Clark Griswold Would Be Proud!

Jennings Osborne has been a very important part of Walt Disney World’s Christmas festivities since the mid-1990s, and even though he passed on last year, his Spectacle of Dancing Lights remains a big hit among park guests. In fact, Osborne’s story as well as the growth of the display at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, could be considered a dash of Christmas magic.

Jennings Osborne, a wealthy business man, was a big name in his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. A man with a heart of gold and an endless supply of money, thanks to his  Medical Testing Facility he and his wife had started themselves, made living in town fun. Osborne held a large barbecue every year as well as other festivities in Little Rock. However, the festivity he is most notable for, and a bit controversial as well, is his display of lights that brightly lit the town every December. Starting in 1986, the light display was put up as a request from his six-year-old daughter, Allison Brianne, or “Little Breezy”. That first year, Osborne put up 1,000 lights on his large estate to comply with his daughter’s request. Her request sparked something in Jennings Osborne to begin a new yearly tradition, adding unique and exciting light displays every year. Osbourne’s Christmas spirit started to draw crowds locally, and eventually, national recognition to his home.

By 1993, Osborne’s display had grown from 1,000 lights to 3 million lights on his estate as well as the two adjacent lots next to his. (Clark Griswold would be proud!) The display had grown to large “Merry Christmas” signs, a 70 foot tree, carousels, a large canopy, and an illuminated globe with two stars, one for Bethlehem and the other for Little Rock. The display ran for 35 days and was on from dusk until midnight every evening. Unfortunately for the Osborne family, the neighbors in the area had enough of Osborne and his light display. Traffic became a big problem for leaving or coming home for anyone living around him, as well as the nuisance of the lights being on until midnight keeping everyone awake. Osborne was given a court ordered injunction. He could only have the display for 15 days and it had to be turned off by 10:30pm. Osborne tried to fight the injunction taking it to the state court, and the United States Supreme Court in 1994, but with no luck. He was denied and by 1995 was completely shut down.

Like the display itself, the court case garnered national attention, and when the display was shut down in Little Rock, several other cities offered bids to Jennings Osborne. The most intriguing offer, however, came from the Walt Disney World resort. John Phelan, the project director at Walt Disney World, offered to move the display to the Disney-MGM Studios in 1995 and put it on Residential Street, a part of the Backlot Tour. Using only the original display Osborne had given, the Backlot area was decorated and in 1995, the first year of the Osborne Spectacle of Lights was lit. As part of the tour, trams stopped on Residential Street and were able to walk around, getting a good look at the 3 million lights on display.

Like Osborne had done, Walt Disney World began adding to the display each year. The park moved the display to the Streets of America out of necessity in 2004 due to the addition of Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show being added to the backlot area and Residential Street meeting it’s end. The Streets of America brought a good change to the display. Music and moving lights were added, making the Osborne lights a show instead of just a display. The show could be seen several times a night, similar to that of the other nighttime shows around the Disney Parks like the Magic, Memories, and You show. Currently, the music selections change every year, as well as the dancing lights, making the show a must see every year for returning guests. The display currently contains over 5 million lights, and Walt Disney World doesn’t look to be stopping the growth of the show anytime soon.

So what about Jennings Osborne? Where is he now? Sadly, he passed on in 2011, but the Walt Disney company has not forgotten the father of the display. An angel was added to the display that sticks out separately from the other angels (It’s completely white instead of blue like the others) as a tribute to the creator of the show. Elvis’s version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” was added to the soundtrack as it was Osborne’s favorite musical artist.

Today, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is one of the top displays in the world, and a great tribute to a man with a kind heart. It continues to mesmerize and delight guests at the Walt Disney World Resort, and is an enjoyable experience for adults and children alike.

Josh Taylor
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Posted on July 12, 2012, in Articles and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Very nice photos. I prefer when they had the backlot houses and they were decorated with lights. But these are indeed nice pix.

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