MARMET, W.Va. -- The traditional Dec. 1 illumination of Marmet's huge hillside Christmas star will be delayed until at least Monday, after copper-thief grinches helped themselves to wire and a meter box from the town's iconic holiday display.
After the theft was discovered Thursday, a Marmet Street Department crew attempted to restore power to the aluminum-framed, five-pointed star, which stretches 46 feet from point to point. They discovered Friday, though, that damage to the star was more extensive than initially thought, and needed the attention of a master electrician.
"It's a shame," said Mayor Bill Pauley. "They took about eight feet of wire and the meter, which couldn't have been worth more than a few dollars. It's sad when people do stuff like that."
The star had been checked a few weeks ago to make sure it was in operating condition, and street department workers cleared trees and brush that had grown up in front of the display to make it more visible.
"I've lived in Marmet more than 50 years, and the star's always been here," Pauley said. "It's a lifetime thing."
Pauley said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper expedited the acquisition of a new power meter to help begin the repair process.
The star initially was a project of the Marmet Lions Club, which installed a 60-foot-tall wooden version of the Christmas symbol near its current location in December 1954, where it caught the attention of travelers on the just-completed West Virginia Turnpike.
Then, as well as now, the star also could be seen from across the Kanawha River on U.S. 60, and in Belle and DuPont City and along W.Va. 61 from Marmet to the outskirts of Kanawha City.
According to some reports, an even earlier version of the star was attached to a now-demolished city water tower that once stood on the hillside behind the Kanawha River town.
The display has been replaced several times over the years, most recently in 1991, after severe April winds downed an aging wooden star.
The 1,200-pound aluminum frame now in use, designed by Marmet engineer Terry Fontalbert, was mounted on an axle, so that it can be rotated to accommodate the changing of its 200 light bulbs.
Over the years, the Marmet Star has elicited calls and letters from appreciative Turnpike travelers from across the country, and even a few pilots who have seen the landmark from the sky.
"It's a shame this had to happen," said street department crewmember Tony Lyttle, who, along with David Kersey and supervisor Jim Halstead, tried to get the star glowing Friday. "A lot of people like to see this star, and there wasn't enough wire to fool with for whoever did it."
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.