Walking in a ‘Windsor’ wonderland

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 24, 2005

WINDSOR – What started as a memorial to a daughter who lost her life in a car accident has developed into one of the largest holiday attractions in northeastern North Carolina.

You can’t miss it if traveling north of Windsor on U.S. 17. Just beyond the Cooper Hill Road (NC 308) intersection, Christmas lights snake their way up and around tall trees. The yard at Thurman Hoggard’s residence is a vast display of lights, hand-built holiday cut-outs and the now popular Christmas blow-ups (Santas, Snow Men, etc.). Even the dirt and gravel road (Dalton Drive) that winds in front of the Hoggard home is included in the decorations, now an archway covered in festive lights.

“We started this about eight years ago and it’s gotten bigger and bigger each year,” Hoggard said. “It all began with a wooden angel I cut out and put on display for my daughter Carolyn who, at age 16, was killed in a wreck in 1991.”

That tragedy began a string of bad luck for the Hoggard family. His wife, Nancy, was injured during a 1992 motor vehicle accident. One year later, Mr. Hoggard suffered an injury to his spine as the result of another wreck.

“I was out of work for seven years because of that wreck,” Hoggard noted. “As my health improved, I began doing some woodwork. It became part of my rehab. I would cut out Christmas-theme patterns and, one-by-one, would add them to our display.”

Another big addition to the breath-taking display is Hoggard’s brother, Herman.

“He moved in with us in November of last year,” Hoggard recalled. “He lived in Colonial Heights, Va. and had been decorating his yard for about as long as I’ve been doing mine. He’s really good at it. It’s no wonder that he won the best decorated house in Colonial Heights for three straight years.”

Along with Herman came his holiday cut-outs as well as an “eye” for what would make for a bigger and better display in Windsor.

First came a bit of reorganizing. With the help of a friend n Keith Phelps, who owns a tree service, complete with a bucket truck n Hoggard was able to run additional lights in the trees surrounding his home.

“We have about 12 trees decorated with lights that now extend about 50 feet in height,” Hoggard explained. “Using Keith’s bucket truck was a tremendous help.”

Back on the ground, Thurman and Herman (they are part of triplet brothers) reworked the electrical system, one that now requires three, 200-amp power meters.

“Before this year, we would have to turn up the heat in our home and let it get good and warm during the daylight hours because we could not run it at night when we cut on all these displays,” Hoggard said. “Heck, we couldn’t even run the clothes dryer; that’s how much current the Christmas displays were taking.”

It’s no wonder Hoggard’s electric bill is, in his words, “astronomical.” After all, there are over 100,000 mini lights and 200 halogen spotlights included in his annual display.

And for all that effort, the Hoggard family hears a lot of “wows.”

“People are just amazed when they ride back here,” Hoggard said. “But what warms my heart the most and lets me know what we’re doing is worth all the effort is when I see the reaction on the faces of children.”

Hoggard said visitors come from as far away as Virginia and South Carolina to witness his amazing display of lights and cut-outs.

“We’ve met some great people over the years,” he said. “I tell them they’re more than welcomed to walk around and look….just be careful not to trip over the power cords.”

Preparing for an effort of this magnitude takes time. The Hoggards, who also have a popular Halloween display, begin some of the background work on their Christmas decorations about two and one-half months prior to the holiday.

“We take the Halloween display down on Nov. 1 and begin full tilt on our Christmas decorations,” Hoggard said. “We start with the archways (22 total, each 18-feet high in the middle) and add from there. Meanwhile, my wife is decorating the house and every room in it.”

With help from his two daughters, Jennifer and Nickie and their husbands, plus assistance from Herman, the display is ready for its official lighting on Dec. 1. It burns daily from 4:30 p.m. until midnight through Jan. 1.

Each night prior to Christmas Eve, Hoggard adds one new piece to the display.

There’s even a small donation box at the site, just in case visitors want to help the Hoggards pay their huge electric bill.

“This has evolved into a pretty big attraction for Windsor,” Hoggard closed. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s all worth it. It’s become such a tradition that I’ve told my daughters they’ve got to continue this after I’m gone. If they don’t, I’ll come back and haunt them.”