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LIGHT YEARS

It’s the end of an era on Windermere Drive.

After more than three decades, St. Clairsville resident Mike Maistros has moth-balled his Griswold-esque exterior Christmas lights display, which, at its peak, was dubbed “Oglebay West.” The display consumed $700 of electricity per month and drew holiday gawkers from near and far.

“It’s been an institution,” said St. Clairsville resident Doug Hocking. “Mike’s lit up that area for years and people have looked forward to it year-in and year-out. So kudos to him. But I understand the need to walk away from it.”

Lest people start calling him “The Greek Who Stole Christmas,” Maistros does have a good excuse.

The grizzled ex-Marine said he’s getting too old to be crawling around on his roof, putting up decorations.

“He actually fell off a ladder a few years back,” said his wife, Mary. “And that’s what scared me. And I said, ‘No more.’ It was fortunately on the low side of the house. The back side, you know, he’d be dead.”

The story of the Maistros’ Christmas display began in 1980, the year they moved from Colerain to St. Clairsville, to a home that sat on a much bigger parcel of land. He quickly got to work.

“No particular reason,” he said, “other than it’s a big yard and it was just barren. And it was empty. So I kept putting a little bit here and a little bit there, and it kept growing.”

His first major purchase was a 70-foot train fabricated by a mine cable company in Bellaire that cost him $1,800. They made a couple of poinsettias and candles, too. Every year he added something new.

“And people were expecting what new thing you were going to have,” he said. “So we would do sections, and it just kept growing.”

Avid Ohio State Football fans, the Maistroses would make a pit stop in Frankenmuth, Mich., en route to see the Buckeyes take on Sparty in East Lansing. Frankenmuth is home to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, which bills itself as “the biggest Christmas store in the country.”

“There was a couple – we called ’em flashers – that we bought from Frankenmuth and brought them back,” Mike Maistros said. “And they were pretty unique. You didn’t see ’em around here. And then we had a bell that would ‘ring.’ The lights would go, and it would look like it was moving.”

As the display grew, it began consuming more and more electricity. The Maistroses employed the services of Earnest Debertrand, a local electrician, to add a 200-amp service to their back yard. Each of the train cars, for example, required its own circuit breaker.

“Every year, poor old Ernie would have to come in and straighten things out after I screwed them up,” Maistros said.

As the years went by, the legend grew, and people began to expect the lights to be on at 101 Windermere Drive by a certain time of year. But Maistros kept pushing back the plug-in date to save on electricity.

“We actually had people who would call up on Thanksgiving and complain that the lights weren’t on,” he said. “They’d tell me they ‘had people from out of town.’ And, ‘When were we going to turn the lights on?’ That kind of thing.”

The St. Clairsville Recreation Board used to hold a best-decorated-house contest. And every year, the Maistroses would take home first prize. It got to the point where it was embarrassing.

“We stopped submitting after awhile,” Mary Maistros said. “It wasn’t fair.”

On Halloween, young children would knock on the Maistros’ door, peek around them as they passed out candy, and ask if “Santa Claus still lived there?”

While their over-the-top Christmas display made for some great memories, this year the Maistroses decided to hang up their Santa hats.

Age and falling off the roof aside, their longtime helper, Craig Hoffer, decided to up and move to Florida.

Mike Maistros had a difficult time finding a municipality that wanted two truckloads of old Christmas lights and decorations, but eventually found a taker in the village of Yorkville.

“There’s actually people upset right now,” Mary Maistros said. “You know, that the lights aren’t on. ‘It was my childhood,’ they’ll say. These people had come past for years. On Facebook, there’s a lot of people complaining.”

There are upstarts vying for the title of “Oglebay West” in the wake of the Mike Maistros’ retirement. He dismissed them with a chuckle and an insouciant wave.

“I saw some people in the newspaper the other day,” he said. One man “said something about people comparing him to Oglebay. But, whatever. We had the title first.”

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