“A man curses because he doesn’t have the words to say what’s on his mind.” — Malcolm X
This grew-up-in-The-South-where-we-don’t-wear-watches-or-curse blogger has tacitly agreed with Mr. X, though it was mainly because he finds the habit so ugly…and uncreative…and put on. People who cuss a lot always seem like they’re play-acting clichéd roles they’ve seen in tough-guy movies, or they’re trying to impress or intimidate somebody. That said, it would be hard to suggest that Bill Ansell has any difficulty expressing what’s on his mind, and he uses plenty of four-letter-words to do it.
Regular readers of The Orbit will appreciate that this digital publication generally steers clear of both controversy and vulgarity. Perhaps it is fitting, then, that today’s post breaks with past rules, mores, and highfalutin standards with a story all about salty language, neighbor-against-neighbor suburban strife, Christmas gone bad, and one guy who refuses to play by the rules. Those easily offended should probably stop right here.
In addition to not liking the blue language, we also hate to get scooped. But even though this story has been going around for years, it was new to us. It goes back at least to 2007 when Bill Ansell, a Ross Township electrician, began to have a series of run-ins with his neighbors, the municipality, and the local constabulary as documented in the William Ansell v. Ross Township suit. In a nutshell, the case seems to revolve around Ansell’s over-the-top holiday displays, ensuing complaints from his neighbors, and some amount of legal action. More recently, WPXI ran a report on Ansell re-lighting his uniquely-offensive string of lights. [More on this, below.] Seeing these reports with their blurred images of the offending words and vague reports of detritus in the Ansell yard, we knew we had to see the place for ourselves.
And what a sight it is to see! Tiny Fairley Road is really just a paved circle containing seven otherwise unremarkable residences. Bill Ansell’s is the only house sitting in the island formed by the looped street and as such, it has a large, awkwardly-shaped oval plot. About a third of the yard is covered with blue plastic tarps with an array of broken children’s toys and mangled plastic Christmas displays holding down the fabric. At the property’s edge are a series of plastic (mannequin?) heads on staked crosses featuring Warning: security cameras in use signs and hand-written inscriptions like “God’s country.” Ansell’s white pickup truck is parked on the street and comes loaded with a Santa-sized cargo of discarded toys, holiday lawn ornaments, and one portatoilet. The side yard has a chorus of headless carolers, each with a safety helmet over its empty neck hole, and a home-made light-up arrow sign that reads Neighbor is a thief.
If it ended there, this would just be an oddball story about somebody getting a little nutty with the lawn decoration. But it is the front of the house that really takes this story from News of the Weird to, uh, Village of the Damned. There is more playground equipment, one Santa Claus that lights up to appear as if urinating electrons, and then there are the crazy-man banners. Nine large boards, each hand lettered in precise stencils, act as an open hail of rage against what appears to be everyone who’s ever questioned Ansell’s displays: the commissioners of Ross Township, Ansell’s neighbors (and their children), and the Ross police force.If you’ve followed this story at all, you know that Ansell’s coup de grâce is a string of Christmas lights that spell out FUCK ROSS TOWNSHIP in giant letters that span the full width of the house. We went back at night to get a photo, but alas, they were dark–the township and Ansell seem to have reached some accord on this particular issue. Rest assured, everything else on the property was lit up like some weird prison holiday scene. Huge outward-facing flood lights seemed aimed to catch–or at least intimidate–would-be vandals and assailants. At the same time, bladder-control Santa, the carolers, one headless wise man, etc. had their eyes all aglow in the hopes that Uncle Bill might bring them a new cardboard screed to darken the new year.
The Orbit would love to get Bill Ansell’s side of the story, but frankly, we’re scared of him. The threat “there will be bloodshed” for “enter(ing) or touch(ing) anything on (Ansell’s) property” seems pretty clear. The arrest details from the court case list a number of loaded weapons stored in the house and kept at arm’s reach, including a shotgun and several pistols, so he certainly seems well-equipped for violence. We’ll do our reporting from the public space on the pavement, thank you very much.
It is a strange, sad scene, indeed. Pittsburgh Orbit has made a theme of celebrating the rapidly-disappearing evidence of life actually touched by the human hand as well as endeavors at creativity and individualism in all areas–hell, that’s why we’re reporting this story. Bill Ansell certainly possesses all of these. But the untethered anger, armed threats of violence, and extreme paranoia are a lethal combination we sadly hear about all the time. These usually end with a candlelight vigil and a Republican call for prayer. Hey–maybe it will work this time! To the fine people of Ross Township, and especially those immediate neighbors on Fairley Road, we feel for you.
UPDATE (16 December, 2016): A previous version of this story included the FUCK ROSS TOWNSHIP photo credited to “unknown/The Internet”. The photographer, Brody Barbour has since alerted us to his authorship and we’ve updated the credit.
- Home with profane light display causes stir in Ross Township, WPXI, Feb. 16, 2016
- Ross resident’s glad-turned-mad Christmas tidings targeted by township, Trib Live, Feb. 21, 2015
- William Ansell v. Ross Township, pa.findacase.com, March 28, 2012