There was a time, and it wasn't that long ago, when you could not cruise the Portage Lakes for any mentionable distance without feasting your eyes on the soft, warm, glow of luminaries that would line the shores during Fourth of July holiday celebrations. Over the years, more and more folks have mentioned to me how much they have enjoyed seeing these luminaries, and how much they miss them. And then they'd ask why this wonderful practice fell by the wayside.
Set in white lunch bags with an inch or two of sand inside to hold them down, they had a votive candle placed in the sand and then lit. The bags were then placed every ten to twelve feet apart along the shoreline and the soft glow from the burning candle served as a warm welcome to boaters and others who were either on their way to Turkeyfoot Lake to see the annual July Fourth firework display, or leaving it right after the show ended.
More than once, hundreds of these boaters came to a crawl as the mass of vessels all tried inching their way through the narrow channels that connect one lake to another and creating a nautical bottleneck. It seems it was times such as these when the shore lined luminaries worked well as they glowed brightly and calmed those who may have been frustrated by the slow pace the boaters made.
The practice of lining the shores with these soft glowing lights began during the country's bicentennial. It was borrowed from the nation's southwest, where homes would use the same system to decorate during the Christmas season. Homeowners would light their driveways with the luminaries as an invitation for the Christ Child to enter their homes during the season. In time, it was adopted for other uses. One of the most common was highlighting shore lined homes and then eventually lighting the shoreline.
During the bicentennial, Coventry Township residents Marilyn Straub and Carol Eubank co-chaired a committee to distribute and sell luminaries for lighting during the Fourth of July celebration. It caught on and by the time the annual firework show was established, the luminaries were expected to be displayed and were loved by all.
The late Ned Morhman, known respectfully and admirably as Mr. Portage Lakes, was a big fan of luminaries. One year, both he and I heard about folks who use small, cream colored, plastic buckets, designed to hold an inch or two of either sand or water and a votive candle as luminaries. The buckets were specifically manufactured for that purpose by a small company in southern Ohio.
Off we went, found the company and brought back hundreds of them to sell. They went like hot cakes, mainly because they could be used over and over again and the sand could even be saved. The only thing that needed to be replaced was the votive candle. A homeowner who had a 100-foot water frontage only needed ten luminaries to dress up the waterfront.
Since the Fourth of July activities fell under the auspices of the Portage Lakes Community Council at that time, all profits from the sale of these luminaries were turned over to them. They used it to help defray expenses in their annual Thanksgiving Day turkey giveaways to assist the less fortunate.
Today, you can still see them along the waterfront. They're mainly set out by lakefront homeowners who visualize the soft warm glow of the burning candle as an invitation for all to come celebrate the nation's founding and to enjoy the fireworks show.
And just like lighthouses tell boat captains of the risk they may take in approaching too close to the shore, luminaries do the same for those new boaters who may be unfamiliar with the lakes and who must return to their homes at night after the fireworks show.
If you'd like to join others who still practice this July Fourth activity, you'd be more than welcomed to do so by the thousands of boaters who watch the fireworks each year.
If you're in need of plastic buckets and can't find any, simply use a white plastic gallon milk jug and cut the top off just above the handle. This works quite well. And if you do, my captain hat's off to you. Go ahead and set them out. About 9 at night, light them. Then get in your boat and enjoy the view from the water. And have a wonderful and safe July Fourth.