Sherman’s Clark Griswold
SHERMAN – One only has to drive past Jerry Warner’s home on the corner of Hayes Street and Route 76 just off the Interstate 86 exit after dark to know how well he has earned the reference to the over-zealous dad of the movie, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Warner’s yard literally lights up the night with Christmas cheer. From the “gingerbread house” to the igloo, to the 16-foot rope light trees, to the dancing penguins, Warner’s house is worth a slow drive-by if not a complete stop.
“There’s a running joke around town that when I pay my bill to National Grid for December, they send me a gift basket,” Warner said. “The electric bill is expensive, but it’s only expensive two months out of the year.”
Warner said it all started about 20 years ago when his only decoration was some lights on the porch. “I used to come home and my children would kid me saying, ‘Look at the decorations on our street – house, house, porch.”
At this time, Warner had a new garage built so he began to decorate that as well. At Sherman Central School District, where he taught math for 12 years and physical education for 18 years, students would comment on how nice his decorations looked.
“So then I decorated my home and the kids kept saying it looked like a gingerbread house. So then I started getting candy canes and wrapping poles,” he said.
After that, one thing followed another. Two 16-foot trees made of rope light, an igloo and of course, reindeer, found their place into the array.
“It’s hard to find a good, quality reindeer,” Warner said. “I have had to re-string them a few times.”
Recently Warner installed a “countdown to Christmas” box on top of the penguin, but it did cause some concern to passing motorists. “At first a lot of people thought it was a radar detector,” he said.
Even though Warner tries to get something new every year, sometimes things just appear without his help. One time he came home to find pink flamingos added to his display. “It turned out that my brother and sister-in-law had come and put them up. I put them out every year just because it’s become a family tradition. They’re getting pretty worn out now,” he said.
There are some decoration styles that one will not find in Warner’s yard, but that is largely due to his wife, Pam.
“She has always supported me in this. But the one thing she is dead-set against are plastic figures and things that blow up (inflatable decorations),” he said.
Warner said he lights up the display on Thanksgiving every year, but the preparations begin in September. “It’s a lot easier putting up some of the lights when it’s 70 degrees outside than when it’s 30 degrees,” he said. “One year I did not get out soon enough and I could only decorate the driveway. So now I get out there way ahead of the weather.”
Observers will also notice that all of Warner’s displays are on stakes about 2 feet above the ground. This is also because of the heavy snowfall that the Sherman area experiences.
Warner said he started out with mini lights, but they kept shorting out. Now all of his lights are the C-7 or C-9 variety. He also purchases 100-foot reels of rope lights. He is beginning to use LED bulbs and he has installed a DJ system to turn lights on and off in sequence. “I could hook up sound to it as well, but I’m not going to,” he said.
Warner’s display has become a staple in the Sherman area at Christmas time. He retired from teaching three years ago, but each year his colleagues would tell him that their students were waiting for his light up at Thanksgiving.
“Everyone expects them to be on,” he said. “People drive by real slow and some stop.”
Like Clark Griswold, Warner has extension cords running from everywhere and all coming to one spot. A couple of times this has caused power problems. He has to be careful about using the appliances in his home, or suddenly everything can go dark. And once he melted a plug right to a timer.
“I just had too much juice going to it,” he said.
Members of Warner’s family have no problem finding gifts for his birthday or other events around the year. “They just get me something for my Christmas display, no matter what time of year it is,” he said.