By DON O'BRIEN
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Anyone who has traveled down South 24th Street at the holidays over the last half a century couldn't help but have their attention diverted to the house on the southwest corner of 24th and Payson Avenue.
The annual display at the Loatsch house doesn't match the gaudy effort put forth by the fictional Clark Griswold in "Christmas Vacation," which seems to be the standard-bearer by which all other Christmas displays are measured. But the history behind one of Quincy's best-known holiday displays would make for a nice Hollywood script.
It's the brainchild of the late Louis Loatsch, whose family has lived at the house for 51 years. Each year, the family has celebrated the season by turning its front yard into a winter wonderland. It started simply with a few reindeer placed there. Fearing that some hooligans might try to steal the reindeer, Loatsch moved the reindeer to the roof, and a tradition was born.
Once the reindeer went to the roof, Loatsch made it his goal to give people something special to see in his yard. For each year's Christmas display, the lights went on Thanksgiving night.
Even after Loatsch's death in 2009, the family continues to carry on his tradition.
"It was fun," said Loatsch's daughter, Cheryl. "It was something that we enjoyed. You didn't think about it until you saw a line of cars out front. At the pace that traffic on 24th goes, you wonder if anyone sees."
Oh, they see the displays all right. People have written the family over the years to let them know how much they enjoy the displays.
"They tell us that they were in town over the holidays and looked forward to seeing Dad's display," Loatsch said.
When Louis Loatsch died in October 2009, there was never a thought to end the family's Christmas tradition. He had big plans for the family's toy solider display, and the family was bound and determined to make good on his wishes.
The toy soldier display, Cheryl Loatsch said, was one of his first expanded displays.
"He wanted them to move and had a cannon that actually smoked," she said. "It just kept growing form there."
Loatsch said the family has six displays that it rotates through. Each has gotten a little bigger and better as the years have passed. This year's display is inspired by the "Peanuts" comic strip. Throughout the front yard, side yard and the four-deck treehouse in the family's back yard are stand-up cutouts from Charles Schulz's popular gang. It also has a piece that Louis Loatsch would love to see.
Louis Loatsch envisioned having a movable skating rink in the front yard with the Peanuts display. He couldn't quite pull it off, but his band of elves were able to get that to work this year. Several characters are skating, while others are ready to play a little hockey in the Loatsches' front yard.
Cheryl Loatsch credited several people for helping keep the family's tradition alive. All the displays have been repainted and refined over the last few years thanks to the efforts of Kyle Krohn, Jill Schuckman, Dale Dietrich, Mike Pausch and Brian Hackett.
"There is a lot of work," Loatsch said. "But it's really fun when it is all put together and it all functions like it's supposed to. We have learned a lot. There is a lot to do with motors and mechanics that work great in a garage, but when you take them outside in the cold, snow and ice, it becomes more challenging."
Loatsch said she repays her crew with a dinner every year when they start to make plans for the next year's display. They want to keep her father's passion for Christmas alive through the displays.
"One of the things that keeps us moving forward year after year is that we have wonderful comments from people," she said. "People remember the original displays as kids and bring their children to see them. It's a way to keep the spirit of what he originally started moving forward. Part of that spirit had to do with doing something for others."