There’s one in every neighborhood, the house with all the Christmas lights. Everyone knows where they are often going out of their way to drive by just to see the lights. Parents take their children, teens take their dates, and all stop and take a good look. Ever wonder who are the people who do this and why they choose to do what they do? The assignment years back was to find such a home and meet the people who put up all the Christmas lights and understand how and why they do it.
The corner of Elm and Post Crossing in Southampton is a classic 1892 built Victorian Home. It has been the home Bill and Colleen Frankenbach for 50 years. , at the age of 82. Their house had according to Bill a few years back, “Over 10,000 Christmas lights.” It is a classic Christmas light’s house. Reindeer, Santa’s, Big Trains all adorned with multi colored Christmas lights not to mention white lights around all the windows. It was a thrill to the children. When Bill retired from running a nursery and selling Christmas accessories in 1995 he had the time to assemble and maintain an outstanding Christmas lights display. Every year he added a reindeer, a Santa, than a train, a soldier, more deer, a snowman and new lights so that it became a tradition for him to add a new thing almost every year.
When I interviewed Bill 4-5 years ago he was 78 years young. He said he would start to put the light display together in the middle of November. He'd get up on a ladder to do the electrical wiring and runs checks on the bulbs on all those 10,000 lights. Finally he said the project would be completed in early December and he would keep the lights on until just after News Years. To light the 10,000 lights Bill Frankenbach used no less than 10 timers to put the lights on at 4 PM and turn them off at 11 PM. He said there were around at least 50 plugs going into numerous extension cords.
So who was Bill Franchenbach? He was a life long Southampton resident; he was also a Korean War Veteran. Over the last 44 plus years of his life he served as both Commander of Malcolm R. White American Legion Post 433 as well as serving on the Southampton Village Commission on Veterans Patriotic Events. Therefore on his lawn he always had a Styrex Tree that had red, white and blue lights on its branches to honor the troops overseas. While he took down all the other Christmas lights Bill left the lights on the tree to light them up on Veteran’s day, Memorial Day and the 4th of July. He told me fondly of a Christmas he spent overseas in the service during the early fifties in Korea when Bob Hope and Jerry Colona entertained the troops. Now he said he was entertaining the children and residents of Southampton with his Christmas lights. People actually called to ask for permission to come and have their pictures taken or have family portraits done. Cars came by and stopped, people strolled by because, quite frankly the 10,000 Christmas lights are truly amazing. The lights delivered joy, wonderment, astonishment to all. I remember my dad loading us all up into the car as children and driving me us around to see the lights on certain homes. I also remember loading my children into my car to do the very same thing. As for Bill and Colleen Frankenbach their own children are grown, as are their grandchildren however the Christmas lights still drew young children to their home. Colleen Franchenbach is a vibrant woman in her late seventies. When I visited a few years back Colleen actually decorated the main Christmas tree inside the den room with over two thousand lights and it took her 15 hours to do the tree. The long time Southampton couple warmly chuckled when asked about the children who come by to see the lights they display on their historic house. “We love it!” Colleen explained. She added they would love to keep the lights going into February because, “that month is so dark, I am sure LIPA would love us.” Then Bill added jokingly, “But that might put us in the poor house.” They had music one year but it could only be heard up close. There was no number given on the electric bill only that it was substantial but it also was so worth it to them. The home on the inside was almost something of a collection of Norman Rockwell Christmas water color paintings. The evening I was there when it became dark, cars began to drive by slowly. Some actually stopping with children getting out to get a close up look. They pointed, they laughed, they stood in amazement. It’s as American as apple pie. Bill and Colleen admitted then they had a desire to hang in there and hopefully be able to watch their great grandchildren see the lights. With most of their family still local they plan on doing just that. I spoke to Colleen tonight. This will be her first Christmas without Bill, but she and her children have decided to keep the tradition going in his honor. Colleen confessed, "Only about half, but that's still quite a lot. We know Bill would have wanted us to do this."