Outside 1407 Russell Rd., a terrifying pirate ship that captivated neighbors and passersby at Halloween has been transformed into Santa's sleigh. Captain Jack ceded his throne to Santa's workshop and a jail that once housed a buccaneer in chains now appears as a stage for a whimsical dancing bear.
Tami Sarjeant—known to many in Del Ray as "the pirate lady"—has been hard at work the past month replacing her award-winning Halloween display with an equally extravagant outdoor celebration of Christmas. Perhaps we should call her Santa's helper, too.
Young boys with mouths open in song stand beneath a reindeer at one corner of Sarjeant's yard while an electric blue and purple peacock signals from the other. In between, there are young carolers from across the globe, a team of huskies pulling a sled, lumberjacks, nutcrackers, Christmas trees, hanging lights, reindeer in flight and probably a dozen other festive statues.
"It's kind of like an artist when you're painting; you're never really done," Sarjeant said one day recently during a break from decorating her yard and fussing with lights.
Like the Halloween display before it, Sarjeant's Christmas "window" stops traffic. City buses slow to let passengers get a good look. So do cars, pedestrians and packs of runners. Preschool classes actually walk from school to have their pictures snapped in front of the displays. The wonder and bliss Sarjeant sees on children's faces when they first behold her fantastical creations drive her to create the illuminated worlds.
The tradition started simply enough three years ago when she came across a single pirate that inspired a swashbuckling vision for her yard. Last year, she worked with her builder, Romalo Pol, to erect the massive pirate ship and, with numerous purchases on eBay, her display became such an extraordinary compilation of statues and storytelling, that her yard was inducted into the Hall of Fame in the annual best-decorated house contest hosted by the Del Ray Business Association.
Her front yard celebration of Christmas started similarly when Sarjeant came across several mannequins of children that she thought would look fabulous on an ice-skating rink. No matter that she didn't have an ice-rink yet; she built that, too. While Sarjeant no longer incorporates the rink in her design, there are fanciful figurines aplenty in its place. New to the yard this year are skiers racing down the front hillside, sledders, a raccoon, musical nutcrackers drumming on the sidewalk and the worldly carolers.
One night this past week, a mother and her young children peered into the yard as Sarjeant unpacked fresh deliveries. They oohed and aahed and pointed, as nearly everyone does who stops by. Before they left, the mother called down to the yard: "Happy Christmas! Thanks for sharing this with us."
Sarjeant wished them well and kept on working. The construction of her fantasy worlds takes time. Lots of it. She works on the Halloween display a full month and a half and takes a month to piece together the Christmas one. She scans eBay for interesting finds all year long. "eBay likes me," she said. "I'm a one-woman stimulus package."
Sarjeant's job in security software keeps her at work sometimes up to 80 hours a week, so she builds the displays late into the night and on weekends. She considers it her outlet—physical and mental—from stressful work. She occasionally gets help from neighbors like Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, who stopped by this month to ask how he could help. Sarjeant put him to work spray painting. "He is my motivational cheerleader," she said. "He gets really enthusiastic and keeps me going."
Before Hurricane Sandy blew through the area, neighbors and even strangers also helped Sarjeant deconstruct her display, then reassemble it just days before Halloween.
"It's almost expected," she said of the annual display. "I couldn't not do it."
In fact, while she toils in the yard, spends a small fortune on the figurines and pays for a storage unit to house her pieces, she actually thinks of the work as belonging to everyone else.
"I want it to be the community's," she said. "I just happen to be hosting it, but it's really the neighborhood's display."