`Their smiles make it fun'

Richard Young's dazzling Fallston yard displays draw crowds, lift holiday spirits

October 22, 2006|By Adele M. Evans | Adele M. Evans,Special to The Sun

Eleven years ago, when Richard Young began decorating his Fallston yard for a few holidays, he had no idea he'd become an international star. But that's what's happened.

"The house really caught my eye," said Gwen Hughes-Edwards, a resident of Abergavenny, Wales, who never fails to drive past the house when she's in town visiting her sister.

"I see his summer displays because I visit during the summer, and I saw one Christmas display, which was lovely," she said. "I always ask my sister to drive past, very slowly, and drive past the other side slowly, and tell me what he has."

Hughes-Edwards, an avid gardener, says Young's house brings back memories of when her mother marched her outside with two packs of seeds, had her plant them - and returned with her to the spot every day until blossoms appeared.

"I talk to Gwen every Sunday," says Joan Houston, her sister, who lives in Fallston. "She always asks what is there. I've sent her pictures. It's a delightful thing to have in the area. Even my great-grandson wants to know what's there."

Conversation piece

"It's quite a source of conversation," Houston said. "It really garnishes the occasion. It portends things to come."

On their daily bus ride, Fallston Elementary School pupils never fail to analyze the pumpkins on Young's lawn and decide which are real and which are plastic.

Dozens of letters have poured in over the years, telling Young how much the yard means to them. One woman wrote that Young's Valentine's display is very meaningful to her because her mother was born on Valentine's Day and her parents were married on that day.

Private planes circle the house for a look. Some of the pilots have sent him aerial photos. Even the mail carrier once dropped a note of appreciation.

As Young preps his Fallston yard for its busiest time of year, launched by Halloween festivities, he says that if people weren't so enthusiastic, he wouldn't do it.

But they are, so, at age 76, he braves the weather, skyrocketing electricity rates, roof-climbing and other obstacles to adorn his yard for nine annual holidays.

Neighbors drive up and take pictures and send them to relatives and friends. Legions of children have made his yard part of their traditional Christmas pilgrimage. Still others encourage him to add more holidays, such as Father's Day, to his repertoire.

"People tell me that they're feeling bad on their way to work and this makes them happy," he said. "Bicyclists go by and give me the thumbs-up. People love it. I can't go anywhere without someone asking me about it."

With three garages full of decorations for holidays including Christmas, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Halloween and Thanksgiving, Young plans to keep on decorating until the smiles stop.

Each display takes up to a week to install. He has a helper, artist Thomas Corley, these days, and they've worked tirelessly in summer heat and temperatures as low as 13 degrees (on the roof, no less).

Keeping it fresh

Even after more than a decade, Young still manages to add new ornamentation just about every holiday, such as the green-plastic alien he installed a couple of Christmases ago.

Some of the most popular decorations include a 6-foot Thanksgiving turkey he made of plywood and plastic; a pumpkin man that says "Eat more apple pie!" in the fall; and his Santa Claus display.

"I always change it a little," he said. "I have to add something."

Fans expect nothing less. But he said that every year he has a harder time tracking down new and unusual items in area stores. He has so much already, and not many new things are being made, he said.

Young has purchased decorations from as far away as Tennessee's Dollywood theme park and a yard-gnome merchant in Michigan.

Timing gets a little hectic this time of year because Young is conscientious about getting Halloween ornaments down quickly, to make way for Thanksgiving. And when Thanksgiving is over, the yard has to turn over quickly again for Christmas.

Between holidays, Young displays some cheerfully painted yard gnomes - that weigh 350 pounds each.

In addition to the elaborate displays, Young does plenty of gardening with seasonal flowers. Lots of people come just to see the tulips. He puts down about 3,000 a year.

"It's a rat race to get the geraniums in afterward," he said.

Young said he doesn't keep track of what it costs to decorate, but his admirers say the electricity bills must drain him, especially for the larger Christmas and Halloween displays.

All of the displays have some lighting, and the lights blaze from dusk until about midnight.

Even so, Young refuses monetary donations because he wants complete artistic control.

"I don't want people's money. It's my hobby, and pretty soon people will start telling you what to do," he said.

That includes, for the most part, his wife of 55 years, Rosalie.

"She has no say in it," he says flatly.

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