December 14, 2011 - The spirit of Clark W. Griswold is alive, well and apparently living in the body of Jason Hickmott.
Jason Hickmott’s home at 190 Amy Lynn Drive in Metamora Township is a masterpiece of holiday exterior illumination. The 1996 Oxford High School graduate’s home and yard are adorned with 25,712 Christmas lights. This photo doesn’t include all of the other illuminated trees in Hickmott’s front yard. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
How else do you explain the fact that the 1996 Oxford High School graduate has a grand total of 25,712 Christmas lights adorning his Metamora Twp. home and yard?
"I've always loved Christmas," Hickmott said. "I'm a huge kid at heart."
Hickmott actually strung more exterior lights than the fictional Griswold did in the 1989 classic movie "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." The bumbling Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, only put up 25,000 lights with the aid of his son Rusty.
"When I lived in Oxford (Village), I put up lights there, but nothing like this," he noted.
It took between 50 and 60 man-hours to create Hickmott's light display. He was aided by Oxford resident and friend Ryan Austin, whose company, Birmingham Sealcoat, has been stringing Christmas lights professionally since 1997.
Hickmott's house is located at 190 Amy Lynn Drive, which is off Metamora Rd., about a quarter mile north of Davison Lake Rd. The lights are on from 6 to 10:30 p.m. every night throughout the holiday season.
"Once you turn down our street, you can't miss it," said Hickmott, who lives with his wife Brooke and 2-month-old son Carter. "You can see it from Davison Lake and Metamora roads clear as day if you look over to the northwest."
"We get quite a bit of traffic (from spectators)," he noted. "Not a ton because we're out in the country, but we get a decent amount."
Hickmott said he's often told his display looks like it should be pictured on a postcard or Christmas card.
This is the second year Hickmott has turned his home into an exercise in extreme holiday decorating. Last year, he only had a paltry 12,000 lights.
"I decided this year to at least double it," Hickmott said. "I always go bigger."
In order to keep all those lights glowing, he's had to make some electrical upgrades to his home. "I put in 120 amps of service dedicated strictly for outside Christmas lights," Hickmott said.
When he turns all the lights on, Hickmott's electric meter is somewhat reminiscent of the wildly spinning dials depicted in "Christmas Vacation."
"My meter's just screaming," he said. "You can definitely see the dials moving. You don't have to look too close.
"Last year, it cost me $100 extra on top of my regular electric bill to run the lights for the month. This year, I'm expecting it to be like $200 to $230 extra."
Unlike Griswold, Hickmott is extremely organized when it comes to his lighting display – no giant electrical-cord knots or grossly overloaded plugs here.
"I literally have a folder at home with about five or six pages of diagrams – wiring diagrams, diagrams of the yard, so I can keep track of exactly which tree is hooked up to which extension cord. That way I'm not blowing fuses or having any issues."
"All of my lights are the incandescent ones (as opposed to LEDs), so I can't run too many on one plug. I have to know exactly what everything's doing."
Hickmott can afford all these lights because he's an excellent bargain hunter. "I never pay full price for anything," he said.
He always waits for the after-Christmas sales, or better still, the post-New Year sales.
"Last year, I ended up going to Lowe's and they had everything 75 percent off," Hickmott said. "It was after Christmas, but right before New Year's. I walked out of there with two or three shopping carts full. They were just stacked with lights."
He also purchased some lights on the Craigslist website from a decorating company that was selling off its stock.
"I bought four garbage cans just full of lights," he said. "It was ridiculous. I didn't pay very much at all."
If you think Hickmott's done adding to his light collection, you'd be wrong. Next year, he plans to increase his display to between 50,000 and 60,000 bulbs, which he estimates will require him to add another 120 to 240 amps of dedicated outdoor service.
"I've already started working on next year's display," he said. "I've got a shopping list of stuff I've got to buy this year that's going up next year."
Not only does Hickmott plan to add to his display's size, he also plans to animate it. He's going to synchronize the lights to turn on and off as various musical selections play.
"It's all done by computer," explained Hickmott, who's already building circuit boards and experimenting with software to make his animated light show a reality. "Every minute of a song takes about eight hours of programming.
"It's very tedious. Every strand of lights is controlled by a switch. I'll have 160 switches I'll have to control for every second of a song, telling the computer what I want on and what I want off. It's pretty involved."
Hickmott said the project will keep him busy through the winter.
"I have to stay busy," he explained. "I'm the type of person who always has to have a hobby. If I don't have a hobby, I'll go nuts. I'm constantly tinkering with something."
If you're still not convinced that Jason Hickmott is the real-life Clark W. Griswold, then consider this.
In the movie, Griswold cuts down a giant Christmas tree for his living room – a replacement for the one that caught fire thanks to Uncle Lewis. We later see it has a squirrel living in it, who proceeds to run around the house with a large dog chasing it.
At the Hickmott family home, this year's fresh-cut Christmas tree is 13 feet tall, 11 feet wide and is illuminated by 3,215 lights – that's not a misprint.
It also had two field mice living in it, which took Hickmott the whole night to catch.
"It was quite comical," he said. "I'm up on the ladder, putting lights on, and I look in the tree and there's these two mice just staring at me . . . The cat knew something was going on, so we got the cat involved . . . The tree is so big, they just kept running around inside it. I tried to reach in and grab them, but I was never quick enough."
Eventually, he captured them.
"For the next couple days, all of my buddies were harassing my wife by either sending her texts or calling to report a mouse was sighted running through the living room," Hickmott said.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.