travel_Let there be lights_dec11


The line of SUVs, minivans and station wagons starts at Point Lookout Road in Great Mills and coils a distance of nearly two miles to Flat Iron Farm. Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s thumping swirl of “Wizards in Winter,” broadcast on 88.7 FM from the farm, lures the parade of cars along the winding road like a holiday Pied Piper.

Astonished children press noses against car windows, taking in the twinkling lights stretched along the property’s white wooden fences. An illuminated 6-foot-tall wire sea horse seems to float above a manicured pond; behind it, two angels grasp a banner reading “Peace on Earth.” Appropriately, the farm sits at the end of Highway to Heaven Lane.

Now, I’ve seen many a light display, but I’ve never seen anything like the blazing spectacle that is Flat Iron Farm— one of the largest holiday light shows in the state. In fact, from high above, the jolly ol’ elf himself might mistake the 200-acre complex for a small city. 

Twenty-two years ago, Bubby Knott first opened his home and farm— free of charge— to the community, fostering the spirit of the season. Since then, Flat Iron Farm has evolved into a sort of Christmas county fair enjoyed by thousands throughout the area.

Flat Iron FarmAs I park my car and pull my scarf tight in the chilly air, there’s already a long line forming for pony rides and pictures with Santa outside the farm’s horse stable and indoor riding center. Other families make their way to the petting zoo, where Knott’s menagerie of livestock— cattle, sheep, geese, even two ring-tailed lemurs named Bosko and Lemo— reside.

Getting a whiff of burning wood, I follow my nose to discover a group of youngsters huddled around an outdoor fire pit, roasting marshmallows as Alvin and the Chipmunks sing out their high-pitched pleads for “Christmas Not to Come Late.” Nearby, a 10-foot-tall steel grizzly bear towers in front of a rustic log cabin called the Trading Post, the farm’s candy shop. Inside, glass jars stuffed with candy canes, licorice and Swirly-Whirly Pops sit stacked on old oak cabinets.

“Are you smiling yet?” Knott greets me with a wry, rural drawl.

Like St. Nick himself, Knott is elusive, slippery with regard to his actual age, and usually answers questions with a simple “yep” or “nope”— often flashing an impish grin and a twinkle in his eye. He lets the spectacle of his farm speak for itself.

“The county’s been good to me so I’m giving it back,” he says. “I just did it so all the kids would have some place to go. Christmas is about kids, that’s what I think, so this is all for the kids.” 

Flat Iron FarmIn the two decades since Knott began hosting his festival, the size and scope, not to mention the electric bills, have grown considerably and continue to evolve. “Every year is different and every year has to be an adventure when they get here,” he says. On a weekend night, Knott estimates up to 1,500 vehicles visit the farm. He puts the number of lights employed at about a million.

Knott displays his eclectic collectibles as well— everything from vintage 1950s Coca-Cola machines to a sleek, white 1975 Thunderbird with red pinstripes down the side.

Several years ago, Knott acquired an FCC-licensed satellite radio frequency, with a signal radius of 2 miles, to broadcast his holiday music, which is synchronized with the myriad flashing lights splashed across his property.

“It’s just the most elaborate place,” says Suzette Shaw, who is watching her granddaughter as she circles the ring atop a small pony. She and her husband, Gary, have been bringing their two grandchildren, Lexi, 11, and Devin, 12, for the last five years. “It’s just beautiful. It’s become a family tradition. They’ve been counting down the days to come here.”

Flat Iron FarmWhen the lights go dark on Jan. 2, Knott and his staff, a group of 25 volunteers and employees, are already scheming for next Christmas. “We never stop planning,” he says. By August, the displays come out of storage and by October, he and his crew begin setting things up again, making sure there’s some sort of new wrinkle to keep things different.

While checking out the over-the-top train garden, I meet Cathy Weiss and her husband, David, who have brought their four children to Flat Iron Farm for the first time. “You know, it’s a hassle just to put your own Christmas tree up,” she says shaking her head. “This is the spirit of Christmas. It’s funny because my kids ask me all the time if I believe in Santa Claus, and I always tell them I believe in the magic that is Santa Claus. That’s the real spirit of Christmas that we’d want ourselves to have and we’d want more people to have.”

When I catch up with Knott later, I tell him there’s a rumor going around that he’s actually the real Santa Claus. Asked for comment, he simply replies: “None,” his grin wide, a twinkle in his eye. 9

Flat Iron Farm is open to the public nightly through Jan. 1. 45840 Highway to Heaven Lane, Great Mills, Md. (about 2 hours from Baltimore), 240-925-7430,

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