Tradition continues with the Gilley home Christmas lights
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
Dec 20, 2013 | 5636 views |  0 comments | 65 65 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For nearly 30 years those visitors have flocked to the Gilley home in Ball Play to see the Christmas lights — a maze of motorized wire structures strung with colorful lights. Photo by Bill Wilson.
For nearly 30 years those visitors have flocked to the Gilley home in Ball Play to see the Christmas lights — a maze of motorized wire structures strung with colorful lights. Photo by Bill Wilson.
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BALL PLAY — The Gilley family spends the weeks before Christmas seated on the front porch next to a space heater, watching dozens of visitors walk through their front yard. Approaching cars often slow to a crawl to get a better look.

For nearly 30 years those visitors have flocked to the Gilley home in Ball Play to see the Christmas lights — a maze of motorized wire structures strung with colorful lights.

Mike Gilley, 62, said his father, J.C. Gilley, built the first display sometime in the mid 1980s.

“We’re not exactly sure, but somewhere close to that,” Gilley said.

Gilley kept adding new displays each year until his death in 2002 at the age of 84.

The displays are more folk art than typical Christmas scenes, and they include an elephant with a moving trunk, a camel, footballs spinning on their ends, a giant rainbow and Santa riding in a helicopter instead of a sleigh.

“A lot of it he would think up on his own,” Gilley said, but his father also took suggestions for new displays from friends. “His best friend asked for the butterfly and made it.”

Gilley’s father used wire and donated motors to create each display, stringing them with lights as he saw fit. Born in Gnatville, he retired as a diesel mechanic after spending a lifetime farming, working on cars and building homes.

Since J.C. Gilley’s death Gilley and his siblings have kept the tradition going, spending about a month each year before Christmas setting up the lights and making needed repairs.

Gilley said they’ll keep the tradition going “from now on until we can’t. I know rumors got out that this is the last year.”

Goshen resident Cathy Lanigan made a tradition of visiting the Gilley home during the holidays when her children, now grown, were young.

“When I would go pick my children up from my grandparents, who live in Leesburg, on Christmas Eve we would always swing back by Gilley’s to see their lights,” Lanigan said. “We would always get out and walk around to see what was new.”

The only year the siblings didn’t put out the lights after their father’s death was in 2009, when their mother, Cassie, died just before Christmas.

Visitors come from far and wide, Gilley said. A couple from California recently came to see the lights, and regular visitors from Birmingham, Atlanta and Rome, Ga., come just about each year.

“You hear all the time ‘My parents brought me up here when I was a kid. Now I’m bringing my kids up here,’” Gilley said.

The lights are on from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. weekdays, and until 10 p.m. on the weekends. The home is located at 415 Gilley Road in Ball Play, between Gadsden and Centre.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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