerator plant on Pennsylvania Route 611, and the Easton Area Christmas Committee sought alternative decorations for its holiday program. In 1961, 24 streams of multi-colored Christmas light strands (totaling 2,650 bulbs) were draped from the top of the monument to the edges of Centre Square, creating an umbrella-like shape of lights. More than 200 Christmas Trees were also placed around the base of the monument, along with a nativity scene and Christmas light decorations on the nearby bridges. The set-up cost only $2,000, compared to the average $3,000 for the Peace Candle display. This display was used for the next five years, and the decorations around the Soldiers' & Sailors' Monument came to be known as "the umbrella of Christmas lights".
In early 1965, Easton City Councilman Fred Ashton conducted a report announcing there had been "considerable criticism" of Easton's holiday decorations, prompting the Easton Area Christmas Committee to consider restoring the candle. But public contributions had continued to decline, and the project was so expensive the city deemed they could not afford it. The next year, however, Councilman Henry Schultz started an effort to restore the Peace Candle. Schultz recruited a number of volunteers to make the necessary repairs, including Easton artist Joe DeThomas, who repainted the structure. A new, 14-foot (4.3 m) flame was built using a new type of quartz, which used 6,000 watts to create a stronger light. The candle was erected and lighted at a ceremony on November 25, 1966, for the first time in six years. Easton Mayor George S. Smith flipped the switch, and the candle was once again dedicated to the local men and women of the armed forces. More than 400 people attended the ceremony, which this year also included 68 Christmas trees decorated with 1,500 lights.
Second candle (1969-)
On October 25, 1968, a fire at the former incinerator plant off Route 611, where the Peace Candle was being stored, destroyed the four smaller candles that surround the base of the larger candle. The fire was believed to have started by someone playing with matches inside the building. Firefighters battled the blaze for more than an hour. Damage was estimated at a cost of $1,200. Initially, city officials announced the fire would not delay the lighting ceremony planned for December 1. However, the Easton Area Christmas Committee had already been debating the construction of a new Peace Candle prior to the fire. On October 29, Henry Schultz, now chairman of the Christmas committee, announced the four smaller candles were damaged beyond repair and no effort would be made to rebuild them. Instead, the committee would build an entirely new candle within a year.
The original plywood candle was replaced with a stronger fiberglass candle, designed by the Allentown-based firm Rileigh's Inc. The construction cost about $12,500. The fiberglass covering was stretched on steel and wood frames. The flame was built out of fiberglass strips with lights that changed color in sequence, to create a more realistic burning flame than the original candle. The new structure was 90-foot (27 m), compared to the original 80-foot (24 m). Due to the increase in size, it was no longer necessary to place the flame structure over the bugler statue on the top of the Soldiers' & Sailors' Monument.
2009 lighting ceremony
Superior Court Judge Jack Panella won a $770 bid on the auction website eBay to flip the switch and turn on the Peace Candle during the candle-lighting ceremony on November 27, 2009.
Schlitz Christmas Candle
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^ "Nov. 23, 2009 100 years ago today". The Express-Times: p. B6. 2009-11-23.
^ a b Koltnow, Bo (2009-11-27). "Easton Peace Candle Lighting". WFMZ-TV. http://wfmz.com/view/?id=1306024. Retrieved 2009-11-29.
^ a b Saunders, William Lawrence (1955). Compressed air magazine. 60-61. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Library. p. 370.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Easton's Christmas Candle Has Its Ups and Downs". The Easton Express. 1967-10-25.
^ a b McEvoy, Colin (2009-12-20). "How Easton measures up: Peace Candle not the tallest, but plenty tall". The Express-Times (Easton, Pennsylvania): p. A1. http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/easton/index.ssf?/base/news-1/1261285520187730.xml&coll=3. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
^ a b c Nauroth, Tony (2007-12-06). "All about Easton's famous Peace Candle". The Express-Times: p. D1.
^ a b c d e f g h i "Easton's Christmas Candle". The Easton Express: p. 1. 1951-12-12.
^ a b c d "Bechtel Is Named Head Of Easton Christmas Group". The Easton Express: p. 1. 1951-06-14.
^ a b c d e f g h i Troxell, Donna (1980-11-28). "Famous flame burns on and on and on...". The Easton Express.
^ "Support Sought For Activity Of Yule Committee". The Easton Express. 1951-11-15.
^ a b c d "Workmen Begin Erecting Candle In Centre Square". The Easton Express. 1951-12-08.
^ a b c d e "Yule Decorations Nearly Completed, Committee Hears". The Easton Express. 1951-11-29.
^ a b "Committee Lists Costs Of $3,390 In Yule Program". The Easton Express. 1952-01-30.
^ a b "Christmas Decorations, Product Of Year's Effort, Are Dedicated In Easton". The Easton Express: p. 1. 1951-12-11.
^ a b "Charter Granted To Area Citizens Christmas Group". The Easton Express. 1951-12-17.
^ a b "Yule Committee Moves To Enlarge Lighting Program". The Easton Express. 1952-09-18.
^ a b "Christmas Committee Fixes Budget Of $3000 For Easton Activities". The Easton Express. 1958-11-12.
^ "Yule Committee Pushes Plans For Bridge, Circle Displays". The Easton Express. 1954-11-17.
^ "Public Is Asked To Contribute To Yule Display". The Easton Express. 1957-10-08.
^ "Christmas Season Becomes Official In Centre Square". The Easton Express. 1957-12-13.
^ a b "City's Christmas Candle Will Be Replaced By Streamers Of Lights". The Easton Express. 1961-09-05.
^ "Herald Coming Season". The Easton Express. 1964-11-21.
^ "Council Studies Restoring Candle To Yule Scene". The Easton Express. 1965-01-07.
^ "Easton's Christmas Candle Dedicated To Armed Forces". The Easton Express. 1966-11-26.
^ "Schultz Hopes Fire Won't Delay Yule Candles". The Easton Express: p. 20. 1968-10-25.
^ "Small Candles In Square Will Not Be Rebuilt". The Easton Express. 1968-10-29.
^ a b "New Easton Yule Candle To Be Bigger, Fancier". The Easton Express. 1969-05-27.
^ "Yule Candle Dedicated In Centre Square Rites". The Easton Express. 1969-11-29.
^ "Superior Court Judge Jack Panella wins auction to light Easton Peace Candle". The Express-Times. 2009-11-16. http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/easton/index.ssf/2009/11/superior_court_judge_jack_pane.html. Retrieved 2009-11-24.
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