Restoring Raleigh Christmas History: The Cross Family Display
When I was a kid, we lived a few streets over from the Cross family on New Bern Avenue. The Crosses always had the best Christmas decorations in Raleigh, and people came from miles around to see them. During their early years of decorating, we could walk through the display. But eventually the crowds and traffic got out of hand, and we were not longer allowed to go into their yard.
Our family also decorated our house with what, in those times, seemed like a large display. My Grandfather owned a decorating company: floats, flags, parades, and festivals were his specialty. He decorated the Christmas floats and Raleigh streets in the 1950’s through out the early 1970’s.
So we had access to some really nice decorations for the house, like a life-size Santa in a sled with all eight reindeer on the roof. But even with our impressive display, we’d still pile in the car every year to go to see the Cross house.
Buying Raleigh Christmas History
Eventually the Crosses stopped putting their display up, and I grew up and moved away. Still, I always wondered what happened to the Cross’s decorations. In the early 90’s I got in touch with their family to see about buying their decorations, but at that time they weren’t interested in selling. Then, about four years ago, I received a phone call from a close friend that there was an estate tag sale going on at the Cross’s house and that the old decorations were on sale. I drove back to Raleigh from the coast that night. The next day, as they say, is history.
I got to the sale that morning before they even opened. You have no idea how excited I was when I saw those old decorations. I was like a kid all over again.
“How much for the decorations?” I asked the salesman.
“Which one?” he replied.
“How much,” I asked again, intently.
He froze, dumbfounded. Then he turned around and asked, “Which ones?”
“How much,” I asked, “For all of it?”
Well after we came to a price, I made a few calls to some friends and we met back at the Cross’s with two trailers and trucks and brought everything that was left.
Restoring The Past
When it came time to unload the decorations, I realized what I had done. I had two trailers of old, broken, and damaged decorations. Many were crushed flat, and others were in pieces. I had to build forms and frames for some of the figurines and then fill them with foam. For some I had to form new bases with the foam, then use marine plaster to make them waterproof. After the repair work, my wife Jan repainted each one by hand. She used and mixed basic acrylic craft paint. On the Facebook page there are many pictures of the restoration.
Hundreds of people drive past every year, many who remember visiting the Cross family’s Christmas display in their childhood. It means a lot to have preserved this huge part of Raleigh history.
Other Unique Historic Pieces
We also have a giant dinosaur, which was originally owned by Yadi Perangi, the owner and operator of a restaurant and club in downtown Raleigh. The dinosaur used to stand outside his business, The Warehouse. But city codes had changed and forced him to take it down.
One night I asked him what had happened to the dinosaur that used to be outside, and he told me that it was in the basement. I asked him if I could take it to my house and decorate it with lights–and he was good with that. He liked it so much that he told me to just keep it at my house so he didn’t have to store it anymore. He passed away a few years ago, and now it is here to stay. I had to almost completely rebuild it, adding motors and lights and the smoke machine. Now, it is one of the favorite pieces in the display.
We also have a real firetruck on display. I had always wanted a real fire truck, even as a kid. One day, years ago, I was on a trip from the coast to see my son in Greenville at ECU. We passed a used car lot, and there on that lot sat two fire trucks. I turned around and went back to the lot, took a test drive, and then put a deposit on one of the trucks. We then continued on our trip to Greenville. We didn’t tell anyone about the truck.
The next week we returned to Vanceboro and bought the truck. I drove it to ECU and sat outside my son’s dorm room with the lights and siren on. I think he was a little embarrassed.
Creating Happyland Christmas Lights
The Moore house is now known as Happyland Christmas Lights, and you can find us on Facebook. My personal favorite is the mooning Santa, but the ferris wheel is also special because I built that. Still, the manger will always be the best.
I spend dozens of hours out in the cold each year, putting all those lights up, but it’s worth it to see so many families enjoying the display and keeping a little bit of Raleigh Christmas history alive for future generations.
Want to see the lights for yourself? They’re at 5505 Huntingwood Dr., Raleigh, NC 27606.