Merlin Louis Fort, 92, of Dakota City, IA passed away on Friday, February 11, 2022, at the Humboldt Care Center South in Humboldt, IA. Per his wishes his body will be cremated. Inurnment with full military honors will be held at the Indian Mound Cemetery in Humboldt at a later date. Arrangements are with Historic Bruce Funeral Home of Fort Dodge.
Merlin was born March 2, 1929, to Louis and Amy Fort in the Village of Unique Corner, four miles west of the Humboldt High School. Brother Murry and sister Deloris are deceased. His best friends were Don Stowell, Tim Green, Mike Goodell and his beloved lady Sandy Reefer. Merlin will always be remembered for his spectacular hill side of Christmas lights for the last 35 years. We all know in anybody's lifetime there will never be a man who will be able to accomplish what he had done for everyone at Christmas time. After entertaining tens of thousands of people doing what he loved best.
It was written in February of 2020. He wanted to get it done before he passed away on his Judgment Day. He was not a firm believer in the Bible or the Biblical times until later in life. He changed his lifestyle when he decided to put up a few lights on the side of his house to help celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, about two thousand years ago.
He began with only 21 lights on a silhouette of a tree on the side of his old house he had lived in for years, up on a hill looking down into the valley of a neighboring town. He was very poor and that was all he could afford the first year. Then things got better and he kept adding to his house and then his whole hillside of the three acres. Now there are over 150,000 bulbs and 35 years in the making of the Hillside Spectacular. He proclaims that the spirit of Christmas should extend throughout the year but deep in our hearts, we know that cannot happen. A true Christmas also has its poignant sadness and every year is no different. We all lost a loved one, one way or another.
This authentic person had been a sinner most of his life until he made the change that was when he was erecting his Christmas display one day asking himself why was he doing all this work for everyone including sinners and non-believers of the Bible.
Most of the time for years he did most of the work himself. Then one day a man he knew showed up and asked him if he could use some help. He said yes so he could get all that work done in time for Christmas. That was not the last or only year this man showed up to help and built something new for the next 13 years. After they got the whole hillside lights up, he then moved far away, but he and his family returned every Christmas to marvel at his work he had done. This man was like an angel in disguise. In years to come, he is now a very religious leader. He always asks me will there be another year? Only if the Lord has his way. Just one more year.
He decided that day he was going to have the best Christmas display in the whole world. What a goal he set forth into trying to accomplish. In years to follow he almost did do that. On Facebook about four years ago there was a contest of lights that he didn't know about. A judgment by a group of people almost like a Judgment day they had in Christian belief by God. They were not looking for the largest and the most decorative, they wanted the most unique display and being almost everything was handmade helped their decision. He did not get first place, but he got to be number eight. The irony of this is he was born in a very small village four miles west of his place he lives now. The name of it was Unique Corner, Iowa.
After he was born he left that small town in three weeks and later the whole village disappeared. But his house is still there 90 years later and still livable and there is an old man living there but he is not his brother. Maybe the Lord's keeper. Meanwhile back on the hillside there are two outstanding stories to be told. There have been so many moments but here is one of them that happened one night.
The year was 2020, the last night they were on. January 1, one last night of the season. Big crowd as usual. Not too much anxiety, knowing this might be the last night forever. Maybe no more anxious moments like it has been all those years. Saying goodbye for the last time. It would be nothing but a miracle if the lights came on one more year.
It was a sad night for them and the Old Man on the Hill, especially the children who could not wait for every year. There were a lot of hugs and some tears, when a young mother and child came to my door. I slid the door far enough to hear what she said on a cold night. She told me the home she was living in caught fire and burned down completely. They were able to escape with a few clothes and my envelope of poems I had given her some time ago. I offered her a new set but she declined because she said it wouldn't be the same. By now the crowd had quieted down so they could hear the rest of her story. My poems had inspired her many times during some of her difficult moments. She was just like an angel appearing and then disappeared into the crowd, never to be seen again. So I do get rewarded in many ways for the time I take to bring Christmas to each and every one of you. For sure this was not an illusion but some kind of miracle? This story was written January 13, 2020.
This new story happened January 20, 2008, one night when I went out to check on my lights I saw a woman standing in the snow by herself with a white cane. At that moment another lady came up to me and asked me if I would watch her while she went back to her van to get two more people who were blind to see my lights. I went down to her and introduced myself. As I was bringing her up on my deck for a safe place to stand, she kept repeating to me how beautiful my lights were. When the lady came back with two other men in wheelchairs, they were blind also.
