Who the Heck are the Osbornes and Why Can Their Lights be Seen from Space?

Perhaps you are like me.  I had heard that there is some sort of Christmas light event every year at Walt Disney World, but I’ve never actually been there to see it.  It sounds great and thanks to YouTube and the like I have managed to garner a brief glimpse of it, but not really a solid description.  All I knew was that it combined Disney and Christmas.  It is on my ‘to do’ list.

You see, I had no idea why the Osborne family would string their lights in Florida when according to their TV show they live in Los Angeles.  That was when I briefly entertained the thought that the Osborne family was in fact the Osbourne family.  What?  It could happen.

The thing is, I write for The Disney Blog.  I couldn’t admit that I didn’t know exactly what I was talking about (although my wife encourages such outbursts of honesty).  I just read the posts, looked at the videos and virtually nodded in agreement that they were indeed pretty darn neat.

Today I am in the know, and my assessment of ‘neat’ was something of an understatement.  No, I didn’t visit the event, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn last night (sorry, I know that was terrible, but I couldn’t resist).  Actually, I was looking through the book "Merry Christmas, America" by Bruce Littlefield and lo, and behold, there on page 62 was the story of the Osborne family and their festival of dancing lights (presented by Sylvania).

Apparently Mr. Jennings Osborne is a very wealthy man in Little Rock, Arkansas and he loves to decorate.  In 1986 his then six-year-old daughter, Breezy, asked for Christmas lights as her present.  Daddy went Griswold.

According to Littlefield:

By 1993 the enthusiastic father had completely covered the family’s twenty-thousand-square-foot-mansion, and most of the airspace above it, in lights.

I know.  20,000-square-feet?  What’s that all about?

The display consisted of more than three million lights and all kinds of extras.  It even included a train driven by Mickey Mouse.  I’m actually a bit surprised that Disney didn’t sue.

Long story short, the neighbors weren’t happy.  They were so unhappy that the Osbornes landed in court.  They bought the "houses" on either side of them to buffer the exhibit and the traffic that it caused.  They were told their display was trashy by a judge and fined $10,000 for turning the lights on briefly for a tourist that had traveled far only to arrive minutes after the scheduled time for lights out.

The neighbors won.  The Osborne family mansion went dark.

"Then Disney called," says Littlefield.  "In 1995 the Osbornes gave Disney World their homespun display of four million lights and eight hundred figurines, and the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights at Disney’s MGM Studios was born.

"According to Disney, it takes ten weeks, twenty-one thousand man-hours, seventy-one miles of extension cords, and eight hundred thousand watts of electricity."  Not to mention an endless supply of churros and hot chocolate.

The Osborne family has moved on.  They still don’t decorate their home, at least not in excess, and obviously Disney handles the spectacle on their property, so Jennings spends his time and money sponsoring displays in 32 cities and decorates a couple more small houses- Jimmy Carter’s home in Plains, Georgia and Graceland in Memphis.  Who’s trashy now?

Has I said, seeing the event at Disney World has been in my plans for awhile, but knowing the story behind it inspires me to see it all the sooner, and possibly put up a few extra lights on my own home this year, just out of principle.

Visit Whit at his own blog – Honea Express.

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2 Responses to Who the Heck are the Osbornes and Why Can Their Lights be Seen from Space?

  1. zoe's dad says:

    I’ve seen the house in Little Rock–pre court ordered shutdown. Also when the light count was in the 100 thousands not the millions it grew to be. Even then it was an impressive display.

    I suppose I’m going to have to add Disney at Christmas to my to do list now.

  2. Keith says:

    Remember that back in 1995, MGM had the backlot – a street with residential houses or “sets” on it, that made a perfect spot for installing Christmas lighting. But now it is gone and Disney has been force to move the lights to the “big cities” – doesn’t work quite as well as it did in a residential setting.

    And before the “residential street” was only seen during the backlot tour, but the “cities” area is regularly traveled during the day. The Christmas lighting kind of ruin the whole city illusion during the day, for four or five months out of the year.

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