Santa is shaking in Wildwood Subdivision scene

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 18, 2003

Jack McDaniel shows the view of his animated lawn decorations from the McAuley Drive spot he feels is the best to see the scene.(Jenny Sevcik The Vicksburg Post)

[12/18/03]Santa Claus drops down a chimney, pops out and wiggles in a lighted show nightly outside a Wildwood neighborhood home.

Jack McDaniel of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi Valley Division created the scene on the hillside of his family’s residence at 318 Marian Lane.

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“He kind of flies into a chimney, kind of flies out and then kind of dances,” McDaniel said. “He’s doing his hips and his arms.”

McDaniel has been creating pictures on the 70-foot “canvas” hillside for nine years, he said.

The best place to view the scene is from the higher ground on McAuley Drive, across the Wildwood neighborhood park from his yard, he added. Wildwood is north of the former ParkView Regional Medical Center. Roads on both sides of the hospital lead into the subdivision from Grove Street.

“I had this great hill in my front yard,” he said. “Nine years ago I said, I could put something out there.'”

McDaniel said he got help from a friend, Ed Schilling, in computerizing the display beginning about three years ago. Schilling, who works with the Corps’ Vicksburg District, is also an engineer, but neither is trained specifically in computers, McDaniel said.

“I have a mental picture in my head,” McDaniel said of each year’s scene. No one not even his own family finds out what the picture will be until after McDaniel has laid out the lights and had a chance to fine-tune the display. McDaniel and his wife, Kelli, have four children, ages 19 months to 9 years old, he said.

“People see me working in the yard and they say, What’s it going to be?'” he said. “I never tell them.”

Last year’s scene showed a Christmas tree that had decorations, lights and presents that appeared to be added during the sequence.

The year before, it was a Jack-in-the-Box that “exploded out of the box,” McDaniel said.

Each strand of lights in the display is individually controlled, McDaniel said. Some are programmed to stay lighted for as little as one-third of a second, he said.

“Some lights I have to poke into the ground to make sure they don’t show,” he said.

Commercially available software McDaniel purchased writes the instructions to a computer chip, he said. He installs the chip into equipment available at a local electronics store to control relay switches that in turn control the lights.

Each year’s project takes about 40 to 80 hours to complete, McDaniel said.

“I usually turn it on first when no one’s around,” he said, adding that he likes to test and fine-tune the positioning and timing of the light display before it premieres.

“I have a lot of fun doing it,” he said. The most difficult part of the project is to get each individual strand connected and in place, he said.

“I’ve got extension cords running all over the place,” he said.

“Each year I hope it turns out great,” McDaniel said, adding that only one year’s display did not meet his expectations.

And his annual displays have attracted a following.

“I’ve got my regulars,” he said. “Some people will come around and say, Good job with the lights.'”