Santa lives at the North Pole, but he might have a secret home base in Bangor.
The wreath and garlands wrapped around the front porch pillars of Ken Liberty’s white house on Ohio Street hint at the festive decor inside, but there is no indication that on the other side of the front door is a Christmas decor extravaganza.
The 90-year-old man has collected nearly 3,500 hand-painted blown glass Christmas ornaments, and they’re displayed on seven trees spread out through his house. Every wall, mantlepiece and side table is decked out in festive baubles.
Liberty moved to Bangor 30 years ago, and every year since then he has adorned trees with his prized glass ornaments collected over 50 years. He has spent more than $50,000 buying ornaments. His collection ranges from antique, glass-blown ornaments worth more than $250 each to $5 glass ornaments from Hobby Lobby. Whenever Liberty traveled, he visited local shops in search of glass ornaments.
“You just kind of keep your eyes open, and if you see something you don’t have, which is getting harder and harder in my case, you might make a purchase,” he said. “I’m still buying ornaments. I bought about a dozen this year.”
Liberty now has more than enough ornaments to create themes for each tree.
The kitchen tree is adorned with vegetable ornaments, the pantry has a small tree decorated with glass fruit and two trees by the fireplace in the sitting room have birds hanging from them.
In the dining area is a tree as tall as the room, covered in red and orange lights and glass Santa ornaments.
“When we first started, we had a little tabletop tree, and we didn’t have enough Santas to go around that even,” Liberty said. “Now there’s so many Santas we can’t put them all on the tree.”
Since he has more ornaments than he can display at one time, the rest are packed away in individual boxes.
“It’s always fun to go through them,” he said. “You think you remember all these things, but it’s like discovering new friends — or old friends, I guess — each year.”
Every year, Liberty and his friend Bruce DeMerchant spend about a month preparing the elaborate Christmas setup, and it is evident from the level of detail of the finished product.
Every light fixture is decorated differently, with snowflakes hanging from one, three different harps hanging from another and a cherub perched atop a third. Every horizontal surface in every room has some festive trinket, from the Charlie Brown music box on the living room table to the tree wrapped in poinsettias by the fireplace.
There are elf hats on a table in the tinsel-adorned hallway, and a revolving LED Christmas tree hidden away in cubby by the staircase.
The house almost looks like it was made for the Christmas decorations. The deep red couch has a gold floral design, and the wallpaper in each room has subtle gold patterns. The old wood paneling in the dining room and library make an ideal backdrop for the Christmas trees.
“The house begs to be decorated,” Liberty said.
Built in 1820, Liberty’s house was owned by Peter Edes, who published Bangor’s first newspaper. It is one of the city’s oldest houses.
Through his years collecting ornaments, Liberty has become a glass ornament historian. Walking around his house pointing out ornaments on the different trees, Liberty recalled his liking for glass baubles since he was a child in Providence, Rhode Island.
Glass-blown ornaments were originally produced in Lauscha, Germany. After Lauscha went behind the Iron Curtain after World War II, these ornaments became hard to find in the United States, Liberty said.
They eventually returned to American markets, and today cheaper versions are also produced in China. Liberty does not have a preference as to the origin of the ornaments he buys.
“I think each one is a work of art,” he said.
Every year he opens his house to friends and family so they can view the Christmas extravaganza. He also hosts holiday parties for groups he belongs to, such as the Peony Society of Maine.
“I get a lot of pleasure out of it, obviously,” he said. “And I enjoy when other people come in and enjoy it as well.”
He plans to open his house on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s Day this year. Those interested in touring the house can call Liberty at 207-945-9726.