November 1948: Jasper prepares for first Christmas festival

Posted 11/30/18

Walker County residents were busy getting ready for Jasper's first Christmas festival in November 1948."Never before since the Musgrove family settled in this little valley of Jasper in 1815 has this …

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November 1948: Jasper prepares for first Christmas festival

Posted

Walker County residents were busy getting ready for Jasper's first Christmas festival in November 1948.

"Never before since the Musgrove family settled in this little valley of Jasper in 1815 has this place witnessed such a magnificent spectacle," The Mountain Eagle reported on Dec. 2, 1948. 

Preparations for the festival, which was held on Nov. 29, began as early as Nov. 7, when the Eagle reported that 25 communities in Walker and surrounding counties had started selecting princesses to represent them in the parade. The nominees, most of whom were in their late teens, would make up the official court of Festival Queen Bonnie Hollis, a student at Judson College.

On Nov. 11, 1948, festival chairman James Reese announced that Hollis, who had been dubbed 

Queen Gay I, would be accompanied by a King Jolly selected by the people of Walker County.

Eagle readers could nominate any male in Walker County who was at least 21 years old. 

Three bachelors — Roy Payne, Horace Booker and Frank Ellis — took an early lead. Unofficial campaign headquarters were established. The Jasper Kiwanis Club took out a paid political advertisement for club member Robert H. Carr Sr.

When the votes were tallied on Thanksgiving Day, 31-year-old Booker was awarded the crown. 

The Selma native was a Navy veteran who had been wounded in action during the invasion of North Africa in 1942. He had been in Jasper for approximately three years and was the head of the Veterans Administration office in Jasper as well as vice president of the Jasper Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Booker won by a wide margin — 5,922 votes to 4,529 received by Carr, his closest rival. Local residents cast a total of 14,867 votes, which was a higher turnout than for the Nov. 2 general election in Walker County.

Reese had a second big announcement on Nov. 21 — Santa might arrive at the festival in an Army helicopter.

Though various inventors had been tinkering with the technology for a while, the U.S. had only been producing them since 1942. Helicopters were still such a novelty that the Eagle felt the need to explain how they worked. 

"The army machine, which resembles an airplane but which has huge propellers on top rather than in front, will descend straight down to the square and Santa will step from the plane onto the street much as he would an automobile," the Eagle reported.  

The Army Air Forces had tentatively agreed to have the bird flown from Fort Bragg to Jasper. 

Alas, the military men ultimately decided that they did not have a helicopter to spare, and Santa was moved to the Jasper Junior Chamber of Commerce float.  

In preparation for the parade, seven miles of Christmas lights were strung throughout downtown Jasper. One section was named the Memorial Whiteway, and one of the posts was dedicated in memory of servicemen who had been killed in action. 

Breck Kilgore, who had suggested memorial lights instead of civic ones and helped secure the necessary contributions from donors, was given the honor of flipping the switch. 

Downtown merchants adorned their windows with decorations brought in from New York, Chicago and other cities "to assure them of the very best."

An estimated 30,000 people attended the festival, according to an estimate that the Eagle received from Birmingham City Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Conner, one of several dignitaries who participated in the program.

The parade was delayed by an hour and a half after high winds blew the decorations off of the floats, which had been made in Birmingham.

The parade was followed by a formal ball at the city auditorium. Dan Berry and his orchestra performed at the ball while the dance orchestra from Maxwell Field in Montgomery performed in front of the Walker County Courthouse. 

"I have experienced many promotions requiring cooperation but never before have I seen so many fine people rally to the effort as in the Jasper Christmas Festival," Reese told the Eagle on Dec. 2.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.