MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s the most wonderful time of year everywhere, but especially in Duluth. That’s where you’ll find Bentleyville, home to millions of Christmas lights. In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen walks us through Bentleyville’s history and introduces us to the Christmas fan who started it all.
A December day in Duluth carries with it a wintery scene. There are views you won’t find anywhere else. And when the sun goes down there’s another wintery scene you won’t find anywhere else.
“It makes the Christmas feeling come alive when you can bring your family here,” said a visitor from Brooklyn Park.
Every Christmas season Bayfront Park transforms into a city of lights. The name of this holiday town is Bentleyville, and its mayor is Nathan Bentley, the attraction’s namesake.
Like so many decked-out homes you see, Bentleyville started small in Bentley’s front yard. He was living in the city of Esko in 2001 and was simply competing with a neighbor over who could hang more lights. Needless to say, Bentley won. Then he took his light show with him when he and his family moved to Cloquet.
“We built a 72-foot long castle, 24 feet high. We blacktopped our pathways throughout our woods,” Bentley said. “I had Bentleyville put on a banner and I strung it across my driveway, more as a joke than anything. And Bentleyville was born in 2003.”
Every year people would drive to Cloquet just to see what Bentleyt had done. His merry and bright displays became so popular that they began running buses to his house. One year, 72,000 people stopped by. That’s when the mayor of Duluth came calling.
“He said, ‘What do you think about bringing your lights here?’ And I accepted the challenge,” Bentley said.
This is now the 13th year in Duluth. They’ve gone from 72,000 visitors to 350,000. With the help of about 40 volunteers they begin decorating the park in September, stringing up lights of all shapes and colors. They decorate around the town and through the tunnels. Clark Griswold would be proud.
“You’re going to see 12 miles of lights. You’re going to see 5 million lights. You are going to see the tallest man-made Christmas tree in the United States here,” Bentley said.
“My favorite thing is the Christmas tree,” agreed brothers Rylan and Camden Kazeck.
There are so many lights here that even the brightest visitors have a hard time guessing how many there are — 5 million, for the record.
Bentley is there every night. He gets about four hours of sleep before he wakes up and goes to his day job. Then he returns to Bentleyville in the evening.
“I’ll get home a lot of times at midnight,” he said. “It is truly a second full-time job.”
It’s his life for about nine weeks, but it’s worth it. After all, how many people can say they have a winter wonderland named after them?
“So often now some of the people that came to my home 18 years ago, they have children now and they are making memories with those children. Now we are talking generations and generations that are embracing Bentleyville. That’s so cool and fun to see every night,” Bentley said.
Planning for next year’s Bentleyville starts again in January. Bentleyville also has hot chocolate, marshmallows, a gift shop and Santa Claus.
Admission to the Tour of Lights is free. Donations are encouraged and go towards the Salvation Army.
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