"People get upset when Elvis doesn't show up," he said.

The sheer scale of the enterprise has Lanahan and Thompson wondering about relocating it outside the limited space in their basement. They said they have contacted White Marsh Mall to open discussions and are awaiting a response. The fire departments they have contacted have said the display is too big for them to accommodate.

Thompson said he is ambivalent about such a move. Monitoring for reaching little hands is easy in the limited confines of their basement. It would be harder in a public space.

"In a way I want to and in a way I'm scared. We would almost have to live there," he said.

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Visitors to the modest house on Bellington Court, a cul-de-sac, could be forgiven for wondering if they've come to the right place. Once inside, they are greeted by a 5-foot-tall singing mechanical bear and an excited little dog named Bear..

But the skepticism disappears once they descend the stairs to the basement.

"It's hard to describe," Thompson said. "But you should see the expression on people's faces."

"I get a kick out of the 'oohs,' 'aahs' and 'wows,' " added Lanahan.

Another source of satisfaction is the collection of food items brought by visitors. The men take up to four "carloads" of food each season to the Eastern Family Resource Center, a county-operated shelter on Franklin Square Drive.

Among the visitors one evening was the Peach family, John and his wife, Kate, of Perry Hall, their children Elizabeth, 5, and Emily, 2, and John's mother, May, of Kingsville.

"I've never seen a collection like this at all. It's amazing," said Kate Peach after surveying the scene.

And everywhere you look at the tiny people — skiers in Ski Liberty, sunbathers at Ocean City, sports fans at stadiums for the Orioles and Ravens, the college students stuffing a phone booth, jazz fans at the Silver Fox Club — they are having fun.

Except maybe the guy who crashed his car.

The Christmas Garden for Charity at 6 Bellington Court is open for visitors from 6 to 8 p.m. week nights and 12:30 to 8 p.m. on weekends. Visitors are asked to call ahead at 410-529-1457and to bring a nonperishable food item as admission. The Facebook page is at http://www.facebook.com/PerryHallMdChristmasGardenForCharity.