Watching faces light up ZooLights: When the Baltimore Zoo's fifth annual holiday show opens tomorrow, the Rev. Earl Tucker's model train exhibit will be on show for the first time.

November 27, 1997|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

For years, the Rev. Earl Tucker comforted the sick and the dying as chaplain at Bon Secours Hospital.

He always tried to be cheerful, but it was a job that could weigh a man down.

"There were a lot of AIDS patients, a lot of patients with renal failure. It was always a challenge and sometimes it would weigh on you, and you'd take it home with you," said Tucker, 66.

Now retired, Tucker will spread cheer during the holidays in a different forum -- showing off his model-train collection to an expected 50,000 visitors to the Baltimore Zoo.

Tucker's trains will be displayed at ZooLights, the Baltimore Zoo's annual holiday light show, which opens tomorrow.

It is the fifth year for ZooLights, a holiday exhibit of 500,000 lights draped over metal-framed stars, snowflakes, candy canes, snow figures and other seasonal displays that drew 50,000 visitors last year.

But it is the first year for Tucker's trains.

"Sure I'm excited about it. Who wouldn't be?" said Tucker, a soft-spoken father of 11.

Until this year, Tucker's trains were confined to a display he set up each Thanksgiving at his Pikesville home.

Tucker, a volunteer at the zoo, was asked to set up the display this fall when the zoo's director, Roger C. Birkel, learned about his train collection.

He began volunteering as a tour guide at the Baltimore Zoo when he retired from Bon Secours three years ago.

But his trains have been a hobby for a decade.

Tucker said he's nervous about the display's debut. He said he has tried to do everything possible to make the display a hit. That includes spending three weeks building the display, in the drafty stone building that serves as a gift shop.

"I get a joy out of the challenge, all the work that goes into it and all the detail," he said.

The detail is impressive.

The exhibit includes a village called "Rogerville," named in Birkel's honor, with a dozen matchstick-sized inhabitants. It also has an Old West street and a miniature zoo, with gibbons and cranes that emit cries made from recordings of their live counterparts at the zoo.

The exhibit also includes a business district where firefighters douse a burning building and a construction crew attacks an ever-present hole with a backhoe.

Tucker said he agreed to put the train on display because he likes to show it off and he wants to see the reaction of the children who see it.

"I like seeing their faces light up," Tucker said.

This year's ZooLights display runs from tomorrow through Jan. 4. It will be open Thursday through Sunday nights until Dec. 17 and every night from Dec. 18 through Jan. 4. Hours are 5: 30 p.m. to 9: 30 p.m.

The lighting displays will include a winter wonderland near the zoo entrance, a Victorian village near the newly restored zoo mansion, and a toy-land display and 40-foot-long dragon near the entrance to the Children's Zoo.

Therese Jones-Alcarese, the zoo's promotions director, said that laying out the lighting display she tried to create contrasting light shows for visitors as they walk along the zoo paths.

"The intent is that from start to finish, you're going to see a very different light show every time you come around a corner," she said.

Pub Date: 11/27/97

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