The Wyoming Tribune Eagle asked Cheyenne-area readers to nominate their favorite holiday light displays around town, and you certainly delivered.
Holiday lights are synonymous with the Christmas spirit, but beneath the flash, there are deep emotional motivations to grabbing the attention of a passing car. Residents hang lights for their community, for their family, past and present, and for the sake of keeping their childhood spirit alive.
The Tribune Eagle asked for nominations for not only to celebrate residents’ efforts, but to show why they make their efforts in the first place.
But in order to do so, those nominated had to get everyone’s attention.
Josh Pennock at 2705 E. 11th St. knows how to to do just that. He’s been doing it since he was a kid.
Since then, the extravagance of he and girlfriend Meghan Deisch’s house has only grown, to the point that they have simply run out of room, both indoors and out. Even with the impressive display in their limited front yard, the core motivation for both of them is creating Christmas memories for kids and their families.
“It’s a childhood thing,” Pennock said. “You drive by with your parents, and you see a house and the kid’s like ‘Mom, Dad!’ that kind of thing, so I guess I do it for that. That memory is instilled in me.”
It started when he was 10. Pennock would decorate his grandmother’s apartment, hang lights from the roof of his father’s house, once winning a radio in a lights competition when he was 13 years old.
It remains a childhood motivation for both him and Deisch.
She gave birth to his fourth child just days ago, but it didn’t slow their preparation. After getting scolded by the doctor for exerting too much energy, Deisch just took a step back to play her role as the organizer while Pennock got to work.
“I’m 28 years old, and my parents and I still go out on Christmas Eve,” Deisch said. “It’s tradition. I want that for some other kids. To have them drive by my house and be like, ‘Oh, I remember that house every year.’”
They begin setting up the house the day after Halloween, unloading massive deposits of Christmas decorations from storage. The house, over the span of just a week, undergoes a transformation from a haunted display of Halloween decorations to a beacon of light on the east side of Cheyenne.
From fence to fence and yard to roof, multicolored lights, decorated Christmas trees and blow-up characters fill the yard, almost making the house look like a decoration in and of itself. The inside is similar, with homemade snowflakes dangling from the ceiling and a Christmas tree with a small model train wrapped near the peak.
Pennock knows they’re at the brink of possibility for now, but they have plans to relocate to a bigger house in the near future. Once they do, he’s got some tricks up his sleeve to take his already impressive display to the next level.
They have so many decorations that they have begun to assist neighbors in celebrating the season, bringing a little light to a darker side of the neighborhood.
A similar situation is happening on Essex Road, where two houses just several hundred feet apart are doing what they can to light up a section of the neighborhood.
Jesse Blunn at 3578 Essex Road decorates his house in an effort to honor his family and his neighbors.
He continues to add lights every year, but this year added an assortment of festive pigs, representing his time growing up on a pig farm. A string of lights in the shape of a heart lay on the roof in tribute to he and his wife, Katie.
As a coach at Cheyenne East, he put the high school’s logo on the center of his house, and added his son’s football number to the upper left of his garage. He’s still waiting on purple shooting star decorations that will soar over the house when strung up from the tree in the backyard.
However, there is still something important that he’s looking to add.
His drive to hang lights began with his father, who died recently. It pushed Blunn to continue stepping up his light display, keep getting bigger, even considering grabbing some of his father’s decorations to add to his own.
“When my dad died, I had a friend say ‘Hey, here’s 50 bucks, go buy something that helps you remember him,’ and I haven’t bought anything yet,” Blunn said. “I wanted to buy Christmas lights, but I haven’t dedicated one to him. I’m kind of waiting until after the Christmas season to get a special one for him.”
In the future, he wants to take the alleyway to the right of his home and fill it with string lights and silhouettes of Christmas figures. There’s the possibility that with enough decoration, he could end up creating a sort of light tunnel for people to drive through.
Recently, the Cheyenne Holiday Lights Trolley has come through Essex Road, signaling celebration from Blunn, who has been competitive with himself to get better at his light display every year.
But really, it wouldn’t matter if the trolley came through at all.
“I think it’s just joy,” Blunn said. “I like stringing all the lights up and people walking by and being like, ‘Hey, I love your lights, they make me happy.’”
Down the street at 3550 Essex Road, Brian Bartow has made a similar push to spread his light display to the rest of the neighborhood, with some new additions of his own.
