Joseph F. Berenato
Mauro fills home with holiday cheer
Hammonton resident Joe Mauro loves decorating for the holidays.
Whether it’s Christmas, Halloween or Easter, Mauro’s home is filled with holiday cheer and animatronic figures of all kinds.
Mauro told The Gazette that his passion for decorating began years ago with a purchase at a once-popular holiday retailer.
“I’ve been buying these animated figures for 30 years ... We used to go to Frieda and Fred’s in Berlin. We were in there one time around Christmastime, and there was one that was $80 or $90. I said that I was going to buy one, and my father bought it for me. That’s how it started,” Mauro said.
From there, Mauro’s decoration collection grew, building off of that original purchase.
“They’re all 25, 30 years old. I find them on eBay and all that. I’ve got a lot of those; I probably have 70 or 80 animated things like that, but for all different holidays. I’ve got quite a few of them ... I’ve got a big shed out there full of nothing but Christmas,” Mauro said.
This year, Mauro decided to give more attention to decorating for Easter, much to the delight of his granddaughter, Eliana Campbell.
“I did Easter last year, but it wasn’t quite as much as is there now ... Now that she is around, I thought the Easter thing would be kind of cute for her,” Mauro said.
Mauro’s display takes up much of the home’s foyer, and includes trees, a house full of animatronic bunnies, Easter eggs and has lights and sound.
Mauro’s wife, Bobbi Mauro, said that some of the effects of the display are controlled by an Amazon Alexa dock located within the house.
“We just say ‘Alexa, Happy Easter, everybody,’ and she starts playing ‘Here Comes Peter Cottontail,’” she said.
Joe Mauro said that their granddaughter enjoys when the music plays, and becomes excited before it even begins.
“She gets a smile before the music even starts to go on; she knows what we’re saying now ... She likes that. I set her inside of there every once in a while. We even bought her a little bunny outfit,” he said.
Besides the costs of the materials, Joe Mauro said that the biggest expense in creating this display is time, but it’s time well-spent.
“It’s a good pastime. I like coming home at night, having a glass of bourbon and playing around with all that stuff, putting it together. I’m almost done, I think, with actually building stuff. That took probably two weeks, back and forth, changing this, cutting that house apart, making it fit better ... I’m still messing with it; I’ll work on it up until Easter day, just wiring it and doing different things. It took a good full weekend, and every night after work, maybe four or five hours a night,” he said.
Bobbi Mauro said her husband is “very creative” when it comes to executing ideas.
“We have an old ashtray that was popular and in a lot of houses in the 1970s; that was his mother’s. He took the top off and got some PVC pipe, painted it black and now it’s a potbellied stove with a chimney going up a brick wall that he made inside the house. His gears never stop clicking,” she said.
Their daughter, Danielle Mauro, agreed.
“He’ll sit there and stare at it, and you know that he’s coming up with more things to add; or, he’ll pull up a chair, and point at things for us to move—’Move this this way, move that that way’—so he can keep the vision and we can do the work,” she said.
Danielle Mauro said that the animatronic dolls get repurposed from one holiday to the next.
“We take the heads off of the Christmas dolls to make new dolls, switching heads and getting clothes. Three of those bunnies are exactly the same, but they’re all wearing different outfits so they look different. Who has glasses on? Who doesn’t?” she said.
Almost all of the decoration is done in-house, Joe Mauro said, though some of the painting is done through his company, SAR Industrial Finishing.
“We do paint and powder coat, all in-house, then it gets shipped all over the place ... This way, if I have to paint or powder coat anything for any of this, it’s all for free,” he said.
For lettering and graphic work, Joe Mauro turns to his other daughter, Brittany, who is a graphic designer by trade.
“He’ll say, ‘I need a sign for this; I need lettering for this’ and she does that,” Danielle Mauro said.
Joe Mauro said that Easter isn’t the only holiday getting an extended treatment recently.
“This was the first year for Halloween ... Danielle started on the Halloween thing. She said, ‘Dad, we don’t do much for Halloween,’ so I spent a million dollars buying stuff for Halloween,” he said.
Danielle Mauro said that the Halloween display spread throughout several areas in the house.
“We had a full display like that, with the castle and some strobe lights with a flying witch. It was supposed to be that, every time you would clap, the witch would start making noise. But, every time you would talk too loud or close a cabinet, it would do it. It was very annoying; it was battery operated and suspended from the ceiling, so there was no shutting it off. There was a whole scary circus in the dining room, too,” she said.
However, Bobbi Mauro said, Christmas is “the real big one.”
“It’s all gingerbread in the kitchen. The foyer is all Santa Claus and elves, and his workshop. The living room is all Disney, with probably about 20 Disney animated characters. Rudolph is all over the top of the TV; Joe probably has every character from the Rudolph show ... The dining room is all Looney Tunes. Every room is a different theme here at Christmas; you can’t move,” she said.
Joe Mauro said that the Christmas display usually takes the longest to set up, particularly this past year.
“I did the closet this year—which Bobbi wasn’t happy about—but we gutted that whole closet, she wallpapered it and made it Santa’s workshop ... We had a little more, but she didn’t want to keep tearing the house apart,” he said.
Danielle Mauro noted that her mother was not the only member of the house to express consternation about the lack of a coat closet.
“We took all of the coats out of the house—at Christmas, in wintertime—to put the display in there,” she said.
Bobbi Mauro said, though, that despite the seasonal chaos, their granddaughter’s reactions to the holiday displays are what counts.
“The whole house gets ripped apart, and everybody’s bedroom has extra furniture, but it’s all for her. She loves it. It’s worth it for her,” she said.