Kennith Kirk tugged the hem of his mother’s dress. Over the screams and laughs of his two twin siblings, Maya and Robert, Kennith’s question was barely audible to all but his mother.

“Why are there so many moons?” the three-year-old wanted to know. Maya, seven, whipped her head around and said “They’re lightbulbs!”

Actually, they were lanterns, adorning every cottage in the Camp Ground for the annual Illumination Night celebration.

“We walked through [the Camp Ground] while it was still light out,” said Hannah Kirk, Kennith’s mother. “We wanted the kids to have a good look at the gingerbread houses. The first thing Kennith said was, ‘Do they talk?’”

Dorothy Burnham
Honoree Dorothy Burnham. — Jeanna Shepard

It must be the magic of the event that makes it seem like houses could simply come alive and hold a conversation. But the talking walls would have had a tough time being heard over the crowd that assembled in the Camp Ground in the hours leading up to 9 p.m., when the Illumination ceremony began. In front of a packed Community Sing in the Tabernacle, kids holding glow sticks ran about in winding paths on the lawn. The noise and commotion died down only when it was time to announce the 2012 lantern lighter.

The honor went to Dorothy Burnham, civil rights activist and active Camp Ground volunteer, age 97. She took the stage and thanked the Camp Ground neighborhood for years of music, laughter and love. Then the cottages followed suit and lit their lanterns, setting the strips of small houses aglow.

It took some extra time for one homeowner in Trinity Park to complete her display. Dawn McKenna carefully lit the lanterns on her porch with fire rather than batteries. “We’re historic purists,” she said, bending over to light another. “It wouldn’t be right to do this without candles.” Mrs. McKenna and her daughter Ashley explained that some of the lanterns were over 100 years old, and had been left behind by the previous owners. Since 1988, the McKenna family has continued displaying the antique lights in traditional fashion.

A few cottages down, Tom Surr, 88, sat on his porch with his daughter, Vici, and a few cousins, all wearing rainbow-colored felt hats. Mr. Surr’s lanterns were a distinctly different shape than most others in sight. Rather than spherical, they were box-shaped, featuring charming pictures of smiling family members and lighthouses. Mr. Surr made them himself. His late wife had brought home a small plastic lantern and showed her husband. “Nikki, I said to her,” began Mr. Surr. “We can make lanterns like this — only larger.” And so he constructed personalized lanterns in bundles, until the whole porch could be filled.

Glowing in the center of the display was one Mr. Surr didn’t originally make, as it was an antique from the late 1800s. But that light required significant reconstruction after being smashed and run over by a car. Mr. Surr’s account of reassembling the lantern caused a great deal of gawking in the crowd. It looked as good as new.

illumination nightL
Lanterns of all types and stripes. — Jeanna Shepard

On the other end of the Camp Ground, Arthur and Virginia Hetherington sat on their porch in full costume. They’ve been dressing up in handmade tailed-coats and dresses for twenty years now, made by Mrs. Hetherington. “Being theatre people, we enjoy dressing up,” she sad. Arthur added, “It adds to the atmosphere.” Their cottage is called Summer Love, and in an appropriate loving manner, the couple served punch and cake to passersby who ventured up to the house.

Many cottage owners remarked on the rainstorm that postponed Illumination Night this year from Wednesday to Thursday night. Most porches had to be wiped clean of the paper lanterns and set up again. One of the guests at the Hetherington house (also wearing a top hat and tails) said that a small swarm of people passed by in the darkness on Wednesday night, not knowing that the event had been rescheduled. The confused crowd was out of the Camp Ground by the time the rain fell, though. Many had to catch boats and miss the magic, but for those who made the rain date, high spirits and good cheer were in high supply, surely to be remembered for many moons.