The name Jeannine Keane Haynes is not new around the city of Suwanee. Many may recognize the name as Haynes served as a Suwanee City Council member for a total of 16 years. But many may not realize she was also one of the planners for the first Suwanee Caboose Lighting more than 15 years ago. I asked Haynes how the event came about, and as she reflected on that first year, here’s what she had to say:
This brings back great memories of time spent with good friends and our early efforts to bring some life back to Old Town! The first Caboose Lighting was held on Thanksgiving in 1994.
Earlier that year the owner of a local body shop donated the paint and a group of volunteers restored the old caboose. The team of volunteers also included Atlanta Braves player, Mark Wohlers, who was a friend of the body shop owner. It was during a time when the team was on strike, so he came by several days to help out.
During that time Polly Holt and I decided Suwanee needed a community event to kickoff the holiday season. We didn’t have a tree, but we DID have a bright red caboose! Why not hold a caboose lighting? We talked the city into allowing us to do it.
We sent home flyers with the local elementary school children, issued a local news release and put posters around town. On Thanksgiving morning Polly and I, with the help of her husband Joe and their sons, decorated the newly painted caboose with strings of lights we bought at a local retailer. I remember it was a cold, cold morning and the top of the caboose was covered with frost – which made it very slippery! It seemed like five miles of lights and 50 extension cords, but we finally got them up and working. We went back home to our Thanksgiving dinners wondering if anyone would show up and praying the lights would work when we flipped the switch later that evening.
We were astounded and just a little panicked when several hundred people showed up! We crossed our fingers, flipped the switch, and the lights came on. Everyone cheered and we breathed a sigh of relief! The little caboose really did look pretty and everyone loved it! A well-timed train went by, making it even more exciting. And the children really enjoyed being able to go inside and look around for the first time.
Over the years the city adopted the event and grew it into the holiday celebration that it is today. At some point the date got moved to December. I kind of miss having it on Thanksgiving because it was a fun thing to do after dinner and football. But it has become a community tradition and it makes me happy to think of the hundreds of families that now have happy Christmas memories from Old Town!
This year area residents will again usher in the holiday season as Santa makes his way to Suwanee to light the Red Holiday Caboose with his holiday magic. The Old Town Holiday Festival and Caboose Lighting is at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 30 in Historic Old Town. Just look for the big, red caboose!
November 30th @ 6:30 pm in Historic Old Town.