He lets his kids pick out their favorite blow-up decorations and choose where to put them, but, since Bartow works as a firefighter on F.E. Warren Air Force Base, stretching into his neighbor’s yard are a collection of firetruck decorations.
The brand new centerpiece of it all, however, is an original Army fire engine from 1942. While he plans to completely restore the truck in the coming years, it is currently covered in Christmas lights and a “Merry Christmas” sign for a eye-grabbing display.
“That’s where the family gets enjoyment, seeing people stop and look, and it’s kind of our little thing of ‘How many people can we get stopped?’ Bartow said. “Ultimately, it’s just raising their spirits.”
Though he has lived in the house for 12 years, he has only been decorating to this degree for about five years. When he started, there were no other lights in the neighborhood, but now, he and some other residents help surrounding elderly neighbors decorate the block.
It has even extended to the “community park” that sits in the middle of the street. In the center is a towering tree that one of the neighbors typically scales and strings with lights for a community Christmas flair.
This neighbor is now too old to go about decorating in such a daring fashion, so Bartow and others rented a lift to make the job a little easier. When one enters Essex Road and spots the tree, they know it’s a neighborhood with a sense of pride.
“It’s more about the community involvement and to get more people involved in what we have,” Bartow said. “Taking a little pride in what we have going on here.”
That pride has paid off, as Blunn and Bartow have noticed repeatedly that they are now included on the Visit Cheyenne Holiday Trolley route, which, due to higher demand, has expanded from one route to three separate experiences.
This year, the Trolley Tour is pushing for residents to “Light Up Cheyenne” for the holiday season.
“It just seemed like the last four years all we’ve done is seen the same houses, we’ve been to the same places and blah, blah, blah,” said Sue James, transportation manager at Visit Cheyenne. “People are lighting up Cheyenne, and I want to show them we appreciate them lighting up Cheyenne.”
All three routes include the biggest light displays in the city, and, unlike previous years, the trolley will venture into south Cheyenne. If the tours weren’t divided up into three separate routes, then each tour would last more than three hours.
There will be a North, South, and East tour route that will all run on a rotating schedule. James guarantees that each route will have one of the major attractions in Cheyenne.
To find out what route will be run in an allotted time, one can call and check in with the holiday tours.
One thing’s for sure, the trolley will be stopping by 7614 Harvest Loop, where Jeff and Julie Grant are no strangers to Christmas publicity.
Jeff has long been branded as the “Cheyenne Christmas Guy,” and together they have always had one of the most decorated houses.
“Christmas always meant family,” Grant said. “The magic of Christmas is watching the children’s faces light up when they see the lights.”
Grant makes all of his decorations by hand in his workshop, which he also built, behind his house. His favorite creation is an assortment of Sesame Street characters in a large plywood display. Sprinkled throughout the yard are other recognizable faces, as well as some Christmas trees.
Some of these wood workings are designs that he sells. Throughout the year, he gets around 50 requests for homemade decorations, one of which is a stack of penguins with different college logos on their respective scarves.
He sells them not to make a profit, but at a price just high enough to keep the service going. He makes many of them for in-state customers, but ships some as far as Texas and New Hampshire.
Anyone coming by on a trolley tour, or tailing behind one for the free ride, can see the 50 hours of effort that Grant and his family put into decorating their home.
But what many cannot see is the love for the season that glimmers within their walls.
Though Grant said he favors the outdoor decorations, his family sets up 21 trees throughout their house. Each tree represents something different, yet equally important, in their lives.
“To be honest, I’ve never had one tree as far back as I can remember,” Grant said. “For me how all this started was when I was a young boy and my parents sold Christmas trees.”
Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, his family would receive a semi truck load of up to 1,500 Christmas trees.
“We had the biggest, most beautiful trees of everybody in the valley, because we had first choice of everything,” Grant said. “We usually had one upstairs, one downstairs, one in the living room and one of the family room.”
With extravagant decorations, the trees throughout the house symbolize the most important part of Christmas for Grant: memories.
Some have themes, like the Disney tree, which reminds him of when his kids were younger. There’s a Cheyenne Frontier Days tree, a silver, red, and blue military tree for his son, or two smaller trees that honor his parents.
This will be the Grants’ first Christmas alone, as their kids are grown enough to spend the holidays in different locations. But looking to the trees makes everyone feel a little closer.