‘Peteyville’ creator has been making seasons bright for 35 years

By Carrie Steinweg

HAMMOND, Ind. (December 26, 2022) – In 1987, Pete Basala was newly married and decided to hang a string of lights on his Hessville home when it got close to Christmas. Each year he added a little more — additional lights, inflatables, figurines, homemade animatronic pieces, photo backdrops — covering the home and lawn. Soon it wasn’t just his lawn he was decorating and his display spilled over into neighboring yards.

Now in its 35th season, his display of lights and decorations dubbed “Peteyville” stretches across five homes in Hammond, Indiana and draws thousands throughout the season to experience the magical neighborhood. Basala has a landscaping company and made a deal with his neighbors that he cuts their lawn for free all season in exchange for them letting him use their yard space.

A Peteyville tradition

Three-year-old Ellie Kwiatkowski of St. John takes a picture at Peteyville with another visitor dressed as Santa. It was her first visit to Peteyville. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)

Peteyville at 3033 Crane Place in Hammond has become tradition for many families in the region and beyond. The display is lit up each day on Thanksgiving and typically runs nightly from 5–10 p.m. through New Year’s Eve and Basala said that it has become a tradition for many families to come see Peteyville after Thanksgiving dinner. Basala is also seeing a new generation making their way through. “I have parents who used to bring their kids to see it and now they’re bringing their grandkids,” he said.

“I don’t remember life without Peteyville“ said Megan Munoz of LaPorte, who used to live in Hammond. “I moved away but still come back to see it every year. I’ve been coming since I was a kid and now I bring my kids.” She estimated she’s been coming to Peteyville yearly for about 30 years and it’s now a tradition for her children, ages 4, 12, and 15.

“It’s awesome!” said Tim Miglieri of Merrillville who braved the cold temperatures to visit with his family. “We make a point to come every year.”

Tim Miglieri, his wife, Amanda and kids Jaxon, Jacob and Aaliyh made their annual visit to Peteyville. It’s been a tradition in their family for years. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)

Basala said that three couples have gotten engaged at Peteyville in recent years. “It makes a lot of people happy,” he said.

Three decades of growth

Among the decorations are several inflatables — his collection numbers over 100 — but not all are put out at the same time and several have sustained damage from the weather and are in need of repair. “Right now I have three on the ground with holes in them,” said Basala.

Shivering snowmen, toy soldiers, the Grinch, polar bears, Snoopy, Olaf, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and Mr. Potato Head are among the inflatables gracing the yards this year. Basala tries to add something new each year and rearranges his design so that it is never the same from year to year. Last year, supply chain and delivery issues delayed two new inflatables that he had ordered from overseas.

“My Abominable Snowman and Gingerbread Man were floating around the Pacific and didn’t get here until after Christmas last year, so this is the first year they’ve been put up.”

The new snow monster measures 15 feet and the gingerbread man is 12. Many of the inflatables are in the 12 to 20-foot range with Rudolph towering over most of the pack at 26 feet.

Early on, a centerpiece of the holiday decorations was a leg lamp in the home’s front window. It celebrates the classic movie A Christmas Story, which was based on writer and humorist Jean Shepherd’s childhood. He grew up just a few blocks away from Basala’s Hessville home in Hammond.

There are also a number of moving decorations made by Basala himself, including Santa and Mrs. Claus riding a bicycle made for two, a giant ferris wheel ridden by teddy bears, a train, a merry go around, singing dogs, and more. Right now he has a teddy bear in his garage that he’s been working on that will sit in a chair and recite The Night Before Christmas with its mouth moving. Basala is waiting on a part that is needed for that and hopes to add it in the future.

Creating Peteyville

On November 1, Basala and his wife, Tina, get to work building Peteyville. He has had a neighbor who likes to help with the ferris wheel and lends a hand, but it’s pretty much a two person job that lasts nearly a month. However, Peteyville is never completely packed away physically or in Basala’s mind. Parts of it are ongoing throughout the year — repairing, planning, and designing and purchasing parts — or getting a new Peteyville-themed tattoo.

“November 1st is when I’m done mowing lawns and direct my attention to putting the display up. I start getting things out of storage and setting things up, but it’s really a year-long thing,” said Basala. “There are things to fix. Sometimes we go to a convention in St. Louis where we find things and sometimes I’ll order in the summer. It’s a whole year of thinking and planning.”

Peteyville is best experienced on one’s feet, rather than from a car. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)

Years ago the display got so big that he added a separate NIPSCO power source. It enables him to run all the power for the lights and inflatables from the power supply in his garage rather than having anything connected directly to his house.

Although over-the-top computerized light shows have become more common in recent years, Basala considers his to be more old school. “It’s not something you can drive by and look at from your car,” he said. “You have to get out and walk around to see everything.”

A challenging year

Some years have been better than others with mild temperatures that have allowed Peteyville to be on most nights, but Basala said that hasn’t been the case this year. Between health issues that have slowed him down a little and high winds that have caused damage or prevented the display from operating at 100%, he’s been disappointed.

“In my mind it hasn’t been a good year,” he said. “I haven’t been into it as much this year. It seems like everything I was touching would stop working. A lot was going wrong. And then you put it up and the weather messes with you.”

Basala is, however, planning to keep the display up through the end of the year, after cancelling due to some severe weather over last weekend. Updated information is posted on Peteyville’s Facebook page.

Peteyville smiles

When Basala is asked why he continues to deck out the neighborhood, he doesn’t have one clear answer. “I just do it,” he said. “Some of it is me trying to outdo myself. Maybe I do it because I like the attention. And I do it because people like it. I like to see people out there and see them happy and smiling.”

He’s also producing smiles that he doesn’t get to see. Each year the Basalas have a private invite-only party at his house. The inside is decked out just as intensely as the outside. There are trees and lights in every corner of the home. Basala is dressed as either Santa or wearing the deranged Easter Bunny costume that Ralphie wears at the end of the A Christmas Story movie. There’s lots of Tina’s lethal egg nog and tables and tables of cookies made by Basala, who once owned a bakery in Munster.

The Basalas also turn the party into a collection for a good cause. They ask party guests to bring new unused toys and end up with a huge load that he delivers to the Shriner’s chapter in Michigan City to go to the Shriner’s Hospital for kids undergoing treatment. “We are too late to use them for Christmas so they take them to the hospital and they’re given to a child who might be undergoing cancer treatment or there for a procedure.”

For more info on Peteyville, visit Facebook.com/Peteyville.IN. Those interested in donating toward the display can mail to Pete Basala, 3033 Crane Place, Hammond, IN 46323.


Previous articleTop 10 states that produce the most Christmas trees
Next articleTuesday: Partly sunny
Carrie Steinweg is a freelance writer, photographer, author, and food and travel blogger who has lived in Lansing for 27 years. She most enjoys writing about food, people, history, and baseball. Her favorite Lansing Journal articles that she has written are: "Lan Oak Lanes attracts film crew," "Why Millennials are choosing Lansing," "Curtis Granderson returns home to give back," "The Cubs, the World Series, fandom, and family," and "Lansing's One Trick Pony Brewery: a craft beer oasis."