By Shannon Gillette, LiveIt Contributor
It’s amazing how a small, relatively insignificant, gesture can turn into a joyfully extravagant event. The story of the MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights is an example of just that. This Christmas season, an estimated 200,000 people will stroll through the campus of Midwestern State University to behold the glittering lights and grandiose decorations, but it all began with a single bulb.
In the early 1920s, newly married Lester Thomas (L.T.) and Lillian Burns set a Christmas tree, decorated with one blue bulb, on the porch of their quaint home on 10th Street in Wichita Falls. While modest by many standards, it was quite an achievement for the Burns. It was more than a tree, it was the first time they could afford such an indulgence. Each year, the couple added more and more to the Christmas display. As Mr. Burns prospered in the oil business, the number of lights and characters grew as well. By the time the couple had relocated to a more spacious home, making the trek by the Burns’ residence to enjoy the brightly lit spectacle had become an annual tradition for many residents of Wichita Falls and surrounding areas.
Some of the early elaborate scenes added were Humpty Dumpty, the Ferris wheel, a waving snowman and a Raggedy Ann carousel. Together, the Burns watched with joy as the event grew until Mr. Burns was tragically killed in a car accident in 1954. Determined to keep the tradition alive, Mrs. Burns continued adding to the Christmas display each year, in memory of her beloved husband. As the years passed, she hired help to maintain the existing scenes and construct new creations. Mrs. Burns then passed away in 1971 and the tradition that had grown in the hearts of many passed with her.
In the event of her death, Mrs. Burns bequeathed the beloved Christmas display to their son. If he was unable or unwilling to continue, it would be passed to the city of Archer City. The once vibrant exhibit, was relegated to a storage facility for the next three years. After the death of the Burns’ son in 1974, Archer City personnel approached Midwestern State University about the possibility of taking over the Burns Christmas decorations. The only stipulation being that it must remain free to the public as a memorial to Mrs. Burns.
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