The Young Hearts Lighting Up the Falls

7 Apr 2014 by MichaelZhang, No Comments »

Originally posted on 

If you’ve ever been to Niagara Falls, you probably know that the Falls are lit up at night. And the light comes from a place call the Illumination Tower, where group tourists can change the colors of the Falls with their own hands. It itself is an attraction of Niagara Falls. But have you wondered who the people are lighting up the Falls with the century-old lights every night?


The two men that have been lighting up the world wonder are Peter Donald Gordon and Richard (Dick) Mann, two “young” hearts that have been guarding this great place, welcoming groups of tourists from all over the world.

In the little “office” barely bigger than a snooker table, Peter and Dick have been working for decades. When asked how many years they have been working here, Dick would smile as say: “I’m the rookie. I’ve only worked here for 30 years.” And when seeing my face showing big shock, he would smile again and add, “Peter is the old timer. 52 years.”

Peter is 82. Dick is 78. Peter had knee surgery 2 years ago, not long before when he had played his last hockey game. Dick is more talkative and jokes with me from time to time. I visit them whenever I’m in Niagara Falls, by myself or with a group of media from China. I want to see them whenever I can.

It might seem a boring job, being on duty in the tower alone. But they are never lonely. They are visited by thousands of visitors every year. “It’s a great job,” said Dick, “I’ve got to see all the nice people from around the world.” Yes, they are, especially when they see the two senior keepers going strong after decades of dedication to the tower and the Falls. “If I didn’t work here,” admitte Dick, “I would be sitting at home, watching TV all day long, feeling bored and lonely.” But they are never lonely, because they have not only human friends, but the mammal buddies. There are thirty some raccoons, big and small, living in and around the tower. “Come see the coons,” they would invite the visitors. And they are all excited when they see the bright eyes of the coons shining in the dark of the night. And the backdrop? The roaring Niagara Falls lit up with colorful lights. Peter and Dick feed the coons with bread. Bags of bread. And they are friends for a lifetime. “They were already here before I came,” Dick said about his animal friends.

There was one time when I asked Dick what would happen if any of them couldn’t work at the tower anymore. “I don’t know,” he said. “Peter’s son may be working here then. I don’t know.” I started to worry about the future of the tower and my many more visits down the road. As much as I know there will always be somebody there lighting up the Falls every night and showing the tourists how to change the colors of the Falls by themselves, I wish they could be there forever. Peter, Dick, the lights and the coons.

During one visit to the Illumination Tower not long ago, Peter’s grandchildren came to visit him. And the Tower suddenly had a stronger sense of family. At that moment, I realized that the tower has always been a family and I am proud to be part of it.

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