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Owners flip the switch to turn on 'Miracle on 34th Street' display

The brightest block in Hampden flickered into full holiday kitsch Saturday night, its tens of thousands of lights twinkling, its hub-cap Christmas tree gleaming and its Natty Boh-themed display drawing oohs and ahhs from revelers.

Santa arrived in a pickup truck.

In unison, the homeowners flipped the switches to illuminate a block that's earned regional renown for its annual "Miracle on 34th Street" holiday celebration.

"The best place to be in the entire world is Hampden on the first night of lights," said Lou Catelli, who wore red corduroy shorts to pedal an adult-size tricycle up and down the street.

By most accounts, the tradition of over-the-top holiday decor — trains suspended from awnings, telephone poles transformed into palm trees and Santas everywhere — began in 1989 with Bob Hosier's plan to enhance his already elaborate display by stringing lights over the roadway, all the way down the block.

When metal artist Jim Pollock, 47, bought a place on the block in 1995, his creations began attracting visitors to his door. Pollock now turns the front room of his house into a gallery each December and welcomes more than 30,000 visitors, he said.

"This is our gift to the city we love," he said.

Even newcomers learn to bring holiday cheer in massive amounts. Shacari Waithe and her husband just moved back to Baltimore from New Orleans, so they decked out their row house in a Mardi Gras theme. She said the previous owner "warned us that Christmas was big on this block, and she left a lot of stuff behind."

Kurt Hoffman and Aaron Wong, who moved in four years ago, now leave lights in their trees year-round, with a pair of plastic pink flamingos tastefully nestled beneath.

"We're not doing the big Griswold family Christmas thing," Hoffman said, referencing the 1989 cult-classic movie "Christmas Vacation."

"We have more of a romantic ambience thing going on," he said. "A lot of couples do selfies with their phones."

The display will be on every night in December. And after more than two decades of out-doing himself every year, the self-proclaimed father of the 34th Street miracle has a display that would put the Griswolds to shame.

Hosier estimates there are more than 100 miles of twinkle lights adorning houses on the 700 block of W. 34th St. About a decade ago, he said, a church group tried to count the lights but gave up after they reached a million.

"People say it's dedication, but when it comes down to it, it's nothing more than I really love Christmas," Hosier said. "Until I can't climb ladders, until I can't hang lights, I'll be doing it."

ecox@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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