WARSAW — Jeff Wagoner was “never big on decorating for Christmas” during his childhood years in Rochester or his 15 years living in Kentucky.
But after he moved to Warsaw three years ago, at the amicable challenge of his neighbors, he went all Clark Griswold.
“The neighbors across the road said, ‘You will never match our display.’ It was kind of an ongoing joke and I had to prove them wrong.”
That he did. His handiwork, consisting of 15,000 blue and cool white lights and 40 projectors, is the talk of the neighborhood, if not the whole town.
Every night until Christmas at his property at the southeast corner of Market and Harrison streets a couple dozen blocks due east of downtown Warsaw, Wagoner turns on the display from 5 p.m. to midnight. Once a week the lights blink to the rhythm of Christmas tunes blaring from a loudspeaker.
Passing traffic slows down and many drivers park briefly along the street to capture a photo. Many of them honk their horns in tribute to Wagoner and his contribution to spreading the joy of the Yuletide season.
He doesn’t see most of the commotion, as he works nights as a server at Mad Anthony’s Lake City Tap House, but “the neighbors let me know. It is always busy.”
The display includes reindeer, candy canes, stars, snowflakes, bells, bows, meteor light icicles, ornaments, an oversized Christmas present, a 4 1/2-foot wreath on each picture window and a 14-foot stringed tree.
Wagoner’s extended labor of love “usually starts about Nov. 1,” when, for several weeks, he averages five hours a day during “a lot of late nights and early mornings” setting up the attraction.
He flicks the switch on Black Friday and provides the show until Christmas Day.
For two full days after Christmas, “depending on the weather,” he dismantles the entire project and stores the components in 15 45-gallon totes “plus the big items,” including the 4-foot by 12-foot lighted plywood “‘Tis the Season” sign he made two years ago.
Wagoner compiled the materials “over a couple years of just Christmas clearance shopping,” he said. “Everyone who knows me knows I am big on clearance shopping. I hit every store every year. This year I doubled what I had last year.”
He only buys “cool white” lights and was “just really struck” by the blue lights. “They just kind of stand out,” he said. “I have really had fun with it.”
All the lights and projectors are cost-saving LED, so “I’m only using around one kilowatt. I don’t see much of a difference in my electric bill.”
Wagoner wanted to move back by his family and debated whether to move to Rochester “where my wonderful parents still reside.” But Kristin Thomas, “my best friend since second grade, talked me into moving here. I have really enjoyed Warsaw.
“I don’t know whether my display is the biggest one around here and I was not expecting this kind of attention this year. I just want everyone to enjoy the season, the lights and the work I have done.”
Judging from the line of slow moving and stopped traffic at the corner of Market and Harrison streets, they are.