Creating Tiny Wonderlands
In some ways, Thomas Haskell seemed like everyone's idea of a firefighter. The battalion chief for Ladder Company 132 in Brooklyn, he loved football — "God help you if you got in the way of the TV" on Sundays, said Dawn Haskell-Carbone, his sister — and he played on the Fire Department team, like his brothers, Kenneth and Timothy. Timothy Haskell also died in the World Trade Center attack.
But he had another side. Every year just before Thanksgiving, Mr. Haskell, 37, would start disappearing into the basement of his home in Massapequa, N.Y., for hours, forbidding anyone else to come down. "He'd stay up till 3 a.m.," said his wife, Barbara Haskell. Then, about two weeks before Christmas, his wife, daughters, friends and other relatives would be invited downstairs to see an elaborate winter landscape with hundreds of tiny ceramic figures, surrounded by ski chalets, with three separate train sets running through it all.
Last year he built three miniature towns — Meaghanville, Erinburg and Taratown, named for his daughters — along with Barbara's Garden, for his wife. Behind them all was a dark blue night sky, lit up with electric stars.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 28, 2001.