Groton on the Inside: Christmas on Peru Road – the story behind the light show!

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Whether or not you are from Groton, if you have ever driven on Route 38 (Peru Road) in the dark during the Christmas season, you have likely seen the incredible light show that graces the home located at 411 Peru Road, and if you may have pulled off on the shoulder of the road to tune your car radio in to 89.7 on the FM dial, you will have also experienced the joy and the magic of hearing the Christmas music that syncs with the lights so perfectly! If you have never experienced any of this, it is well worth heading over there to check it out.


Most everyone who does live in Groton not only knows about it but have made it an annual must-do on their holiday season checklist since it began around 2008, but have you ever wondered whose home it is and how or why they started doing it?


John Scott and Beth Underwood Scott are the answer to the “who” question. The “how” and the “why” have interesting stories behind them.


Groton High School alumna, Beth Underwood Scott ’85, was born and raised at 104 Roosevelt Ave; a home she told me was once the residence of the caretaker for the famous Benn Conger Inn before her great aunt purchased it in the early 1920s. “They even had a crow’s nest on the back of the house, so they could shoot at any intruders at the Benn Conger if need be,” she said.
Beth grew up loving Christmas lights because her father, Ellard Underwood, decorated their home with a plethora of lights and decorations from the early 1950s when he purchased it from his aunt, until his death in 1994. She said, “Our home was the place that was well-known as being probably the best decorated and having the most lights around. People would come from everywhere, not just Groton, to see it every year.” But from 1994 until 2002, the lovely display was no more, as she did not have the wherewithal to do what her father had always done.


At roughly the same time, John Scott, a 1979 graduate of Tottenville High School on Staten Island, was living his own life in and around the Big Apple. He was initially a musician after he left high school, playing guitar in bands with Bob Dylan, Jeff Beck, and Jeff Lynne in the Electric Light Orchestra. “I even knew John Lennon before he died,” said John.


By day, John worked in the concrete business owned by one of his brothers but knew he needed to find another line of work, and that he needed to leave the music industry. He attended the Technical Career Institute in Manhattan, and the knowledge of electronics gained there serve him well today – although he had no idea then what he would be doing now!


Within days of his graduation from TCI, John became a telephone operator for the New York Telephone Co. in Amsterdam, NY, worked as such for two or three years, and then moved up to become a lineman for about 10 years.


At that point, John’s life began to take a more drastic turn than simply changing his career. 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 retinal 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 attend a conference at Cornell University in July 2001, where he then met Beth Underwood. They fell in love and were married on Christmas Eve, 2002, after which they both resided at 104 Roosevelt Ave. One of his new bride’s first requests that year was for John to pull out her father’s Christmas lights and put them up. While not as grand and glorious as it once was, Beth was delighted to have them up and running again.
In 2004, the Scotts had a home built at 411 Peru Road, having sold the home on Roosevelt, and there carried on the tradition of decking the home with beautiful Christmas lights every year, adding on more and more, so that by 2008 it had already become just as much a “destination” for holiday light seekers as Roosevelt Ave had been in years gone by.


At that point, John remembered a television commercial he had seen years prior about “Lights O’Rama,” a program that would enable the consumer to add music to lights, so he looked it up, and used that for the first time in 2009. Using AC current, he found a few challenges in that it would not run during rainfall, and it was also prone to giving him shocks!


What he now uses instead, and has for the past five years, is 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.


On average, 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, and Beth assists him with the design ideas.


Up until two years ago, there was a beautiful arch over the Scott’s driveway, but it needed to be removed to accommodate some driveway work. For those who have wondered about it, they hope to replace it by next year, and for those who wondered why the lights were not on at all last year, John told me he had a fall when he was working on things and broke four ribs. Thankfully, he is back in the proverbial saddle again, with the show just getting better every year. In fact, they are planning to add video screens to the display for 2019!


I hope this glimpse into the lives of the Scotts has piqued interest in seeing this year’s display, whether you are a “groupie” or have never had the pleasure before. The shows begin at 5 p.m. daily and run for 35 to 40 minutes, looping until 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The last night will be Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, so stop by any night of the week, 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!

A word from the columnist
I thank you all for your readership and wish everyone a blessed and Merry Christmas. To those who do not celebrate it, I hope you enjoy the holiday season, and that joy will fill your hearts.


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

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