It was 60 years ago, on Aug. 12, 1959, when downtown McPherson went black for several moments before being lit up in a blaze of fluorescent lighting that earned it the nickname of “Light Capital of the World.”

“It went from dark to bang,” said Bob Read, a former McPherson resident.

“Light-O-Rama,” as the event was known, celebrated the culmination of a five-year project to improve lighting in McPherson’s downtown and residential areas, along with illuminating nearby highways.

In 1954, a committee was formed to address residents’ concern about insufficient lighting. It was found that many of the lights in residential areas had been installed between 1900 and 1910, and the lights on Main Street dated back to the 1930s.

The committee came up with a three-phase plan estimated to cost $300,000 — close to $3 million in today’s dollars — to add 1,110 new lights in residential areas, mercury vapor lighting along the highways and lamps with three fluorescent bulbs in a “T” shape downtown. All the work was done with funds from the Water and Electric Department with a final cost of $368,000.

“For a small community like McPherson to afford something like that was amazing,” Read said.

There was much speculation about how the new lights would look. Unidentified electrical engineers told The McPherson Republican newspaper that the downtown area would be brighter than the average football field at night and 300 times brighter than the moon.

“Light-O-Rama” was a major event for McPherson, commemorating the removal of the old glass globes on wrought iron stands and the installation of the fluorescent lights. Many businesses and organizations had special deals and activities.

Judy Pilewski, who grew up in McPherson and now lives in Lindsborg, said she remembers businesses turning off their lights so the streets became very dark.

Tucker then waved her lighted “wand” as Mayor A.W. Bremyer said, “let there be light” as the switch was flipped.

“They’d been testing the lights for about a month, but this was the first time they’d turned them all on together,” Read said.

As the lights were turned on, the crowd responded with a stunned silence.

“People didn’t know how to react, it was so shocking,” Read said. “It was night and day ... It was just amazing. All us kids, our jaws dropped, we just couldn’t believe it.”

After a few seconds, the crowd broke the quiet with, applause, cheers and other sounds of amazement.

“I thought that this would certainly put McPherson on the map,” Ratzlaff said.

McPherson’s title of “Light Capital of the World” was given not because it was the brightest city, but because a bigger percentage of its area was lit compared to other, larger municipalities.

“Riding my bike home that night, you could see everything,” Read said.

Read became a pilot and remembers seeing the cross of lights that marked McPherson’s downtown from the sky.

“When I would come home to visit,” Read said, “it was like a beacon.”