RANDOLPH - When it’s his turn in front of the Lombardo’s chandelier, Nick Balcam and his date step forward, turn toward the camera, and assume the prom pose - boy behind girl, hands on her hips, the distance between them dictated by many complicated factors.
There are few better ways to freeze glamour in time like a prom, and this very image in this very spot - the prom pose in front of a three-story twinkling light - has been the official prom photo for generations south of Boston. The chandelier was installed forty years ago, and teenagers, thousands of them, have struck the prom pose in front of it since. This spring, Lombardo’s will host 25 proms.
Balcam is tiny; so is his date, Kristin Babino. He says he can’t believe he’s in high school, can’t believe he’s at his prom. He waits until most of the other students at the Pembroke High junior prom have had their photos taken before he gets into the line for his. This is a big deal, he said. His mother was one of those thousands of teenagers; she went to her Hingham High prom at Lombardo’s, and says she is “ecstatic’’ that Nick is also going to have his prom photo taken in front of the chandelier.
Balcam is visibly nervous, and when the photographer shows him the shots on the back of the camera, he freaks out. He grabs the sleeve of his rented tuxedo and runs it back and forth across his forehead, trying to scrub out the shine. “Can we try another one?’’ he asks. “Because my head is greasy from the gel.’’
Doing the prom pose, taking the official prom photo, is a rite of passage for American teenagers everywhere. And for a huge swath south of Boston, the Lombardo’s chandelier roots it to a specific place.
In Pembroke a few hours earlier, Brian and Jenn Deegan hosted a gathering at their house for a couple dozen parents to see the kids and their dates before they left for the prom, and you couldn’t walk 2 feet among the adults without meeting someone who also had their prom photo taken in front of the chandelier. The Deegans had done it twice, at Silver Lake high school, in ’84 and ’87. Mark Venuto and his wife, Kathy, had gone to the Weymouth South prom at Lombardo’s in 1985. “I had a mullet and a white cane and white shoes,’’ he said. “We all did. You’ve got to go big.’’
Since 1972, when the function hall was known as the Chateau de Ville, the chandelier has been a landmark for drivers on Interstate 93. It is the largest in New England, and is encircled by a spiral staircase and three stories of windows that face highway drivers. Every kid at the prom has driven by it. And getting their picture in front of it is one of the seminal photos of early adulthood, like a first driver’s license and the senior class picture. Driving by it, Venuto said, can make all those memories come flooding back, and now his daughter, Kara, was going through it.
As he watched her get ready for a group shot before disappearing for her night, he said he was proud of her, she looked beautiful, and he felt old to think she was about to take her chandelier photo. Or was she? There was gossip among the mothers that they were going to use an artificial backdrop for the official prom photo, and the mothers were up in arms.
“What other landmark do they have?’’ asked Mary MacKinnon, who had her prom picture in front of the chandelier in the mid-’80s - “Big, big hair. Long gloves. Lace. Dreadful.’’ - and had come to see off one of the young couples. The mothers did not want anyone messing with the chandelier tradition. (In the end, they did not.)
Lombardo’s will host 79 weddings this year, and David Lombardo, the general manager who is part of the fourth generation to run the business (also, Wayland High prom ’02 and ’03), said many of the brides are women who had their prom picture in front of the chandelier and want to be pictured doing the same in their wedding dress.
The entire place got a renovation in the past year, but they didn’t touch the chandelier. It’s the same as it ever was; so are the proms. Kids still drink and act up, he said. “And there’s always someone in a purple tuxedo,’’ he said as the lights came down at the Pembroke junior prom and the DJ started playing. “I’m sure there’s a white one in here somewhere.’’
The boys, as is the case at this age, were a lot less put together than the girls, who looked nearly done on their road to adulthood. The boys had pimples, wore sunglasses indoors, and washed over everything with the loud chatter of adolescence.
The chandelier photos were less of a big deal to them, Joe Musseman said.
“I’m ecstatic to get my picture taken in front of a light for $20,’’ he said, as he and his date, Jackie Rowell, looked at a card with the 17 poses to choose from. He decided they all looked sketchy.
“The jacket over the shoulder?’’ he said. “Yeah, I’m not going to do that.’’
So when the time came, they stepped up, turned back toward the photographer, and struck a pose not even on the card, the same one generations have done before them in front of the chandelier: They did the prom pose.