Replacing technology nearly a half century old, LED lighting helps create incredible patriotic presentation at this Missouri natural wonder
Missouri, the Cave State, boasts more than 6,000 underground chambers. Meramec Caverns, in Stanton, is the state’s largest commercial cave, having formed over the past 400 million years through the erosion of limestone deposits. More than 150,000 people visit Meramec Caverns annually to take in its 4.6-mile system. The signature fixture of the cave tour, the theater room’s stage curtain, serves as the backdrop for a four-and-a-half-minute light and sound show, with images projected against the 72-foot-high and 42-foot-wide fused- stalactite wall.
The show, honoring members of the U.S. armed forces, debuted in 1946, with Kate Smith providing a stirring live rendition of “God Bless America.” Over the years, the show incorporated a recording of Smith as well as spotlights, floodlights, a color wheel and other visual and audio elements. All of these were controlled by a tour guide who would flip switches throughout the show – relays clicking and clacking to activate the elements. Each tour guide operated the switchboard in a unique way, so each show was slightly different, and the entire process was considered inefficient.
With its lighting and other components last updated more than 40 years ago, the stage curtain show needed updating. In February 2014 Les Turilli, Jr., Meramec Caverns’ owner, reached out to Integrated Systems Group-STL , St. Louis, Missouri, for ideas on an upgrade. By September 2014, ISG, a design consulting firm and longtime partner of Meramec Caverns on many projects, along with Lighting Associates Inc., Webster Groves, Missouri, a lighting manufacturers’ representative, helped complete a total redo of stage curtain light, sound and projection capabilities. Key to project success was installation of numerous products from Acclaim Lighting, Los Angeles.
The cave’s damp humid environment provided formidable project challenges, as did the need to keep fixtures and wiring out of view from visitors and the goal to provide clean light that reflected the true colors and details of the stage curtain.
Advanced LED lighting was selected to replace the aging conventional tungsten products that not only gave the stage curtain an uneven orange-ish glow, but also required frequent replacement and used large amounts of electricity.
The project also included installation of a long-lasting DynaFlood LED lighting fixture. DynaFlood fixtures, in diecast aluminum housings with 180-degree pivoting heads, feature IP 66 wet-location ratings and can operate in temperatures from -40 to 122 ˚F. DynaFloods deliver high-quality light with color temperatures of 2,700, 3,000, 3,500 and 4,000 K.
“We ended up using the DynaFlood as a fill light, recalls ISG’s Parvin Tramel, design consultant for the Meramec Caverns project. “ It has an amber element to it that made it a good cross-fill light in this application.”
Four Acclaim ALQ PAR quad-color LED fixtures with 60 by 10-degree filters were selected as directional lighting to bring out the coloring in the face of the stage curtain.
“Color runs through the veins of the rock,” explains Robert Locke, controls specialist with Lighting Associates, “and Acclaim provided a system whereby the fixtures could be mounted in an atypical fashion with the beam aligned to maximize the beauty of the cave. The filters really pull out a lot of the different attributes of the stage curtain. Never before had visitors seen the veins in the curtain look as strong as they do now.”
The base of the stage curtain now features 14 Rebel four-color drum fixtures, also from Acclaim. With submersible ratings and stainless-steel housings, the drum lights can withstand the water and spray mist characteristic of that location. In addition, the Rebels’ small size and high power aid in concealment while providing punch for accent lighting. The Rebels serve to highlight the projection area while not washing out the video presentation.
One hundred feet of Acclaim Flex tape lighting, simple to install in nooks and crevices, provides illumination for areas that had never been lit, showing off the curtains rich colors, depths and details.