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Man decks the halls for visitors

December 27, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Man decks the halls for visitors



In Donald Samuels' Christmas menagerie, Santas shimmy, snowmen boogie, wreaths sprout eyes and sing.

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The first floor of Samuels' Hagerstown home is decorated to the hilt - every wall, every tabletop, every crowded shelf.

Each room is crammed with holiday wind-up toys, figurines and wall hangings. Many perk up when Samuels claps or waves his hand past a laser eye.

The Yule logs in the miniature fireplace scene become moving lips that belt out "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and "Deck the Halls."

On a nearby table, Santa gyrates and sings "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

A stuffed bear in Santa gear dances and shakes hand bells.

Samuels chuckles lightly when another Santa, clutching a shopping list, rises from his throne, asks, "What do you want for Christmas?" and promises, "I'll see you on Christmas Eve."

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Each performance is just a few seconds long.

Samuels encourages a visitor to step into the bathroom, where kittens on the wall purr "Jingle Bells."

Her uncle's whimsical taste makes it easy for Connie Proctor to shop for him. She recently bought him a toy toilet. Eyes pop from the tank as a mock version of "Rockin' Robin" plays.

Proctor said her uncle never stops joking. He kids that cough syrup would cure her car's brake problem. He says he doesn't want a blizzard because he has nowhere to store the snow.

She's also amazed by the magic tricks stored in his head for years. In one demonstration, Samuels holds playing cards behind his back, shuffles them and correctly predicts each card before pulling it from the deck.

Samuels, who turns 82 on Friday, thinks this might be the last hurrah for a decorating tradition he started around 1950.

The first 15 years, he set up O-gauge train tracks in his basement. The scenes were detailed, and grew each year. By the end, Samuels had 18 tracks running.

Then, he moved upstairs, where he has tinkered and toiled for about 35 Christmases.

His gadgets draw the spotlight, but the display has many elegant touches. He liberally uses tinsel on each wall and ceiling. He arches strings of light bulbs over mantels and windows.

Proctor wonders how her uncle and his achy legs can still climb stepladders.

Last year, Samuels fell from his bed, broke a rib and spent seven days in the hospital.

"I was dreaming I was working on an automobile with my buddies," he said.

He remembers the night well. The car in his dream was a 1964 Cadillac.

Samuels imagined that he had dropped a wrench, so he got out of bed to get it. "I got back in the bed and stood up in bed," he said.

He misstepped and fell over, breaking his clock on the way down.

Samuels held a variety of auto repair jobs in the area and owned a garage in Sharpsburg. He retired 15 years ago but didn't stop being a mechanic.

"I was still crawling under cars when I was 75 years old," he said.

In 1944, Samuels was with the U.S. Army's 85th Division in Italy when he was shot in the shoulder. He said the bullet stopped near his kidney, and he refused to have it taken out.

Samuels opens his home to tours after several weeks of preparation. The house will remain dressed up until February.

On Wednesday, a group from Ravenwood Lutheran Village's adult day care visited. Samuels' wife, Catherine, who died in 1997, had been a client in the program.

"I like the fireplace," said Lulu Dansberger, part of the Ravenwood group, who talked a friend into coming with her this year.

Their host stayed up past midnight making chocolate chip and sugar cookies for them.

Peggy Trace, the program assistant, said the first field trip to Samuels' house was about 10 years ago.

"He said his whole house was decorated," she said. "He wasn't joking."

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