Tiny World offers big holiday cheer in Shippensburg
SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. — It takes a few turns before finding Rice Road in Shippensburg, but once visitors reach the crest of the hill there’s a warm glow that beckons visitors to stop.
For 34 years, a family’s love of the holidays has become a staple holiday tradition for those in the area.
The original builder was Ernest Helm, who after retiring from a company that built mobile homes, was not one to keep idle. He started to build miniature homes that he put alongside his own home.
Helping him was Wendell Myers, his son-in-law who had married Helm’s daughter, Donna.
“He had about three or four and we placed them out in the hill here,” Myers said. “We didn’t have anything on the inside of them. It was my wife’s idea to put furniture, wallpaper and all of that.”
All total there were 23 buildings, ranging from a church, a train station, a courthouse and houses. Myers estimates there are about 20 now, as some of the houses were destroyed by weather.
Passersby thought it was an oddity and would often stop by and asked to look at them. Myers said that was usually in the summertime. Then a few years after Helm started to build the houses, he decided to add some lights.
Eventually, the area grew to include lights, inflatables and an inside Christmas village display.
As he aged, Helms wasn’t sure he wanted his daughter’s family to take on all the work of maintaining the display.
But Myers said, before Helms’ death in October 2015, he had a long talk with his father-in-law.
“Me and my wife promised him we would continue this as long as we could,” he said.
Myers said as soon as it gets close to Christmas, his wife is the one itching to get things ready.
“She’s our boss behind this who pushes everyone to keep it out,” he said.
Their grown children, Wendell Jr., Megan and Shannon, along with their daughter’s husbands, all pitch in, he said.
They begin putting up the lights around the end of October through the first week of November. He said it roughly takes them three weeks to get everything ready. The lights continue to flicker through the first week of January, unless there is a heavy snowstorm in the forecast.
“I love it. It takes me a little while to get started because I know how much work it is,” he said. “My daughters, they really help out, my son, and my daughters’ husbands.”
Myers, though, said it’s all worth the hard work. He estimates between 3,000 and 4,000 people visit Tiny World. Entry is by donation, as is the hot chocolate and snacks they offer weekly.
He said he and his family have enjoyed putting Tiny World together.
“Once we get everything up, the enjoyment of the kids, it gets me right here,” he said, his voice cracking. “I love it, so does my wife.”
As the grandfather of three and one on the way, Myers said he isn’t sure if his children will continue the tradition.
“I would hope. They have their own families, I don’t want to force it on them, but they know how much the families enjoy the lights, they hear the people talking.”
For Myers, it’s about creating memories for others.
“It’s a tradition for a lot of families. I heard a lot say they were here when they were kids and now they’re bringing their kids. Some of them bring their grandkids here,” he said. “I love it. It tickles me to death to hear that.”
Top photo: The general store is just an example of the little houses Ernest Helm made. (Photo by Crystal Schelle)