WILTON, Conn. — Drivers who make their way up Drum Hill Road in Wilton any December evening after dark can't miss a wonderland of lights.
It's "Wally’s Wonderland" — to be exact — an extensive collection of Christmas lights and decorations set up on the hilltop property of 83-year-old Walter Schalk at 67 Drum Hill Road.
The collection, which is named after Wally, Schalk's 14-year-old Jack Russell terrier, consists of thousands of lights as well as an assortment of Christmas trees, candy canes, reindeer, Santa Claus and snowmen.
In addition, lit up on a large square display on the side of the house is a color banner of Wally himself.
“Wally has been fighting Cushing disease all his life,” said Schalk. “He’s doing well now, under medication. He is a very special, very kind dog.”
Schalk said he began decorating for Christmas when he lived at an earlier home, which was also in Wilton.
But after he built and moved into his current 6,000-square-foot house on 4 acres in 1989, his collection grew — and grew.
“Each year we add something new,” said Schalk, who lives with his cousin, Charlie Micha, who has a permanent residence in Florida.
Schalk buys items for his collection at local stores such as Walmart and Home Depot as well as and from ads he sees on television.
A steady stream of traffic slows to look at his house every evening, he said. Some people even park on the side of the road to take pictures.
Schalk, who never had children of his own, said he created Wally’s Wonderland for kids. He said he just loves seeing their expressions when they visit his display.
He gets to see kids — many of them — at the Walter Schalk School of Dance, a studio he founded that is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2017. The business has locations in Wilton, New Canaan, Darien and Greenwich.
“When I'm in class, I ask, 'How many are coming to see Wally's Wonderworld?' All their hands come up. Then, the next time I see them, they tell me what they saw," he said of his dancers.
Schalk began decorating his home for Christmas even before it was completely built.
"When the house was under construction, we built a 12-foot-long ramp coming out of the construction area and decorated it with lights," he said. "That’s how it started."
He credits the display for helping to boost his cousin's morale when he was undergoing treatment for cancer.
“Charlie finished 18 treatments for bladder and lung cancer. He’s now going into remission. He had lost 35 pounds and gained it all back," Schalk said.
"Charlie helps to put the lights up every year. When he was sick, he said to me, ‘I’m going to get better and do those lights.’ He loves to do it for the kids."
It’s not just the kids that enjoy the display, Schalk said.
“Adults tell me all the time that how much they like it,” he said, bringing up an incident from many years ago when a well-dressed business woman knocked on his door.
“She told me she’s a corporate executive and has a lot of pressure and responsibilities at her job. She said she greatly enjoys coming home from work every night and seeing all my lights. She said it really makes her day.”
Wally's Wonderland can be seen from 4 p.m. to midnight through mid-January.
Click here to lean more about the Walter Schalk School of Dance.