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Charleston Place Hotel train display full of tiny surprises

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For 21 years, Lou Nappi and his wife, Dawn Nappi, have traveled to Charleston from Greenville right before Thanksgiving. But it's not just to eat turkey. It's to set up the annual train display in the lobby of the Belmond Charleston Place Hotel.

The set was smaller the first few years, displaying only three trains. It has grown every year, and they always add a new touch.

One year, it was the fire station, with firetruck and antique firefighter figures busting out of the station. Another year, it was an operational subway system that runs underneath the train display. 

This year, several of the buildings have had their shades lifted so that visitors can get a glimpse of the miniatures inside their homes, one of them sipping tea in the living room.

The display is now comprised of four trains — in addition to the subway system — and has running water for a waterfall.

For the Nappis, it's a labor of love. The display, in the off season, has a home in their barn — fully set up. Throughout the year, they work on electrical issues, fixing things that break during transport, creating new features and spending time hunting for new figurines. 

One of the features they're particularly proud of are their antique skiers. They're from the 1920s and made of lead. 

Through the years, the Nappis have involved all seven of their children, who have grown up with the annual experience. 

“I couldn’t do it without them,” said Lou Nappi. 

The display takes the family two and a half days to assemble, which will be on view until Jan. 1.

“Being with my family is very special. This hotel is very special; the people here make this possible,” said Lou Nappi. "To see the people come in and share their stories, hearing other people who came in here 21 years ago and are now bringing their grandchildren to see the train, that's special, very special."

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