On the way over she had told them what they were supposed to see and the woman with the white cane was blind all of her life, born that way. All three could talk, that helped. So all three were so excited just like they could see. They were visualizing and with their imaginations what they must look like. After a brief stay, they got ready to leave. I shook hands with everyone and wished them a Merry Christmas. As the lady took the two men back to the van, I stayed with the woman. I hugged her when she was going to leave and I could see tears running down her cheeks.
I asked her what's wrong and about her tears. She told me she just had the best Christmas she ever had in her life. Again I said goodbye, then I had tears in my eyes. We think of all the people who get to see Christmas lights and everything else.
That's when poignant sadness sets in. Moments like this are what make me put my lights up every year. I know why Santa Claus is happy all the time for what we do for everyone each year.
Of all the things I built, I like the nativity scene the best of all mostly because I did the construction all by myself or I have help from up above to make sure everything was put into place. I am by no means a skilled carpenter but those days as I built it didn't matter. I just knew what to do. First of all, after buying all the figurines of Mary, Joseph and everyone else out in the snow and no place for them to go. I decided to build a shamble of a building of some sort. I wanted some old wood for the manger for this awesome display for Christmas.
So I went out in the country to find what I wanted. Low and behold, only one mile away on the side of the hill I saw an old fence. Beside the fence was an old farmer leaning against it. I stopped to ask him if I could have it, what it was for and then he said by all means I could have it. He even helped me take it apart. As we were doing that, he said he was thinking of getting rid of it this coming spring. He also was like an angel appearing at the right time. After loading up the lumber I thanked him and told him to come to see it at Christmas time and he did. I asked him if he had any idea how old it was. He thought it was over 100 years old. He was 84 now but had remembered when he was a little boy playing on that fence. I built it in my garage in my spare time. I cut all the lumber into five-foot lengths to make it five feet square, three sides and a roof. Four sections so it could get moved to any location.
I soon found out I could not drive a nail through any part of it because the wood was so old and hard it had turned into petrified lumber. So then I had to pre-drill the holes to put screws into it. After all when it was done, I had just enough wood to build baby Jesus a cradle to lie in. That was luck I had all the way in building this and especially having just enough lumber only one mile away. Also in having the knowledge in doing this with no plans or prints. It was all in my head. It was almost like I had the guidance of Him above me looking down all that time.
Meanwhile life goes on if a person is in good health, life is swell when you are feeling well and alone wealth may not help. So far life had been like a carousel going around and around until it stops, when nobody knows. So far life goes on one way or another. At my old age of 90 my last ride could come any time and I will not hear the music ever again. But for sure anybody who knows me better, they know I had the best life ever.
I am telling in this memorandum, why I think I was put on this earth. For sure it wasn't for me to preach the gospel. I was about ready to come to a close when I remembered something of the past, so I write in the postscript, it was about the lamb I had for years I had as a pet on a farm. Jesus talks about his Passover lamb in the Bible. What a coincidence that I had a lamb. Plus all the work he had done for all the thousands of people for 35 years, to come here to see that old man on the hill, maybe get a glimpse of him and to help celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ over 2000 years ago. I am sure I will not be forgotten, especially at Christmas time. For the remainder of his life, the parents will have to explain to them, where did the lights disappear this coming year and the generations who have been here for years.
Another postscript before I bring this to an end. One night I was preparing to shut my lights off for the night. On my hillside I have to walk about 200 feet down the hill to shut off one of the main breakers that lights up over half my west hillside. I made it down there okay, but on the way up the hill about 50 feet from the house all of a sudden I blacked out completely. I fell face forward on the ground. I think I came to in a few seconds because of the impact it revitalized my heart. I lay there for a while to rest, but because it was 15 below I was getting cold. So I started to crawl on my stomach for about 20 feet. Then I tried standing up so I could step up on my deck to enter the house. There was my lady friend getting ready to come looking for me. Where I fell I was out of sight for her to see me. I now felt fine, so I didn't go to the ER until later that morning. The heart doctor said if I would have fallen any other way, I might not have survived.
He put me on blood thinner pills for 90 days then implanted a pacemaker on April 17, 2017. Everything is okay ever since, but I still take my vitals twice a day. For sure the Lord was using his power to keep me alive and now I might be able to put up my celebration of lights a few more years.
So when the end of my life is here, I think I enjoyed my lifestyle more than anybody could wish for and the reason was because of my Christmas display. Now today I am making amends to all. God bless everyone and especially to those who have read this.
Merlin Louis Fort, Author of this legend.
Remember Me: You can shed tears that I am gone, or you can smile I've lived. Your heart can be empty because you can't see me, or you can let it be full of the love we shared. You can remember me and think only that I'm gone or you can cherish my memory and let it live on. You can live in the sorrows of yesterday or you can do what I would want for you. Greet tomorrow with hope, love and go on. By Merlin Fort - May 4, 2021. Poet of many Poems.