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Looking back at Christmas 1948 & wonderland in Washington Park

Washington Park is lit up for Christmas 1966 in this Herald-Whig file photo. The Christmas wonderland displays ended in the 1960s, after the costs became prohibitive and damage by vandals. | H-W File Photo
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 25, 2017 12:01 am

Each week we pride ourselves in finding the answers for our readers' questions, but this week we would like to explore a couple Christmas-themed topics. First, we will look at the Christmas of 1948.

The Retails Merchants Association announced that it would sponsor a "gigantic Christmas party" for the whole city on Dec. 6, 1948.

Quincy historian Carl Landrum said in a Dec. 24, 1989, column that J.M. Riffe, executive secretary of the chamber of commerce, announced the parade would feature rubber, inflated figures, similar to those seen in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. It took seven hours to fill the figures on the Irving School grounds. The inflatables included balloon horses pulling a wagon.

The parade -- led by a motorcycle escort and the color guard of the American Legion -- traversed downtown Quincy, with an estimated 50,000 people lining the parade route. Eleven bands marched in the parade.

Most surprising that Christmas season was the arrival of Santa Claus in Washington Park.

Landrum wrote that the Quincy Exchange Club sponsored a party in Washington Park where Santa handed out more than 10,000 gifts.

With the permission of the Quincy City Council, Santa would arrive by helicopter at the intersection of Fifth and Maine on Dec. 18, 1948.

Bitter winds and clouds didn't keep crowds away that day, and around 9:30 a.m., the helicopter arrived, circling the park before landing at the intersection.

"The children shouted and cheered as a little fat man, all dressed in red, with white chin whiskers, was seen sitting alongside the pilot, waving to them," Landrum wrote. Santa told The Herald-Whig that flying in the helicopter was new for him, "as he was used to traveling by reindeer and sleigh, but business was rushing, and Donner and Blitzen weren't as young as they used to be."

 

Washington Park is well lit this holiday season. Many of the lights are recent additions, as the District has made an effort to make the park more festive. However, the park was regularly covered in lights 50 years ago.

In 1966, more than 2,000 people attended the lighting of the Christmas wonderland in Washington Park. More than 80,000 lights decorated the trees and displays in Washington Park, according to the Nov. 26, 1966, article in The Herald-Whig.

Plans for the decorations started in May, as the Greater Downtown Quincy committee researched and "conferred with commercial decorating firms, city and park officials, civic organizations and business and labor councils."

Volunteers provided the manpower to install the decorations.

Later articles on tree-lighting ceremonies noted that lights twinkling in Washington Park ended in the 1960s, as costs were prohibitive, and vandals damaged some of the displays.

In 1984, Uptown Quincy estimated it would cost between $25,000 and $30,000 to illuminate the 114 trees in Washington Park if it were done without volunteers.

How can my question be answered? Just ask. We'll quiz community leaders, business officials, historians, educators -- whoever can tell us what you want to know. Submit questions to answers@whig.com or mail them to Answers, The Herald-Whig, P.O. Box 909, Quincy, IL 62306. Provide a name and phone number so we can respond or clarify information. Questions dealing with personal or legal disputes will not be accepted.

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