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The Christmas Capital of the World is up and running.
The Elks Home held its 38th annual Christmas lighting ceremony Friday night and Bedford is now officially all lights on for the holidays.
The lights have been around a lot longer than 38 years. According to Dr. Ronald Plamondon, the first Christmas decorations went up at the Home in 1953.
“It started with a row of lights along the rooftops,” said Dr. Plamondon.
This year, there are 60,000 lights in a display that has grown every year for more than 60 years and draws visitors from a wide area. Last year, 29,000 cars drove through.
“Every year we try to do something new,” said Dr. Plamondon.
Delegate Lacey Putney, speaking at Friday’s ceremony, mentioned the attractions that the area has, such as the National D-Day Memorial and Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. He described the Elks Home lights as a highlight of the Christmas season and pointed out that the Home makes a cultural contribution to the area by providing a permanent home for Little Town Players (LTP). LTP stages all of its plays in the Home’s theater.
“You are a big part of the economic strength of Bedford and Bedford County,” he concluded.
The current Elks Grand Exalted Ruler David Carr made a trip to Bedford specifically for the purpose of turning the lights on. This is done by pressing a large, bright red button in the Home’s dining room.
The Elks National Home has been in Bedford for more than a century. The Home was established when the national organization, back in 1900, saw the need for a retirement home for the organization’s members. The Elks submitted the winning bid in a bankruptcy auction for a hotel, acquiring it and 100 acres of land. The dedication ceremony for the Elks National Home, on May 21, 1903, brought 5,000 of the organization’s members to Bedford.
Demand for an apartment in the facility was high and, after several expansions, the Elks decided to build a new building. The building, the current Elks National Home, was dedicated on July 8, 1916.
The Elks National Home is home to about 100 members of the Order.