Johnson has continued a tradition that began with his grandparents who held a large Halloween display on Ross-Hamilton Rd. every year when he was a child. It was about ten years ago that he began getting into doing his own holiday displays. “I started off small with a few strands of lights here and there and a few inflatables here and there,” Johnson said. Each year he added more.
In 2020 the community began to take notice and the Webster Avenue display experienced unprecedented popularity and growth. It had been a hard year and it seemed as if people were in need of finding warmth, light and holiday cheer more than ever before. Johnson casually made a post on social media showing his setup, and people started commenting wanting to see it in person. Suddenly, they started showing up.
One night, he had 30 cars out front and kids were running back and forth on the sidewalk in excitement.
Since then, the community has continued to fall in love with what Johnson has created. With giant inflatable characters such as Stay Puft Marshmallow Man for Halloween, and Frosty the Snowman for Christmas (both Johnson’s personal favorites), it is easy to understand the appeal.
“They love the uniqueness of it,” he said. “They love that it’s kid friendly ... they love the colors,” he said.
Johnson is intentional about making the displays family friendly so people can enjoy them with their kids and not have to worry about something scary jumping out at them.
When asked what drives him, it is obviously the people. He says the squeals and screams of excitement he hears from people passing by, along with his many nieces and nephews and their enthusiasm for it are what motivates him to keep doing his displays. “I think it’s more hearing the excitement coming from blocks away, kids yelling at their parents ‘We gotta stop there!’” Johnson said. “For me, I think, that’s pretty cool.”
Eager to please his growing community of supporters, Johnson’s most recent additions of Valentine’s Day and Easter displays were inspired by two separate young fans who were eager to see what he could create for those holidays. He also tries to accommodate special requests when able. For example, an individual reached out to him saying they would love to see the display but were medically unable to withstand the blinking lights. Johnson jumped to find a solution and was able to make all of the lights steady so they would be able to enjoy it as well.
This display has become a highly anticipated tradition for many families, as is evidenced by the countless posts to Hamilton Facebook groups and Johnson’s business page of people tracking down information about the display eager to view it for another year. His posts always receive positive comments and support. After dark when the display lights up, Webster Ave. stays busy, averaging about 60 cars a night during the week, and 100 cars a night over the weekend. Johnson’s displays have also had out of state visitors, and his social media posts have reached as far as Germany.
Johnson does everything on his own. He sets up each display in his spare time. It typically takes about
two weeks to set up for each holiday. He is also completely self-funded, although he does occasionally find gifted items from the community. “Sometimes I come home and I’ll have a couple inflatables on my porch,” Johnson said.
Currently, Johnson owns about 200 inflatables. This year, his Halloween display includes close to 50 inflatables and his Christmas display holds about 60 inflatables. He tries to plan each display out and maintain a good flow while keeping everything even. That can be hard to do, especially since he is technically out of space already. Even then, he keeps coming up with ways to cram in more features each year. “There’s a little bit of thinking behind it,” Johnson said. “My ultimate goal is to do bigger and better every year and do what I can with the funds I have.”
Johnson’s neighbors are supportive.
”We haven’t had anybody complain at all,” he said.
His neighbors have kids who love the displays he creates. He hopes to eventually be able to grow into other yards.
Aside from doing more each year, Johnson also has other plans in the works. At the suggestion of a family member, he is working to partner with a local organization to do a toy or food drive in coordination with the Christmas display. He is hoping to launch that this Christmas season.
Johnson has gained physical recognition as well. To date, he has won seven awards from the community, including the Appearance Award from the City of Hamilton in 2021, Best Neighborhood Christmas Display in 2021, and most recently the Haunt of the Hill award this year from the Prospect Hill neighborhood and 17Strong. One night he came home to find three of the awards sitting on his porch. To this day, he still does not know for sure where they came from, but the anonymity of it is part of what makes it fun for him.
Johnson and his holiday displays have won the hearts of the community in a way he never expected.
“I never thought it would get this big to be honest with you,” he said. “The reach has been far and that’s pretty amazing. I don’t like to be in the spotlight, but it is kind of amazing to make that kind of impact.”
this article originally published in Hamiltonian Magazine, a content partner of the Journal-News.