WEST FRANKFORT — Regionally famous holiday light display Candy Cane Lane got its 15 minutes of national fame this week when it was featured on ABC's "The Great Christmas Light Fight." But, after organizer Tim Murphy was diagnosed with a sudden illness this fall, the beloved holiday tradition almost didn't happen this year.
Over the last 36 years, residents of Southern Illinois and beyond have flocked to West Frankfort for the breathtaking display of holiday light…
Candy Cane Lane was created more than 35 years ago by Murphy, who taught art at Frankfort Community High School, and his students, father and neighbors. Over the years, it has grown to become the region's premier private Christmas display, taking over five blocks of yards in West Frankfort.
As miraculous as it was to appear on the show Dec. 2 — which was filmed last year — Murphy said the real miracle happened this fall.
Murphy was diagnosed with West Nile Virus on Oct. 2.
“This was a rough year for me," Murphy said. "I got that West Nile Virus from a mosquito bite, and it almost did me in."
Murphy was substitute teaching at Frankfort Community High School and, as he put it, he lost all his motor skills. He could not get out of a chair in the classroom or down the stairs without help.
After 17 days in Herrin Hospital, he was sent to a nursing home for rehabilitation. He even had to learn to walk again. Murphy spent a couple of weeks in therapy.
“It was the roughest thing that ever happened in my life,” Murphy said.
He came home Nov. 1. There was just one question: How could he get Candy Cane Lane set up?
Work on the Candy Cane Lane display usually begins the first few days of October. He had planned to start building the display on Oct. 4, and after his hospital stay and rehab, he was a month behind schedule. On top of the time crunch, Murphy really could not do most of the work needed for the display. He began telling people the display would be canceled.
One thing Murphy did not consider was how important the annual Christmas display is to the students who helped create and maintain the display, and to the community.
“The kids came through," Murphy said. "I came home on a Friday, and the kids did everything."
Forty students showed up the first day, 30 the second day. They worked off pictures from previous years, and Murphy used his new walking skills to help guide them. When he got tired, he rested, while the students and other volunteers continued to work.
“They said ‘We've got your back, Murph,’ and they did,” Murphy said.
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With the volunteers and their work, he was able to do his part a lot quicker. It usually takes three days to run cables for the display. He got it done in about half the time.
“It's kind of like a Hallmark movie. The whole town really came together to pull it off,” Murphy said. “I think Candy Cane Lane is real nice this year.”
Murphy believes Candy Cane Lane’s appearance on "The Great Christmas Light Fight" was largely an accident. The show pits over-the-top Christmas light displays against one another for the chance to win $50,000.
The evening of Dec. 2, Murphy and a host of volunteers learned Candy Cane Lane did not win the weekly prize of $50,000.
“It was a thrill for me to be on 'Light Fight.' I was very, very lucky,” Murphy said.
The journey to appear on the television competition show started in 2017 when Murphy attended a Christmas Expo in Nashville, Tennessee. During the expo, he met a producer from the show and showed him what Frankfort Community High School art students have done to create Candy Cane Lane.
Although the producer promised to take the story back to the show, Murphy really didn't expect too much.
On Jan. 15, 2018, Murphy received a call from the show. The phone call lasted three hours, with show officials saying they had never featured students. Murphy, and a few former and current students and a couple of volunteers, did a Skype interview.
On July 15, Murphy learned Candy Cane Lane was accepted for the show. A television crew came to West Frankfort in November of 2018 to film the episode that aired Dec. 2.
“It was nice to be on the show. It was nice for West Frankfort and nice for the school,” Murphy said.
He was really pleased with the final film of the West Frankfort Christmas display, saying it emphasized the students and their work.
“They were real impressed with what I had,” he added.
He said that everybody who appears on the show is good, or they wouldn't be there. He was told that judging was really close, with Candy Cane Lane finishing in second place. The display that won was mostly lights — and a pirate ship.
Appearing on the show gave Candy Cane Lane national attention, but there are still many opportunities to drive through the displays. Candy Cane Lane is open from 6 to 10 p.m. nightly through New Year’s Eve. The display begins on Main Street, just past the high school.
For more information, visit facebook.com/candycanelanewestfrankfort.