Lankford lighted holiday display is a hidden gem

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

The Nativity scene. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian)

Holiday lighting displays, no matter how simple or how elaborate, always catch the eye and make the season a bit brighter and joyful. In that vein, one of the best kept secrets along the border of Lake and Mc Henry counties near Johnsburg is at the home office of the Lankford Construction Company. Since the early 1990s, the company has put up display scenes in light, covered trees with strings of light, and let the colors of light reflect on half of the 20-acre site.

The turn-off onto the Lankford property at 1455 Karlens Way is next to the northern end of Johnsburg Road and away from the village proper. The experience brings wide eyes, as a result, with innumerable flashing multi-colored lights, animated and stationary tableaus showing scenes of winter, and, of course, many containing the old elf, Santa Claus. Going down the drive, it seems to never end.

“It’s just something to offer the community to travel the road, see the displays, and share the Christmas spirit with them,” said Rob Copenharve, a company spokesperson. “We don’t event put a budget to it, we just put it up. The horse carriage is my favorite display, among the many.”

The miles of electric cords and the massive volume that encompasses the number of lights is not known, as company owner, Gerry Karlens, would continually expand and erect more elaborate displays with each passing season, until reaching a satiation point in 2011. Copenharve wouldn’t “even hazard a guess” on how much electrical wiring is spread over the ten acres although electrical outlet panels (junction boxes) are around the property. He wouldn’t even guess on how much the electrical bill amounts to.

What does Santa do on the off season? (Photo by Gregory Harutunian)

“We recently started to return the display, one by one, to the manufacturer for re-vamping with all new LED lighting, and have started switching everything to it,’ he said. “LED is the industry standard, and making it more cost-effective.”

The Pierceton, IND-based Herman’s Christmasland created all the displays that were purchased and brought to the Johnsburg site. According to its website, “Herman’s Christmasland is one of the few manufacturers of top quality outdoor decorations. We supply towns, businesses, churches, however we also service theme parks, zoos, and the general public.”

The space on the grounds is virtually splashed with color and light, and has incorporated the use of shrubs, trees, standing light poles, along with the walls of buildings. Near the Karlens Way entrance is a life-size Nativity Scene featuring the Three Kings, camels, and burros with a shed-like framed structure housing the Holy Family.

The actual assembly and construction was said to begin immediately after Halloween in October, and is initiated by laying all of the electrical cords. The lighting is all tested by Thanksgiving Eve, when the lights are turned on for the holiday season.

Skaters on a rink. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian)

Word about the displays has been gaining a wider appreciation and audience. The more encompassing displays such as those at the Chicago Botanic Gardens and Vernon Hills are meant to dazzle, although the Lankford display is more of a local treat, quietly tucked away in the rural area outside of Johnsburg.

“We stopped for about two years, due to safety concerns, but other than that…it has been an annual tradition,” said Copenharve. “It’s sharing the Christmas spirit.”

The Lankford lighted display continues through Dec. 31, coinciding with New Year’s Eve and the start of 2020.