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Last hurrah for legendary Baldwin Harbor holiday lights display

On Dec. 6, 1998, the McGrath family was

On Dec. 6, 1998, the McGrath family was photographed outside their Baldwin Harbor home, which was decorated for the holidays. In 1994 the family began focusing fundraising efforts toward the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in honor of a neighbor's son, Bobby O'Mahony, center in red sweater, living with the disease. Family members, from left, are William, then 13, Daniel, then 11, parents Bill and Jill, Robert, then 7, and Stephanie, then 16. Credit: Newsday File, 1998 / Kathy Kmonicek

After more than a decade of lighting up their Baldwin Harbor block, and raising money for charity along the way, the McGrath family has decided to sell their ornaments and discontinue their Winter Wonderland display after this season.

Through the years, many Long Island families have visited the McGrath's home at 3462 Bertha Dr., known for its impressive holiday decorations ever since the family moved to the Harbor in 1987 and brought the tradition from their home in Canarsie, Brooklyn. The family estimates they drew an average of 30,000 visitors each year.

For 16 nonconsecutive seasons, in the late fall, the waterfront house has been organized and prepared by a team of family members, neighbors and volunteers, armed with an assortment of purchased and handmade decorations, including a model of Santa's workshop built into the garage, a favorite among visitors.

>>Photos: McGrath family holiday lights 

According to the family, "Our setup crew has ranged in ages from 2 to 70, helping with any kind of work. Just not on the ladders." 

The crew, along with each year's construction, has provided suggestions to improve for the following year. 

For an important cause

After visitors began leaving money at the house, owner and designer Bill McGrath began donating these contributions to several charitable organizations, before focusing their funds toward the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in 1994, in honor of a neighbor's son living with the disease. Since then, the Winter Wonderland has raised about $130,000 for the foundation.

McGrath and his wife, Jill, continued these festivities until 2003. The task of putting up the lights and displays, including the star sitting atop a 16-foot pole on the roof, had become increasingly challenging as many crew members either became too old or moved away. The McGrath's four children, ranging in age from 18 to 27, were also absent the past few years.

There were no decorations for the past six years, until the family decided that before they end for good, they should offer neighbors the chance to purchase some decorations and spread more holiday cheer into their own homes. 

Disappointed fans

The news has been an upsetting surprise for many who have visited the holiday home for several years. "We used to come with our kids all the time," said a couple passing a plastic church choir. "Now, the kids are all grown up, and we still come!"

"We've had so much to thank for helping make this possible over the years, including the weather," Bill McGrath said. "But these people - our friends and neighbors, and the organizations that pulled together to help us build - we owe this all to them."

The house's decorations will remain available for viewing and purchase until New Year's, after which they will be claimed by their new owners. 

>>Photos: McGrath family holiday lights 

>>Photos: LI's best Christmas displays

 

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