Popular holiday light show adds talking trees

John Scott as he sits in front of the computer monitor he uses to program the music and light show. He holds a magnifying glass in his left hand, which is crucial for him to use, given his sight impairment.
John Scott as he sits in front of the computer monitor he uses to program the music and light show. He holds a magnifying glass in his left hand, which is crucial for him to use, given his sight impairment.
Photo by Linda Competillo

Most everyone who lives in Groton knows about the incredible Christmas light and sound show located at 411 Peru Rd. (Route 38), and we and others from miles around make it an annual destination during the holiday season ever since its humble beginnings around 2008.

It has only continued to grow bigger and better every year since. Passers-by need only to pull off on the shoulder of the road, tune your car radio in to 89.7 on the FM dial and get ready to experience the joy and the magic of hearing Christmas music from all eras and genres that syncs with the light show perfectly.

This year, the talent behind the scenes, John Scott, told me he was a bit behind in getting things up and running due to the wind and snowstorm that affected us all on Dec. 1 because it took down one of two major trees that are the focal point of his display.

Undaunted, because Scott has had his share of calamities through the years, including a fall off his roof that resulted in four broken ribs, he worked hard this past weekend, with the help of his son, Lawrence Scott, to restore the gap left by the fallen tree and got the show going for all to enjoy.

Lawrence is a Groton class of 2014 alumnus who also earned his computer technology certificate from the Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga Board of Cooperative Services. That has served him well because he is an invaluable help to his father to set things up every year.

“I couldn’t do this without him,” John said.

Both men get busy up on the roof in August or September every year with the physical displays, and Lawrence has the know-how to take charge of all the wiring that needs to be done. He is also no stranger to the carpentry work involved. Lawrence became an Eagle Scout in 2013, and his final project was the building and placement of bird houses all over Groton. Still today, they may be found on Conger Boulevard, Sykes Street and other places.

“I really enjoy working on it, and it’s nice to help my dad,” Lawrence said about working on the light show.

John’s wife and ’85 Groton alumna Beth Underwood Scott grew up loving Christmas lights because her father, Ellard Underwood, decorated their home at 104 Roosevelt Ave. with a plethora of lights and decorations from the early ’50s until his death in 1994.

John grew up in and around New York City, where he attended the Technical Career Institute in Manhattan, where he attained his knowledge of electronics. He worked as a lineman for the New York Telephone Co. in Amsterdam, New York, for about 10 years, but at that point, his life took a drastic turn.

He had been born with glaucoma, a condition he lived with throughout his life, but things digressed for him to a point where he developed cataracts and then needed surgical intervention. Unfortunately, he suffered a retinol detachment as a result of that surgery, rendering him legally blind and no longer able to continue his work with the telephone company.

Circumstances brought John to this area, where he met Beth. They were married on Christmas Eve, 2002, residing at 104 Roosevelt Ave. Beth asked John to pull out her father’s Christmas lights and put them up. They had not been seen since 1994, so it was a delight for her to have them bringing joy to the community again.

In 2004, the Scotts had the home built at 411 Peru Rd., carrying on the tradition of decking the home with beautiful Christmas lights every year so that by 2008, it had become a “destination” for holiday light seekers just as Roosevelt Avenue had been in years gone by.

At that point, John switched things over to “Lights O’Rama,” a program that would enable the consumer to add music to lights. Using AC current, John found that it would not run during rainfall. Thus, for the past six years, he has used a Falcon pixel control board so that he can utilize pixels for his lights with a raspberry pi computer, allowing him to program the lights and music together via DC current and wireless internet – not only streamlining the process but costing him far less to run the electricity.

Most Christmas songs are about three minutes long, and on average, it takes John about 40 to 60 hours per song to program the lights to sync with them.

On top of that, there is also quite a bit of time involved in designing the sets outdoors each year. Beth assists him with the design ideas, and Lawrence aids in the implementation.

This year, John has added video screens to the display, a giant snowflake and trees that talk during the show.

“It gives me something to do,” John said. “And when I see the kids smile, it makes it all worth it.”

The Scotts are delighted to let everyone know about a very special addition this year. They have connected with the Cayuga Medical Center Foundation and have set up a donation box on the right-hand side of their driveway.

The box was built and beautifully decorated by their daughter, Tara Vickery, Groton alumna Class of 2010, and anyone who wishes to donate toward cancer research is welcome to do so.

Beth said that cancer runs in her family, and they wanted to do something that would make an impact while also keeping it local to benefit our community. She loves to see how many people come to see the show.

“When I hear someone say ‘wow,’ it makes me happy,” she said.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will be on site from 12 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14 for photo ops, and Santa will also be there handing out candy canes on Christmas Eve. There will be free hot cocoa and Munchkins supplied by the Groton Dunkin’ Donuts.

The light shows begin at 5 p.m. daily, looping until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Stop by any night of the week, and be sure you pull off on to the shoulder of the road, tune your car radio in to 89.7 FM and enjoy the show!

Groton on the Inside appears weekly. Submit news ideas to Linda Competillo, lmc10@cornell.edu or 607-227-4922.

In brief:

Historical Association meeting

The Groton Historical Association will hold its annual meeting at 12 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14 at the Masonic Temple, 301 Main St. The meeting title is “History is Happening in Groton.”

Guest speaker Benjamin Sandberg, executive director of The History Center of Tompkins County, will discuss the book chapter and article about Burleigh, the man who drew the bird’s-eye map of 1866, and other potential collaborations with the History Center.

Dinner will be served and is open to the public. Attendees are asked to bring their own place settings and a dish-to-pass. A gift of 1866 map sets will be presented to each association member who attends and has paid their dues in full.

Those who plan to attend should contact Flo Allen at (607) 280-4233 by leaving a voicemail or a text message, or at nellaolf@gmail.com.

Groton Library happenings

The monthly community meal at the Groton Public Library will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17. Ham dinner with all the fixings will be served. This is free and open to the public.

Certified instructor Aniiyah Klock will lead a free adult wellness class on reflexology with a focus on feet at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18.

The GPL Book Club will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19. This month’s book is “This is How it Always is” by Laurie Frankel. All are welcome to join in any time.

Master Composter training

The Cornell Cooperative Extension will offer 10 in-depth classes to train Master Composters, an enthusiastic group of community volunteers committed to promoting responsible composting. Training also involves volunteer activities.

Classes will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays from Feb. 6 through April 30 at the CCE, 615 Willow Ave., Ithaca. For more information and to apply online, visit ccetompkins.org/mc. Applications are due on Monday, Jan. 27.


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