City celebrates florescent street lights
By By Craig Jacobs / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Who remembers Oct. 1, 1953?
In Washington, D.C., President Eisenhower, wondering just what the Russians were up to with their hydrogen bombs, first indicated that he might be willing to hold friendly discussion about a non-aggression pact.
In Brooklyn, Mickey Mantle broke a 2-2 tie, with an eighth inning homerun deep into the left field shirt-sleeve crowd, to give the Yankees a 2-0 World Series lead over the Dodgers.
And in Niles, an estimated 25,000 people crammed into town to celebrate 25 years of business, industrial, and civic progress that was culminated with the installation of florescent street lights.
Billed as "Brighter Niles Day," the Daily Star reported that the event attracted "the greatest throng ever seen in the history of Niles."
Just imagine, and on a Thursday night, no less, when many could have stayed home and watched that exciting episode of "Mr. McNutley" on TV -- the one when Ray Malland got his foot caught in a bear trap.
The plan of the Brighter Niles Day celebration spawned from a Board of Public Works project and caught on faster than a California recall election.
The idea of replacing the existing 17-year old incandescent lights was first mentioned on Feb. 5. That same day, Mayor Russ Thomas, Alderman Edwin Cramer, and former BPW Manager Roy Robinson hurried off to Oakwood, Ohio, the only city in the nation that had these new units. The trio returned with "glowing" praise for the new lights that would provide three times more illumination that the existing fixtures. The purchase of 40 units was approved at the March 9 City Council meeting. General Electric submitted the only bid at $350.25 per unit.
As plans for a celebration too, shape, it was learned that the 30-foot steel poles that were to support the lights had not been shipped on time. Mayor Thomas took the matter in his own hands, made a personal trip to the manufacturer in Canton, Ohio, and "prevailed upon them to expeditate the shipment."
The first unit was installed on Sept. 2.
The old lights were moved to side streets in the business district and new mercury vapor lights were installed along S. 11th Street.
But this wasn't the only reason to party. New traffic signals and a pedestrian "walk" light had been installed at Second and Main. The new signals were, for the first time, suspended over the streets and synchronized to expeditate the flow of traffic.
Also, a brand new half-million gallon overhead water storage tank had been built at Cherry Street. This substantially increased the water pressure of east side residents.
In addition was the construction of two new parking lots with the public restroom -- the fulfillment of a Mayor Thomas campaign promise. The $220,000 endeavor that involved the purchase of property and razing of buildings was funded by parking meter revenue of two hours per nickel. A pittance, but substantially more than today.
A shoppers had no excuse for not feeding the meters on time. A new $1,900 War Memorial Clock was a gratis presentation to the City by the Navy Mothers.
As late September temperatures soared into the 90's, last minute completions continued right up to the Oct. 1 deadline. It was a balmier 85 degrees when midday construction began on the Second and Main reviewing stand to be used that evening.
The crowd began to arrive early as the Fire Department set off aerial bombs every 30 minutes to proclaim that this was a day of celebration. Police Chief Art Pears announced that additional parking for 2,000 cars was available on the Plym Park Golf Course.
During the day, students and the general public were invited to attend the Light Sorcery show at the Ready Theater. Conducted by representatives of General Electric, the show demonstrated the great advances made in light research.
Gov. G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams arrived at the Jerry Tyler Memorial Airport at a little past 5 p.m. and was quickly driven to the Four Flags Hotel. Here, he briefly buried the political hatchet with his fiery rival, Congressman Clare Hoffman, as they both dined with local dignitaries.
Next, it was off the reviewing stand. Speeches and presentations were given in darkness and heard throughout the downtown on extensive public address systems. Finally, Gov. Williams pushed the switch and the lights went on, the signal for the parade to begin.
Down Main to Front, Sycamore to Second, and on to Plym Park, over 2,000 participants, 37 floats, 24 marching units, 17 bands, and 150 vehicles, including tanks, jeeps, and trucks, from the National Guard.
Following the presentation of parade awards, the famous Jackson Zouaves performed their precision marching to a cadence of 300 steps per minute and the Royal Scottish bagpipers from Sault Ste. Marie performed on the pipes and drums.
The festivities concluded with a gigantic 40 minute fireworks display. Well, almost. It was reported that some of the bagpipers were "still swirling around in the kilts and shrilling their pipes at 3 a.m."