The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A passerby called 911 about a man dangling from a roof. It was a Clark Griswold dummy.

Chris Heerlein re-created a "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" scene at his home in Austin. Unfortunately for Alfred Norwood Jr., it was a bit too spot-on. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

It was minutes before sunrise when Alfred Norwood Jr. slammed on his brakes, stopping his truck in the middle of the road, and turned on his hazard lights.

The 65-year-old veteran from Austin said he was heading home after taking his wife to work one hazy morning early last week when he saw what appeared to be a man in a blue plaid shirt, jeans and Velcro sneakers, hanging from the roof by his fingertips. The figure was tangled up in a string of holiday lights, and a ladder was just out of his reach.

Surveillance video from a Nest Cam showed Norwood run up to the home, screaming, “Oh mister, please hold on!” He grabbed the ladder, ripping it from the display, and repositioned it for him.

“All right, can you reach it? Can you reach it?!" he called.

When there was no response, Norwood shouted, “Help!”

“It looked like a guy in distress needing help, so I took a chance to try to help him,” Norwood said Monday in a phone interview with The Washington Post. But, he added, “it turned out to be a dummy.”

A dummy fashioned after a Christmas icon: Clark Griswold.

“All I was trying to do is help the guy,” Norwood explained.

What happens when you leave an extremely realistic dummy face down in your yard

The spectacle was paying homage to a scene from the 1989 cult classic, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” in which Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, lost his balance stapling lights to the roof, slid down and grabbed onto the rain gutters — before ultimately crashing to the ground. Homeowner Chris Heerlein said he and his wife hoped to win a decorating contest for their creativity, not startle a Good Samaritan.

“I was in a panic. My heart was beating so fast,” Norwood said. “I had to struggle to try to get the ladder loose and by the time I got it untangled, I was thinking to myself that he hadn’t said anything. I was thinking he’d been electrocuted.”

Norwood said he tried to wave down some passersby. But no one stopped to help, so he dialed 911.

“I thought I was going to save somebody that day,” he said, “and that was the only thing on my mind.”

He said as the sun came up, he started to realize his mistake — one he may never live down. “My wife said it was a dummy saving a dummy,” he said.

Heerlein, 35, said that when the mishap occurred, he was out of town and his wife was busy getting their three young children ready for the day, so neither of them were aware of what was going on. But later, they watched the video recording.

At first, Heerlein said, he felt “terrible” about the incident, but then, “I started laughing out loud.”

They have since put up a sign reading: “Clark G. is part of our Christmas display. Please don’t call 911.”

All joking aside, Heerlein said, “It’s nice to see there’s good-quality people out there.” He said that he and his wife felt so sorry that they invited Norwood into their home and gave him a gift card to show their appreciation for his actions.

Heerlein admitted the gift card was his wife’s idea.

Personally, Heerlein said, he wanted to give Norwood something a little more relevant to their situation: a subscription to a jelly of the month club.

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