Miracle on Main Street

Treasure trove of toys delights all ages at Evening Star windows

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  • Mobile airplane sways gently over the shop.

  • The Elf on a Shelf, window decorating style

  • Gift tags are already on some items, including this cabbage patch doll that belonged to Brian Fassett.

  • Hightower’s antique toy collection includes this ukulele being played by an elf.

  • A herd of horses is moved out of the stable.

  • Fassett and Spenlinhauer purchased the elves to complete the antique toy collection.

  • Frosty is getting a check-up

  • This elf is repairing a train car.

  • The author, dressed as an elf, helping Hightower off Stella the Trolley.

  • Terry Hightower getting a glimpse of his toys in the display windows.

  • Santa has left his desk to check up on the elves.

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By Leslie Masson

The holidays are a special time of the year. The streets are filled with beautiful lights that dazzle our eyes, and joyful music rings out everywhere. People are filled with joy, good cheer, and hope for a wonderful new year.
But sometimes, there is a little extra sparkle of holiday magic in the air, and something extraordinary happens right under your nose, which is the case in Peekskill this year.

Every little town, or big city, has a few truly unique characters known to many, and Peekskill is no exception. One of Peekskill’s remarkable fellows is affectionately called “Cowboy” by most who know him. His name is Terry Lee Von Hightower, a name fit for a storyteller. No matter how many conversations you have with Terry, you’ll never hear the same story twice. His life has been filled with more exciting journeys than most, and he’s happy to share his stories with anyone. Those stories could fill a book or make a fantastic movie, but that is a project for another time. This story is the background for a particular enchanted installation happening in Peekskill this holiday season.

As a film actor, Terry traveled the world and enjoyed collecting antique toys. Sadly, his collections have been packed away and hidden in a storage facility for far too long.

Terry is a dear friend of mine and my spouse, Marybeth McGowan. We do our best to help him with chores he can no longer accomplish due to a stroke he suffered years ago. I’ve been telling him he needs to get his collection out of storage and make some decisions on what to do with these treasures. Besides the storage is costing him more money than he can afford. Time is taking its toll on them, causing them to lose any value they may have had. Reluctantly, he admitted that he had no success in selling them, but he wanted to have his collection displayed somewhere people could see and enjoy.

I started to think about how we could grant his wish. Peekskill City Councilman Brian Fassett and his spouse, Sepp Spenlinhauer, are gifted lighting designers and display specialists. They own The Peekskill Evening Star building on Main Street, which they decorate with impressive Christmas displays every year and other times throughout the year for the community to enjoy.

Brian and Sepp are special friends who’ve become extended family to Marybeth and me. At dinner one night I asked what they thought about a Santa’s Workshop theme for their holiday windows this year, using some of Terry’s antique toys. They thought it could work! Brian and I took a trip to the storage facility, worked our way through the rusty lock and cobwebs, and entered. It was indeed filled with many unique, antique, and exciting things. However, they were mostly in various degrees of disrepair. Brian, laughingly, said, “I think we shall call it Santa’s Repair Shop.” And so, the journey to fulfill one man’s dream began.

As it turns out, the project was also going to help with another Peekskill holiday tradition, The Peekskill Trolley North Pole Express tours. I am the proprietor of Stella, the Peekskill Trolley and in previous years we worked with the Bean Runner Café. It was the perfect pick-up location and the ideal place for serving the hot chocolate at the end of the trolley tour. The closing of Esther Street to make an outdoor dining area, a wonderful place that many enjoy, made it no longer accessible to park “Stella” for the trolley tours.

When Mayor Vivian McKenzie’s popular tea room Kathleen’s closed after a roof collapse in 2021 she acquired a mobile food service truck to continue serving Kathleen’s Tea Room delights until her restaurant is rebuilt. Mayor McKenzie suggested she could serve the hot chocolate to our riders from “Kathleen’s Mobile Tea Room.” The ideal spot was right in front of The Peekskill Evening Star building.

In this instance, the saying, “It takes a village,” is really, ”it took a city.” The window designed by Brian and Sepp showcases Terry’s collection of antique toys and features some of Sepp and Brian’s childhood toys. To stand at this window is to take a trip down memory lane; the elves are hard at work, and new memories are being made for young and old alike.
In the other windows, you can see Santa’s office, and in the east window remains a solemn tribute to the war in Ukraine, updated with snow and candles. In the upper windows are giant LED snowflakes and a towering mirror ball snowman that once graced Rockefeller Center in New York City!

The last piece of this puzzle was to figure out how to get Terry over to the Evening Star building to view his Christmas Present from these elves that worked so hard to bring his collection back to life. And what better way to do that than to book him a ticket on the North Pole Express Tour that ends at this beautiful winter enchantment. That happened on Friday, December 9th. The other folks on that trolley tour were unsuspecting participants in the big surprise, but all were delighted to be part of this extraordinary Christmas miracle on Main Street.

Terry was delighted to see his collection in a new location. “It looks terrific.” When he spied his toy cars he started telling how the older ones were made out of metal until WWII and then they were made out of plastic. His treasure trove of toys rivals his stash of stories!