PHOTO CREDITS CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: “WORLD’S L ARGEST LIVING CHRISTMAS TREE” ©LATE 1940s-1951, “ARTHUR SANDLIN, CHRISTMAS TREE” ©DECEMBER 1958, “WORLD’S L ARGEST
LIVING CHRISTMAS TREE” ©LATE 1940s-1951, “GROUP OF MEN DRESSED AS SANTA CLAUS” ©1940s-EARLY 1950s. ALL PHOTOS FROM HUGH MORTON PHOTOGRAPHS AND FILMS, NORTH CAROLINA
COLLECTION, UNC-CHAPEL HILL LIBRARY.
Well-known photographer Hugh Morton documented “The World’s Largest Living Community Christmas Tree” throughout the
1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Arthur Sandlin holds an armful of Christmas lights, most likely hung on the huge oak. Santa’s helpers were
trained and given a diploma before being allowed to work around the tree. Various choirs took part in the Christmas Eve festivities.
ANY local sources describe the excitement
of those early decades of the tree lighting. A
University of North Carolina blog by Jack
Hilliard on the photos of Hugh Morton
paints a very reverential scene. Author
Susan Taylor Block stated in that blog that she went to the tree
many times in the ’50s and ’60s during the Christmas season.
“People spoke softly or not at all. I think there was zero
yelling or clapping. There was a reverence under the tree and
around it. … There was something happy and exhilarating
about being there — but there also was a touch of something
that made my hair stand on end, too,” Block wrote.
Reports state that at the tree’s height of popularity, around
1959, as many as 150,000 people came to the lighting cere-mony.
Visitors came from 42 states and 11 countries.
A 2007 WHQR news report stated that the oak was deco-rated
with two miles of wire and 4,000 colorful lights.
After living a good, noble life of approximately 400 years, the
tree succumbed to weather damage and age and was taken down
by the city in November 2015. Its last lighting was 2009.
32 december 2021