When the countdown ends and the lights flutter on at the Edgartown Lighthouse Friday, December 13, don’t think it’s all just the flick of a switch. There are 225 lights — six strands total — on the lighthouse and hundreds, maybe thousands more, throughout the town’s center. A team of electricians works non-stop for two days to make it all possible. Their leader? Tom Bassett of Bassett Electric Co.
For as long as there were Christmas lights in Edgartown, there was a Bassett to put them up. Mr. Bassett’s father, Gordon (Bob) Bassett, took on the project when the tradition started, shortly after the second World War. Tom Bassett, a lifelong Island resident, began putting up the lights with his father when he was just 12 years old. Now 63, Mr. Bassett has been at it for more than 50 years.
“[My father] use to look forward to it every year, I know that. He had the same thoughts I have,” Mr. Bassett said recently. “It’s nice to go down there and see all my old Edgartown buddies. Everybody’s saying hi and telling us that the town looks good. It’s nice to hear that.”
Although the town center has been lit for decades at Christmas time, it wasn’t until 2006 that the Edgartown Board of Trade made the decision to start decorating the Edgartown Light. “I love doing the lighthouse, it’s one of those spots that everybody sees,” Mr. Bassett said. He says it takes him and his crew of three a day’s work to set up the lighthouse. “I was the first one to design the way its done, and I guess people like it because we’ve been doing it every year.”
2013 was the first year that, in accordance with procurement laws, Mr. Bassett had to put in a bid for his services. As it turned out, he was the only bidder. “I was actually glad that the town put it up for bids, because now I know that my bid is reasonable. They’re happy with me, and I’m very happy with the town of Edgartown, so it seems to be a good partnership.”
After setting up the lighthouse, usually two days before the festivities, Mr. Bassett and his crew set to work lighting the rest of the town. That is, if the weather cooperates. “Wind is a big factor, and December of course is a windy month,” Mr. Bassett said. “Especially at the lighthouse, that’s the windiest.” Mr. Bassett said he has seen trees blow down, trucks get caught on lights, and other minor disasters. “One year, the wind was blowing like heck and the wreath on the lighthouse wasn’t attached as well as it could have been. It blew off to the side and half the string of lights went out.”
To battle the destructive elements (and sometimes destructive humans), Mr. Bassett performs routine checks throughout the Christmas in Edgartown weekend. “Every day, I’m down there for two or three hours. I have to check the whole Main Street, Cannonball Park [Formally, Memorial Park], and the Lighthouse to make sure they go on with the timers. Sometimes kids steal the bulbs, or guys come out of the bars and kick the lights on the lampposts,” Mr. Bassett said. When they do, he is ready with new bulbs and fuses.
Mr. Bassett’s dedication has helped the Christmas in Edgartown celebration evolve throughout the years. “It’s certainly a lot more of a celebration than it used to be, especially with the off-Islanders who come,” Mr. Bassett said.
Mr. Bassett insists, in his typically humble fashion, that he could not do the massive project alone. “I have a really good crew. They’re really hard workers, and we do quite a bit of work in the amount of time we put into it.”
Mr. Bassett’s son Jacob, the fourth generation of Bassett Electric Co., and the third generation Bassett to take part in the lighting of Christmas in Edgartown, is one of that crew.