They look great in any weather but were especially beautiful in the rain the other night. Dr. Jack Kammer's University Avenue Holiday Lights are a Madison institution that seems to have been there forever, brightening the winter darkness for thousands of people. But in reality it's only been 15 years since the now retired Madison dentist first started stringing lights on the couple hundred arbor vitae trees he bought for $8.50 apiece in the early eighties and planted along the railroad tracks that ran by his office. Over the years he has invested some $100,000 to keep the lights shining every holiday season. He tells the story in a new book available at University Bookstores, The Story of the University Avenue Holiday Lights: Madison, Wisconsin USA.
The first chapter — called, with a nod to the Pentateuch, "In the Beginning" — tells how Kammer acquired the land occupied by the trees from the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad, how he bought the trees from an Eau Claire nursery, how he planted them and "watered them profusely." Elsewhere he recounts the project's early years, when he bought incandescent lights at Menards, and he describes in some technical detail the switch to LEDs.To help make sure the lights outlast him, Kammer has also started a trust fund, the Shorewood Hills Trust Tree Fund. Contributions are tax deductible.
So what's it all about? Kammer writes that the display is a thank you to his foster mother (described movingly in a prologue), to his wife, to a childhood friend and, essentially, everyone — "every ethnic background and every religion."