Outtakes Around the Lakes: History of the Portage Lakes July 4 luminaries
Long before we had sand castle contests, long before the Antique and Classic Boat Shows were produced by the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society along with the Portage Lakes Historical Society and long before fireworks were launched over Mason's Point in Turkeyfoot Lake, residents of Portage Lakes who lived in lakefront homes placed warm, soft-glowing, luminaries along the shore to flicker off the shimmering waters of the Portage Lakes.
Like most of what we do here in the lakes to celebrate the birthday and freedom of this great country, the lighting of luminaries and placing them along the lake shore first began with the 1976 boat parade during this nation's bicentennial. Luminaries may have been used occasionally, but by and large there were no organized efforts promoted by any one group to light the lakes on each Fourth of July.
During a boat parade committee meeting that year, I asked if there was anything more we could do to help celebrate the bicentennial. Two young ladies, long time friends and close neighbors who lived on East Reservoir, Carol Eubank and Marilyn Straub, suggested we promote the use of luminaries to lakefront residents.
Having never heard of luminaries, and consequently not knowing what they were, the two civic minded ladies volunteered to explain. When they said how we could put kits together of a half dozen white paper sandwich bags, enough sand to fill two inches in each bag and six votive candles and sell then to help finance advertising and prizes for the boat parade, I, as well as the committee, agreed.
Both Eubank and Straub co-chaired the project, and that first year, 1976. Since there were no organized fireworks that year (they came later), all you had were boats slowly cruising the lakes after sunset with the soft glow of candles set in sand inside a white paper bag and casting flickering lights off the shimmering waters. What a difference it made cruising the lakes.
A few years later, Mr. Portage Lakes himself, the late Ned Mohrman, told of a place in southwestern Ohio that sold white plastic luminaries. You could use them year after year and instead of sand, just use water. The only thing you had to replace each year were the votive candles. I don't recall the name of the city, but one weekend Ned and I drove down to check them out and everything we had heard about them was right on. “This is perfect,” I told Ned. “This is just what we need.”
He agreed, and so we bought out what they had, headed back home, and that year, thanks to Eubank and Straub, all but a handful were sold. Placed six to eight feet apart along the shoreline, the new plastic luminaries cast even a wider glow that the original white paper bags.
That first year of fireworks in Turkeyfoot Lake was quite an experience cruising from the mouth of Miller Lake through East Reservoir, into Iron Channel (or Lover's Lane to the purists), from one end of West Reservoir through Turkeyfoot Channel, around Gangle Island, past Turkeyfoot Island and then into Turkeyfoot Lake where there were so many boats their stern lights added more to the ambiance.
That first year, if you watched the fireworks by boat and you began your return trip to near the end of East Reservoir as we did, you'll recall the boat traffic was so heavy it moved at a snail's pace. The boat parade actually moved faster.
We may not have a boat parade, Sand Castle Building contest or a $50,000 firework extravaganza this year, but we can still keep tradition alive by lighting the waters of the lakes this July 4 evening. All you need are white paper lunch bags, two inches of sand and a votive candle in each one and a shoreline.
And a big thank you to Coventry's Carol Eubank and Marilyn Straub for lighting the way. Happy Fourth of July.
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