The man behind Hampden's West 34th Street winter electric carnival began testing his lights in July.
"There's never enough Christmas," said Robert Hosier, who was the first to string lights across 34th Street in 1982. Today, thousands of visitors flock to gaze at the high-kilowatt spectacle, which will flash on tonight.
On Friday, Hosier darted from porch to pole, alley to skylight, checking on wires and searching for troublesome blown bulbs. "It was rough standing up on that roof today," he said of the winds that kicked up in the morning. He carried a boxed compartment suitcase full of plastic ties and little tabs - anything to keep it all standing in the wind, rain and snow.
Hosier and his wife of 27 years, Darlene, live in a corner rowhouse where she grew up that has been the anchor of what has become the Miracle on 34th Street, an electronic midway of good cheer they offer to anyone who wants to be wowed on a cold night.
Residents work together to drape strands of lights over the street, making it appear that electric necklaces festoon the block. Porches, cornices, rooftops and windows blaze like the Las Vegas Strip. The only things that don't glow are the doormats.
Darlene Hughes Hosier said her parents always put up the most lights on the street when she was growing up in the house.
"It was a custom that grew," she said, recalling that money from her first paycheck in a part-time high school job went to buy an outdoor Santa.
She worked for a wholesale can company in downtown Baltimore and she spotted a Santa she wanted at the Baltimore Display Co. She had to have it.
"Back in those days, $75 was a lot of money. It was 1967," she said.
After the Hosiers married, the lighting tradition grew. They began giving each other animated Christmas dolls, which they placed on their front porch. They had elves, grandmothers, Santas and snowmen. Soon they were introducing a train and speakers that broadcast Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters singing Christmas favorites.
This is Hosier's 28th season of stringing lights in all directions. (The event long outgrew their porch.) And over the years, he's heard all the stories. He enjoys retelling the urban myths about the Hampden display.
"People have told me that they have heard that it is recorded in the deeds to these houses that they must be lighted and decorated for the holidays," he said. The other myth is that BGE subsidizes the energy cost. It doesn't. Hosier does not accept donations from visitors. He says anyone collecting is a fraud.
On another occasion, a visitor asked whether he disassembled the elaborate lighted decorations on his porch and steps each night at the shut-off hour.
"She asked me, 'Do you take this down every night?' " Hosier said he considered the question and pointed to a small black box on a light pole.
"I told her there was a button in there that I pushed, and the whole thing automatically folded itself up like a tent. She bought it," he said.
He doesn't worry about the electric bill, but he does think twice about locating new props for the big show.
"It's getting harder to find this stuff," he said of his plastic illuminated snowmen and Santas. "Everything is inflatable now. That's fine for a big suburban lawn, but it doesn't work too well here in the city."
Nevertheless, he said he never grows weary of the work.
"I could live on a dead-end street in the desert and still do this," he said.