Altered celebration of lights draws few to Poughkeepsie

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Moments after the Dongan Square Park tree was lit, the attendees left, unlike ears past.

POUGHKEEPSIE – In a change from tradition, the annual “Celebration of Lights” took place in Poughkeepsie without the traditional parade down Main Street to Dongan Square Park.

The event, which typically brought 1,000 people to the Mount Carmel neighborhood, was much more subdued this year.  Many of those in attendance attributed the scaled-back celebration to the passing of Michael Reed, the owner of Noah’s Ark, a local bar near the park.  Reed also served as president of the Poughkeepsie River District Business Association, the primary underwriter of the annual celebration.

“This is nothing like the celebrations of the past,” said Kevin Mackey, a Poughkeepsie resident who has attended many of the previous celebrations.  “For years we had enormous crowds, a festive spirit, and holiday cheer….whoever took this over should be embarrassed and fired.”

Santa at Dongan Square Park.

After a very brief parade, those in attendance gathered at the park to hear Mayor Rob Rolison, who presided over his last celebration as mayor.  Rolison was recently elected to the state senate and will head to Albany in the new year.

In an emotional speech before the lighting of the tree, Rolison said, “The past seven years as mayor of the City of Poughkeepsie has been the greatest experience of my life.” His remarks were met with a round of applause at the Friday evening event.  Briefly recalling accomplishments during his tenure, Rolison credited the residents for bringing the city back.  “When we work together in Poughkeepsie, we get things done.”  Rolison then led a countdown to light the tree in Dongan Park.

After the tree was illuminated, attendees were encouraged to stay in the park and enjoy performances from different groups while waiting two hours for the annual fireworks display.  Shortly after the tree was lit up, many of those gathered left the area.

An unofficial headcount by Mid-Hudson News tallied 61 people, including festival participants, when the fireworks began.  In years past, there were almost 1,000 people gathered to watch the pyrotechnics display.

“It’s not like it used to be,” said Margaret Tilly.  “I’ve been here for years and it was always a crowded festive event,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s because Noah’s is closed or the lack of a parade, but it’s not as fun as it has been every other year.”