Yankee Classic: 40,000 Christmas Lights in Killingly, CT
Yankee classic from December 1991
The numbers involved in Whipple’s Winter Wonderland in Killingly, Connecticut, are staggering — 40,600 lights, 350 animated displays, more than 50,000 visitors every Christmas. But numbers don’t explain why it exists.
The cars are bumper-to-bumper in a cold December sleet on a country road in the town of Killingly, Connecticut. Drivers grow impatient. They are caught in the heart of a small village called Ballouville, and most of their cars are loaded with children. Small silhouettes bob up and down like figures on carousels. Every few minutes a car gives up in frustration. The driver pulls out of line, turns awkwardly around, and heads back toward the highway against nearly two miles of one-way traffic.
The minutes, like the cars, move slowly. But as the line rounds a corner, the starless sky brightens, as with the glow of an immense fire. One by one, cars pull off the road and park. Families walk single file toward the light. Infants and toddlers get to ride on their parents’ shoulders. Older youngsters are admonished to wait up. Grandparents move along gingerly. And invariably, as the travelers reach their destination, eyes widen, jaws drop, and the cries go up.
“Wow! Look at that!”
Before them lies Christmas, courtesy of Mervin R. Whipple, creator and proprietor of Whipple’s Winter Wonderland, a disarmingly grand, glitzy, and unique holiday shrine of lights, tableaux, and animated figures that has been drawing visitors from throughout the region for more than two decades. He has terraced his hillside and filled his place of business, Everlasting Memorials — he sells gravestones or, as he prefers to describe them, monuments — with 350 lighted displays and animated figures: reindeer, sheep, Victorian carolers, angels, stars of every size and description, wreaths, a large Nativity scene with animals, a tall tree of lights.
Dominating the hillside is a tiny stone chapel, decorated to the tip of its spire with bright lights. The chapel is made of granites and marbles from around the world. Its interior is just large enough for Whipple, who is a justice of the peace, to conduct wedding ceremonies; he has married nearly 1,100 people since he built the chapel in 1979.