A brief history of Pittsburgh Light Up Night

The Incline — a digital news site in Pittsburgh — offered a brief history of Pittsburgh’s biggest party: Light Up Night.

The Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership told Incline that the first “Light Up” event happened April 9, 1959, in honor of the Pirates.

The event took a nine-year break beginning in 1973 in an effort to conserve energy. Light Up Night returned in 1982 to help lift morale as the steel industry collapsed. By the way, a few years later, Gimbels closed.

What was most surprising to me was how few people used to attend! The PDP told Incline that 25,000 people attended each year before 1998 when about 50,000 people showed up.

The low turnout makes sense as the 90s saw major changes in Downtown’s retail sector. (Anybody remember the failed “Fifth and Forbes” plans?) It was also a time when suburban shopping malls really solidified their dominance over Downtown.

But something happened since then … the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership has grown the event — along with the help of many other groups. Last year, half a million people celebrated Light Up Night.

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It’s Light Up Night, Pittsburgh!

Are you ready for it?

Today marks the 57th annual Light Up Night in Downtown Pittsburgh!

This is the granddaddy of all days in the holiday season for me — yes, even bigger than Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Light Up Night evokes fond memories of Pittsburgh’s past, and helps to usher in a new holiday season for Pittsburgh’s future.

Oohing and ahhing over beautifully designed department store windows at Kaufmann’s, Horne’s and GImbels no longer is part of the spectacle that is the region’s official start to the holiday season. After all, Light Up Night began as a way for the department stores to get people excited to come into the city. Though Kaufmann’s and others created holiday windows and welcomed Santa for many years before Light Up Night began, the event has grown into a wonderful tradition.

But some of those memories (at least ones attached to the Kaufmann’s store) are part of what keeps Light Up Night ticking for me. I always enjoyed getting lunch at Tic Toc or Arcade Bakery in Kaufmann’s on Light Up Night (or at other times). I remember spending time in the early afternoon up on an upper floor at a small cafe near the book department with friends before heading into the streets. Seeing the Santa display and hearing carolers throughout the store was such a throwback, too!

Light Up Night 2015 was a tough one to swallow. That year marked the first Light Up Night without a major downtown department store. Macy’s had closed in September of that year. Admittedly, Light Up Night that year was a bit sour. Yes, it was festive. Yes, there were good times had. Yes, there were windows.

In a blog post about Macy’s announcement to close the 128-year-old store, I wrote this line that I still think of: “There will be no window encouraging passersby to believe.”

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In retrospect, Light Up Night 2014 (photos above are from 2014) actually was one my more memorable events, as I spent so much time inside Kaufmann’s (well, Macy’s) with friends. Macy’s hosted events all over the building and outside! Though, the windows had become the same old same old from them, which was disappointing.

My mother explained to me a few nights ago how Light Up Night “isn’t the same” as when she was growing up. (Obviously.) She noted the demise of the behemoth multi-story department stores with activities throughout the many departments as a reason it no longer is special for her. But, she’s also not been to Light Up Night in many years.

So she has no idea how this fantastic day has morphed from a night encouraging the start of the department store holiday shopping season into what probably is Pittsburgh’s biggest party of the year!

The Horne’s tree still lights up. There will be some form of windows at the Kaufmann’s building. Market Square will be jam-packed with shoppers and browsers and cute little art. The CBS people will do their thing at the Do Not Call It Light Up Night Where Santa Throws A Fireball At A Tree And Poof, Fireworks Begin at Point State Park.

And I will — once again — be part of a very moving Tribute of Light ceremony with the American Cancer Society to light the tree at PPG Place. This year, seven-year-old Gabriel Aguirre of Rayburn Township, Armstrong County, will light the 65-foot tall tree! The folks at Highwood Properties (the owners of PPG Place) do a wonderful job helping to coordinate the evening.

If you’re coming, the Robert Morris University figure skaters take to the ice a little after 4:30 with the East End Kids choral group performing at 5 p.m. with the tree lighting immediately after.

