Joe White: Chatham's Christmas Lamplighter

Text and photographs by Henry H. Mitchell, 2002.

Joe White Lights a Christmas Lantern

Joe White lights a Christmas lantern along Main Street in historic Chatham, Virginia.

On the first Friday night of each December, as the first event of a weekend called “Christmas in Historic Chatham,” the little town of Chatham, Virginia, begins its Christmas season with a traditional lantern-lighting ceremony on the courthouse steps, featuring greetings by town and county officials. But as soon as the first lantern is lit, the pageantry is carried on for the rest of the Christmas season by town employee Joe White.

Every afternoon, White makes the rounds of all the Christmas lanterns hanging along the sidewalks in the downtown area, cleaning chimneys, filling with kerosene, and lighting. Late at night, he returns to extinguish each lamp. In performing these old-fashioned rituals, he makes it possible for Chatham to help preserve the tradition of America's town lamplighters.

Filling the lantern

Filling the lantern.

Cleaning the chimney

Cleaning the chimney.

Adjusting the wick

Adjusting the wick.

Lighting the lantern

Lighting the lantern.

A message for 2001

During Christmas 2001, lighting the lamps seemed to be an especially meaningful symbol.


This webpage is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House, Chatham, Virginia.