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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Lines of cars drive slowly around Franke Park enjoying the holiday lights during Fantasy of Lights near the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo on Sunday. 

  • Gracie Wirt, 8, sits on Santa's lap while visiting Fantasy of Lights near the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo on Sunday.  

Monday, December 24, 2018 1:00 am

Archways, elves and trees

Fantasy of Lights opens 118 displays; Santa delights kids

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

If you go

Blue Jacket's

Fantasy of Lights

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Ends Dec. 31.

Where: Franke Park, 3411 Sherman Blvd.

Cost: $10 per car

An important announcement blared over a hand-held radio Sunday evening, interrupting the quietness of a sparsely populated Franke Park pavilion: “Santa has arrived. I repeat, Santa has arrived.”

And just in time.

The clock read 5:55 p.m. – just minutes before Blue Jacket's Fantasy of Lights officially opened, although some early arrivals were given a slight head start to tour the drive-through holiday lights display.

This season features 118 displays, including 15 new ones, Brad Saleik of Blue Jacket said via email. He noted sponsors work with Herman's Christmasland to design and build the images.

The route includes multicolored archways, elves building a snowman, Christmas trees, Santa Claus in a chimney, and Santa driving vehicles other than a sleigh – a speedboat, a motorcycle and a pickup truck.

Organizers expected the attraction, open daily through Dec. 31, would bring upwards of 4,000 cars over the weekend. On busy nights, event traffic clogs Sherman Boulevard in both directions as well as Franke Park Drive.

That's why Amy Bryan and her family arrived about 30 minutes early Sunday.

“We wanted to get here before the line,” Bryan said.

Along with her mother, Bryan visited Fantasy of Lights with her children, Gavin and Gracie Wirt, ages 11 and 8, respectively.

They were the first to chat with Santa Claus in the pavilion, where visitors could warm up with hot chocolate and freshly popped popcorn.

Event worker Jose Garcia delighted in telling visitors about Blue Jacket – a nonprofit agency that helps the disadvantaged become employed – and in seeing children overjoyed.

“It's something else,” Garcia said.

Unlike some other children, 6-year-old twins Teegan and Tenley Payton didn't hesitate to sit on Santa's lap. Their mother, Megan Payton, watched the interaction, noting Fantasy of Lights is tradition for the family.

Some people travel long distances – such as from Illinois and Iowa – to maintain this holiday tradition, Saleik said. Blue Jacket treasures the stories visitors have shared, both during the event and through social media, he added.

“We have had two marriage proposals this year alone, and other big surprises for families,” Saleik said. “These are some intimate moments that people are choosing to share at our event, and we understand the importance of that. Especially at this time of year.”

asloboda@jg.net