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'My favorite time of year'

A Spring Hill man creates the most lavish Christmas display in the county because he loves the holiday season.

By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published December 22, 2005


[Times photo: Edmund Fountain]
Joe Norton, 45, of Spring Hill squats beside one section of Christmas lights adorning his front yard. He says that he has about 75,000 lights in his display, as well as strobe lights. All are computer controlled. He says that he started planning and setting up the display in September. He has an idea for an even larger display next year.

SPRING HILL - Joe Norton was dressed one evening this week in a furry Santa hat and curly-toed candy-cane slippers and was smoking a cigarette while trying to fix a bad bulb on a neon-lit caroler in his front yard - just one of the more than 75,000 lights that make up the base of what has to be one of the biggest, wildest, most outlandish displays of Christmas decorations in Hernando County.

The air was getting tip-of-the-nose cool. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow was coming out of his garage. The lights on the caroler flickered back on.

"Oh, there it goes," Norton said.

"Yeah," he said.

Any Tom, Dick or Harry can set up a couple plastic reindeer, or maybe an inflatable snow globe, or string a strand of lights along the edge of the roof, but this . . . this . . . this takes, uh, commitment.

And time.

(He started working in September.)

And money.

("I don't even want to think about it," he said - although he gives an estimate in "the thousands.")

But the result is the kind of gaudy getup that can be seen these holiday evenings at 13251 Feather St.

In addition to all those lights, there are polar bears involved, and seals and penguins and a pink, lit-up flamingo, and a manger scene, of course, and some deer and a gingerbread house, and Santa in a sleigh and Santa stuck in the chimney, and rows of candy canes making a path off into the woods, and small, blinking trees and big, blinking trees, and red and green lights coiled around pine tree trunks, and neon-letter signs telling everyone to have a MERRY CHRISTMAS.

"This is my favorite time of year," Norton said. "It's a happy time.

"I just love it."

Norton is 45 and works as a teacher's assistant at Nature Coast Technical High School south of Brooksville. He lives here in this house with his wife, Virginia, and son, Adam, 15. He grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., where his parents put up a few lights every now and again, he said, but he didn't really get into all this until a few years ago.

PlanetChristmas.com is Norton's link to this Christmas-crazy community.

It's the online home of a man named Chuck Smith of Franklin, Tenn., whose annual yuletide yard display is so phenomenal he once gave directions to a reporter by telling him to "follow the glow on the horizon."

The Web site has monthly newsletters on Christmas decorations. It sponsors a "worldwide" contest. And it has a long, long, LONG list of pictures and descriptions of all-Christmased-up houses from Monroe, N.Y., to Castle Rock, Colo., to San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and even in Germany and Australia.

In the Tampa Bay area, according to the list printed in the St. Petersburg Times, there's a spot with 10,000 lights in Dunedin, and 25,000 lights in St. Petersburg and 40,000 lights in Palm Harbor and so on.

Here at the home of Joe Norton, though, a computer in his garage serves as central command for the coordination of the 75,000 lights. The computer shares a desk with a bowl of candy canes, a Mannheim Steamroller Christmas CD and some Sleigh Bill$ lottery tickets. It's also where he updates his own Web site, whobilation.com, on which he kept a running log of his progress this fall.

09-27-2005 . . . Only put 800 lights on it, I will add 200 more later.

10-07-2005 Picked up 17 Blow-Molds at a Yard Sale. I never knew how addicted collecting Blow-Molds can be.

10-17-2005 Started to put the lights on the Angel wireframes. This is a really tough job and I have 1 more Angel and also 2 Reindeer.

11-18-05 WOW . . . Just so much going on looks like I will make it for Thanksgiving Night.

He did make it - but not without renting a 42-foot Hi-Lift to get a 5-foot Star of David in the top of a tree.

All told, Norton's display has blue lights, red lights, purple lights, green lights - deep breath - 20 strobe lights, 35 candy canes, 24 minitrees, 36 different blow molds, an inflatable Grinch, an inflatable Snoopy and of course the obligatory nativity scene.

Norton can do no more. Literally. His electrical supply won't allow it.

But there are ways. He's going to call the Withlacoochee Electric Co. to see if there's a safe method to add power supply. "You don't want to fry the house," he said.

Next year's is going to be bigger yet. Norton this week showed off an old 45-foot ham radio tower he's got in his back yard. He plans to turn it into something he'll call the "mega-tree."

The other night, as the sky got darker and darker, the lights seemed to get more and more bright. Neighbor Bob Paulavage came over. They stood in the driveway and watched all the lights on all the trees flash and blink.

"I always wonder what the airplanes think when they fly over your house," Paulavage said. "It's like: "Oh, my God, there's the landing strip!' "

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or 352 848-1434.

IF YOU GO

Joe Norton's Christmas light display can be viewed nightly through end of the month at 13251 Feather St. in Spring Hill. Take Linden Drive south from its easternmost intersection with Spring Hill Drive. Turn east onto Feather Street. Norton's house will be on the north side of Feather near the end of the street.

[Last modified December 22, 2005, 00:59:14]


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