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Grandma Stuck in Santa Clara Stops Neighbors in Their Tracks with Lawn Displays

Less than half a mile from Santa Clara University, just off Washington Avenue, cars driving along Hilmar Street stop and back up to look. Walkers snap photos and post them on social media. A 101-year-old Emma arrives by wheelchair and never misses a day.

Since April 4, Kiwi Grandma Lesley McGuigan has enchanted the neighbors with her daily lawn displays of dolls and stuffed animals engaged in contemporary activities or past events, from “Lockdown Lunacy” to the Beatles crossing Abbey Road.

McGuigan arrived in Santa Clara from Christchurch, New Zealand, on Nov. 23 to visit to her daughter and son-in-law Casey and Andrew Taylor and their children, Archie (6) and Millie (3). She got grounded in the city by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Inspired by communities doing “bear hunts” for children, McGuigan began designing lawn displays that she — sometimes with the help of her grandkids — sets up around 8:30 a.m. and takes down at dark.

In one April vignette, a stuffed dog is on his knees, proposing to his puppy love during a champagne dinner. A small box with a ring is in his outstretched paws.

“Woofstock,” “Paw de France,” “Pawfect Paintings by Pablo Pawcaso,” and “May the Fourth Be with You” were other displays.

“Once a week, I’ll sit down and brainstorm what I can do,” said McGuigan. “I come up with a list of ideas. Then I look around the house for props. Or sometimes, something in the house will give me the idea.”

Neighbors also contribute props. For “The Great Gatsby,” a neighbor drove his 1929 Model A Ford onto the lawn. A drive-in movie scene with his 1966 Chrysler is coming.

“Lesley’s imagination and creativity are amazing,” said neighbor Kathy Kelsey.

“The entire neighborhood is enchanted and can’t wait to see what she will do next. And it is so nice to take a walk and have your spirits lifted. It’s the highlight of the day.”

“I love setting up the displays and get so much enjoyment from seeing the smiles on people’s faces as they walk or drive by. It helps pass the days,” said McGuigan, whose grandchildren play in the scenes.

“I’m doing it for fun, for the children,” she said, “and it’s grown and grown and gown. Now we have regulars coming.”

McGuigan posts photos daily on a Facebook page titled “Hilmar Hounds,” named after the dogs that play the main characters. She plans to ask followers to vote on their favorite displays.

Then she’ll make a calendar out of the top 12. She may even turn the entire experience into a book for her two grandchildren in Santa Clara and her six in New Zealand.

“The children can look back on this and see this is what they did,” said McGuigan, a chef and then retail worker before retirement.

“I made something positive out of the negative, and it’s wonderful to have the support of the community.”

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Kaiser Permanente

14 Comments
  1. Monty Visuvius 4 months ago
    Reply

    That’s awesome, don’t let her go back to New Zealand.

    • Lesley 4 months ago
      Reply

      I’m sure my grandchildren here would love me to stay.

  2. Louise 4 months ago
    Reply

    I’ve been by here twice, but plan on doing it more often. The first display I saw the bake shop and the second was Friday Fish and Chips. This wonderful. Please if you do a calendar I’d LOVE to buy one. email address weezee43@comcast.net

    • Lesley McGuigan 4 months ago
      Reply

      Louise, I’ll definitely let you know when I have the calendar ready. Thank you for visiting our displays.

  3. Trudy Longson 4 months ago
    Reply

    Wow. Clever clever clever. You should be doing displays in shop windows

    • Lesley 4 months ago
      Reply

      I think I missed my calling. X

  4. John turner 4 months ago
    Reply

    Hi big sis
    Always thought you were a big kid at heart
    Now I know ! Displays look fantastic
    Love John

    • Lesley 4 months ago
      Reply

      Thank you little brother John. I’m very humbled by all the interest in my displays. As you say, I’m a big kid at heart and love setting up all the displays. Love and hugs to you xxxxx

  5. TERESA O'GRADY 4 months ago
    Reply

    You’re world famous Louise, Go You lol

  6. Michael Yao 4 months ago
    Reply

    It was my privilege to stay with Lesley, my Homestay mother, for two years in New Zealand. She has this amazing big heart for everyone and probably the most interesting spirit on this planet! I really miss her~

    • Lesley 4 months ago
      Reply

      Michael, thank you for your incredibly kind words. I loved having you as my Homestay son. You taught me so much about your culture. I miss you too. Xx

    • Lesley 4 months ago
      Reply

      Michael, thank you for your incredibly kind words. I loved having you as my Homestay son. You taught me so much about your culture. I miss you too. Xx

  7. Susan 3 months ago
    Reply

    Dear Leslie, I am in MD and you have given me joy from across the country. My best friend of 30+ years, Anne, lives a few blocks away from your family and told me of your enchanting and delightful displays she passes on her walks. You are making people all over the world smile and experience a happiness they would not have without you! Thank you!

  8. Lesley 3 months ago
    Reply

    Hi Susan, Thank you so very much for your kind words. I’m absolutely thrilled that you are enjoying our daily displays and excited that they are now making people happy from all around the world. How wonderful that your friend, Anne, told you about us. I hope you continue to take pleasure from our future displays. 😊
    Kindest Regards
    Lesley 💕

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