WEST FRANKFORT, Ill. — What started 25 years ago with a few
neighbors putting up Christmas decorations has become nothing short of a
Candy Cane Lane now is a regional destination for a month
each year, as multitudes of children of all ages make that slow automobile trip
through a magical maze of wonderment. Behind it all is high school art teacher
Tim Murphy, who notes that it could just as easily have been called Lollipop
Lane, but for the size of plywood sheets.
“We called it Candy Cane Lane because we could get eight
candy canes out of a sheet of plywood,” he said.
The plywood candy canes, placed alongside streets, mark the
path of the journey.
During the early years, the route was just Murphy’s property
on East Clark Street and those of his neighbors on the block. It now extends six
blocks and involves 16 homes.
The number of people seeing the art, light and musical
extravaganza has grown exponentially over the years. Murphy said an estimated
100,000 cars went through it last year.
The line of cars full of people coming to see the attraction
in the community of 8,500 sometimes stretches all the way to Interstate 57,
about two miles away.
The main focus of Candy Cane Lane is the property of Murphy,
a lifelong West Frankfort resident. Dozens of cartoon cutout characters, moving
objects, thousands of lights and live figures, including Santa, adorn his
property, about a city block long.
Much of the scenery involves depictions of beloved cartoon
and some human characters. Murphy creates a new scene every year.
The first was comprised of characters from the “Peanuts”
comic strip. Disney characters always are in abundance
Murphy keeps up with the latest crazes. This year’s display,
for instance, includes stars of the popular reality television show, “Duck
“It started out being just the love of the characters,”
“I love all cartoon characters. Then I see little kids go up
and hug these plywood cutouts, and I realize there’s more to it. That’s real to
them. To me, it’s just a piece of artwork. To them, it’s more. I kind of owe it
The latest hit movies — especially animated features such as
“Monsters, Inc.,” “Finding Nemo” and “Cars” — provide inspiration for many of
the new characters each year.
There also is a new music star each year. Murphy began in
the first year with his favorites — the Beach Boys. Recent years have featured
Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift.
The high school art class helps prepare the displays, but
Murphy purchases the raw materials such as the plywood, paint and lights. This
year, the bill for the plywood and paint alone will be about $500.
Other expenses include the hundreds of lights, cables and
the cost of electricity used to light the scenes and power the moving displays
such as a candy cane factory.
For several years, Murphy footed the bill without any
assistance. But as annual costs increased to nearly $1,000, he installed a
donation receptacle. Donations last year totaled about $3,800.
“I’m always $400 to $600 in the hole, but I don’t care —
it’s a passion of mine,” Murphy said. “If I have any left over, I put it back
into Candy Cane Lane.”
He gives some of the money to neighbors for extra
The attraction officially opens on the Saturday after
Thanksgiving and runs through New Year’s Day. But the work begins much earlier.
Besides creating the artwork and setting up the displays,
Murphy runs more than 500 cables connecting 150 floodlights and other electrical
“It takes me three full days to run power cables,” he said.
“I’m the only one who can do that, because I know my circuits.”
Many of his student volunteers dress up as elves and hand
out thousands of candy canes to visitors. They work in shifts — two each day.
Santa greets the children and receives their Christmas gift lists.
The city benefits indirectly. Many of the thousands of
people who pass through Candy Cane Lane each year purchase gasoline or eat at
Murphy said the Dairy Queen that greets visitors leaving the
route takes in more money in December than any other in Illinois.
“It’s a small, 30-day event for West Frankfort,” he said.
“It helps this community, and I’m a big West Frankfort person.”