Light Up Night can be overwhelming, too. For several years, I tried making it to every lighting/window unveiling and trying to eat dinner and watch fireworks. And that was after coordinating with a large group of people to go. Was fun but stressful and I never saw anything.

Now I try to mosey my way around and try to meet up with folks along the way.

But if you’re looking to see some of the tree lightings and ceremonies, here’s my advice:

  • Arrive at City-County Building tree lighting on Grant Street at 4:55 p.m.
  • Leave Grant Street at 5:15 p.m. and hustle down Fourth Avenue to PPG Place to arrive by 5:25 p.m.
  • Stand on Fourth Avenue with Market Square to your back.
  • Watch the PPG Place tree lighting and ceremony and at 5:45 p.m., turn around, walk a few steps toward Market Square and watch the Season of Lights Countdown.
  • Afterward, you’ve got about an hour to take in Market Square and visit Linda Barnicott’s little Christmas hut to buy some ornaments.
  • Then pop down to the old Horne’s building to watch the Horne’s tree lighting at 7 p.m. (It’s officially called the Highmark Unity Tree.) This ceremony involves ROOFTOP FIREWORKS, PEOPLE. Go inside Fifth Avenue Place to see Mr. McFeely!
  • Then go grab a place to stand on Fort Duquesne Boulevard for the 8:30 p.m. Andy Grammer show and the 9:30 p.m. fireworks.

Also, take the T or bus. Yeah, it’ll be crowded. Yes, there will be people who haven’t used the T since last Light Up Night, but if you don’t take public transit, you’ll be a Grinch sitting in traffic hating the holidays. I always feel so awful for people stopped on the Parkway East as I’m on the transit bridge above cruising along. And after the fireworks, stay in town a bit — get a drink, walk around … do something, because otherwise your trolley ride back will be so packed you’ll know the exact brand of deodorant of the eight people next to you.

The Trib offers some great advice for navigating Light Up Night.

And here is the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership PDF, detailing all of the information, including schedules and descriptions.

And don’t just visit on Light Up Night. There’s not enough time to see the gingerbread houses at the PPG Wintergarden or all of the great little artists and vendors at the Holiday Market at Market Square. Come Downtown for the holidays!

A playlist for Log Jammer’s final day

Face it. Log Jammer’s demise is difficult.

It’s like when your best friend tells you they broke up with their long time love interest and you’ll never see that person again.

How do you get over a heartbreak? With music!

So, here is the Log Jammer Final Farewell playlist.

And check out the video I posted of my final ride on Log Jammer.

We’ll start off with a tear-jerker to get you right in the feels.

We don’t want the water to run dry, Kennywood. 😦

This is the song I thought of as I rode Log Jammer yesterday.

Log Jammer certainly is irreplaceable.

It’s the end of the road, Jammer.

Breaking up is hard to do.

How are we supposed to live without you, Jammer?

Now you’re just some Jammer that I used to know.

Don’t speak, LJ. I know what you’re thinking, and I don’t need your reasons. Don’t tell me cause it hurts.

Thanks, J Timberlake for helping me remember L Jammer.

Our hearts will go on, Log Jammer. And onnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.

Log Jammer’s final weekend

News of Kennywood Park’s decision to remove the iconic Log Jammer was pretty stunning.

It was the first big ride for so many Pittsburghers graduating from Kiddieland. And 42 years is nothing to sniff at — it’s become a classic part of the traditional amusement park that prides itself on blending old and new.

So on Sept. 16, I took what likely could be my final ride on Log Jammer (barring a visit on Sept. 17 to the park or any last-ditch effort a petition to save the ride could do).

I rode Log Jammer with a guy who drove nearly two hours just to take one last ride. And he almost missed out because he left around 4 when he figured the ride wasn’t reopening (it had been broken for much of the day) and turned around after seeing my tweets.

Here’s how it happened!