Sam Johnson, 24, was a teenager when he came up with an idea to entertain and give back. The largely self-taught techie puts on theme parkworthy light shows on his family’s South Tampa lawn during Halloween and Christmas and has raised nearly $40,000 for charity over the last seven years.
But the light show is a victim of its own success, and this will be its last year.
The Johnson family actually took last year off from the spectacle to try to work things out with neighbors irritated by the mobs of crowds who show up to watch the free light show on Sylvan Ramble Street in South Tampa.
This year, they cut down the number of shows to just Fridays and Saturdays in October. The shows will only be on Fridays in December. But there are still grumbles and the Johnsons said they don’t want to cause friction in the neighborhood.
“We hope to find a commercial location to put this in or to give this to so that it can keep going,” Johnson said. “But we are proud of what we’ve done.”
Johnson was just 13 when he first started tinkering with tech and created an elaborate haunted house in his front lawn. As he got better and better at the art and science of creating dancing lights and music and special effects, he created a choreographed show that drew a following.
His real accomplishment has been the charities he helped. This year it’s Clothes to Kids, which gives away school clothes and prom gowns to students who can’t afford them.
There’s a donation link on the website at sylvanramblelights.com and a donation box on their front lawn. Since 2017, Johnson has raised $39,641 for local charities, he said.
Out of respect for the neighbors, they ask visitors to click on the registration box on the website to pick a time you plan to visit to try to control the crowds.
His parents, Bruce and Lisa Johnson, are retired IBM executives. Bruce was in sales and marketing and Lisa was a project manager, so they have transferred those skills to support their son’s project. “But he’s the guy who does the programming,” his father told the Tampa Bay Times in 2021. “He is the guru behind it.”
If you go
Sylvan Ramble Halloween Light Show: This Friday and Saturday, (Oct. 27-28) there will be shows at 8, 8:45 and 9:30 p.m. It runs continuously on Halloween night (Oct. 31) starting at 7:30 p.m. In December, the Holiday Light Show will be on Fridays only. See sylvanramblelights.com for show times and a donation link.
Location: 4412 W. Sylvan Ramble St., Tampa. Free. Donations appreciated for Clothes to Kids.