Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - The Cross family displays some 50,000 holiday lights that are synchronized to music by computer. A sign in the front yard of the Ginkgo Road home directs onlookers to tune to a broadcast on the FM dial for the seasonal experience.
Santa won't have any trouble spotting the Ooltewah homes of Ken Cross and John Brewer when he makes his Christmas Eve flyover.
Each blazing with 50,000-plus flashing lights, they are beacons of holiday spirit.
But what separates these from other neighborhood light displays is that the shows are computerized to sync lights with music.
Think of Walt Disney World's Electric Light Parade on a smaller, personal scale.
"It started with just plain Christmas lights in the yard, and a few people came by," Cross said of his animated light shows.
"The next year we added more. Then I found planetchrist mas.com, and it just took off. It will tell you anything you want to do with Christmas lights," he said.
Traffic to these winter wonderlands has increased as steadily as new additions to the displays. Cross said by Christmas week he averages 600 cars a night. The family decided to capitalize on their steady stream of visitors by setting up a drive-by drop for Toys for Tots.
Brewer said visitors to his cul-de-sac often leave thank-you notes in his mailbox.
"We had carolers come sing to us one year," he said. "They said they chose our house because we had the lights up."
The two men shed further light on their holiday displays in the following boxes.
Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@times freepress.com or 423-757-6284.
CROsSeS' CHRISTMAS FOR CHRIST
5657 GINGKO ROAD
* Directions: Take I-75 North to the Ooltewah exit, bearing right off the ramp to merge onto Old Lee Highway. Remain on Lee Highway through all stoplights, traveling about 1.5 miles past the last light at the intersection with Ooltewah-Ringgold Road. Take the first right onto Edgemon. Cross the railroad tracks, pass Misty Valley subdivision, and the road will begin a sharp curve to the left. Do not turn, but go straight ahead onto Tucker. Homewood subdivision is one block on the right. Turn in, and follow Homewood Circle up the hill to the Cross home.
* Hours: Dusk to 10:30 p.m. weeknights, 11 p.m. weekends. Lights off when raining.
* The layout: 50,000 lights are coordinated to 40 carols by two Mr. Christmas Lights and Sounds of Christmas systems. Pulsating blue lights outline the gabled roof. Individual light strands in three colors outline six windows, doors, porch, arches and trees in the yard. The focal point is an 18-foot tree strung in 48 light strands. All flash to the beat of the music either in individual colors or color combinations. Solid multicolor lights cover the terrace's retaining walls and spell out "Merry Christmas." Lawn displays include inflatables and a Nativity.
* New this year: The Crosses added a FCC-approved FM transmitter so visitors can tune in the music on their car radio.
* Power source: "We're running 130 amps, but we couldn't put it on the household circuit, so I had to have a separate breaker box," said Cross. "We use about 3 miles of extension cords. We run three power leads to everything we put up instead of the traditional one, so it's three times the wiring.
* Power bill: The display adds an average of $125 a week to their regular bill.
* Labor of love: "It takes six weeks to put it up and a week to take it down. We spend four to five weeks in the off season checking everything and building stuff for next year. We invest about 600 man-hours a year."
* Online: The light show can be found on YouTube, and son Brandon operates its Facebook page.
JOHN AND MARGIE BREWER
2410 DAUGHERTY LANE
* Directions: Take I-75 North to the Bonny Oaks/Collegedale exit. Bear right when the ramp splits and stay to the right to merge onto Jenkins Road beside US Xpress. Turn left at stoplight at intersection with Standifer Gap Road. Pass Holly Hills, Cedar Creek and Yorktown Woods subdivisions. Travel a half-mile further, and Daugherty is on the left just before Quail Run subdivision.
* Hours: Nightly 5-11 p.m., rain or shine.
* The layout: 50,000 lights are divided among a steadily flashing display in the front yard and a computerized section that flashes to the beat of eight carols. The front yard is outlined in candy canes, with a variety of animated seasonal icons inside that border. A 4- by 20-foot "Peace on Earth" display is one of three signs erected on the roof. The computerized section is to the right of the house. It includes four 11-foot trees, four stars, a tree mounted on the house and several snowflakes.
* New this year: Thomas the Tank Engine yard display.
* Power source: "I have three electrical lines running to both ends of the house. Those wiring systems on each end of the house run it all."
* Power bill: About $100 for the month over the regular January bill.
* Labor of love: "I make 75 percent of all the displays. I build and weld the frames and put on the lights," John Brewer said. Brewer built the "Peace on Earth" and "Ho Ho Ho" signs, made Santa in his sleigh, Santa's workshop, the revolving Ferris wheel, Nativity and cross, Nutcrackers in a salute to the troops and the 5-foot rooftop bell.
The Times Free Press has a special Facebook page for readers to post photos of great holiday light displays around the area: Facebook.com/ChattanoogaLights. If you'll post the address, too, we'll add it to our online light display map.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...