There are a few reasons why our Washington Monument is unique: it was built before the one in D.C., you get a sophomoric chuckle by looking at it from a certain angle, and, for the past 40 years, it has been adorned in Christmas lights.
What started as a neighborhood gathering of carolers is now a giant celebration on the first Thursday of every December for residents all over the city.
"Every year it expands," says Mike Evitts, VP of public relations and research for Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. "Now it's a great city event with a broad range of incomes, races, and ages."
In 1971, the event was led by Calvin Buikema, former superintendent of parks, who got Reservoir Hill residents together.
"Then it was a small number of people from the community who just sang carols and flipped the switch," says Jennifer Morgan, who worked for the Parks and Rec department.
When the monument underwent repairs from 1989-1992 to remove lead paint and make structural improvements, the renovation was a catalyst for a larger celebration.
"We had a big fundraiser to offset some of the costs," Morgan says. "Many organizations came together."
In 1992, the lighting of the monument really came into full force with fireworks, fanfare, and about 500 people in the crowd.
Since then, the event has only gotten bigger, drawing about 10 times more people. Local celebrities now host, including Elmo, John Waters, Dorothy Hamill, Duff Goldman, Rick Dempsey, and Ray Lewis.
Evitts says that over the years the event has been filled with surprises, like fireworks setting off the alarms at Peabody Conservatory or Goldman almost falling off the stage. An additional change is the lights—which alternate from white to colored every year—are now energy-saving LED bulbs.
"We always want people to be surprised," Evitts says. "The neighborhood is filled with revelers from Mount Royal to Fayette."
This year, the December 1 event kicks off at 5:30 p.m., televised fireworks last from 7-8 p.m., and local boy and The Good Wife star Josh Charles hosts.
"Most cities have tree lightings," Evitts says. "But Baltimore just has to be different."