ACCORDING TO POPULAR legend, the first Christmas tree in Dallas belonged to Rudolph Eisenlohr, a German immigrant who operated a drugstore at the corner of Field and Main streets. When he placed a tree in front of his second-story window in 1874, the whole town gathered below to gaze at the wonderful sight. A nice story, but Eisenlohr’s was not the first Dallas tree. Pioneer Dallas attorney John M. McCoy, in a letter written on Christmas Eve three years earlier, told of Christmas trees in all the local churches, and a tree in his uncle’s boarding house stocked with presents for every kid in town.
WE HAVE OUR FAIR SHARE OF Christmas tradition in Dallas, but don’t bet on a white Christmas; the odds are about 100-to-1 against it. Since official record keeping began in 1898, our only serious snow on December 25th came in 1926, when 6.3 inches of the white stuff was measured. Other than tantalizing traces, such as flurries that speckled the ground in 1975, that’s about it,
A YEAR AFTER THE GREAT SNOW of ’26, the huge pecan tree on Armstrong Parkway was decorated and lit for the first time by real estate promoters hoping to attract attention to the new Highland Park West development. The tree, which is said to have sprouted in Joe Cole’s cotton field in 1865, has harkened the coming of Christmas with its red, blue, and green beacons every year since the grand opening except during World War II and the energy crisis of 1973.
SINCE THE INITIATION OF THE historic tree, the Dallas area has become famous for Christmas lights, traffic jams, and irate neighbors. In the late 1940s, oilman H.W. Snowden featured a life-si2e nativity scene, a 75-pound star, 8,000 lights, and a chorus of horns honking at his Swiss Avenue home. The City Council was on the verge of passing an ordinance to prohibit the scene when the national press began running stories that Dallas city fathers were about to take a stand against Jesus. In the spirit of Christmas and of compromise, the city assigned six traffic officers to control the vehicular mob scene.
BROTHER BILL HARROD, AN EXgambler, bootlegger, boilermak-er, and preacher at the Eagle Ford Baptist Church in the 1940s and 1950s, generated news of a more positive nature with his annual Christmas shoe party for the children of West Dallas. The event caught the national eye as the years went by, and before Brother Bill departed the scene, as many as 2,000 pairs of shoes were given out annually.
THROUGH THE 1960S, DOWNtown was the place to be at Christmas. Sanger Bros, anchored the west end (before there was a West End) with its laughing Santa and Mrs. Claus in the corner window of what is now part of El Centra College, People would ride the streetcar, and later the bus, downtown to watch Santa lean back in his chair and roar with laughter while the missus rocked and shook her head at Santa’s impish behavior. Titche-Goettinger’s “Santaland” at the other end of town featured a candy-striped Christmas choo-choo, a hurdy-gurdy, hot dogs, and lemonade.
TRADITIONS DON’T HAVE TO BE old to be worthy, of course; one of the best to come along has been the Adolphus Children’s Parade (December 2), born seven years ago to benefit Children’s Medical Center. Inspired by hotel employees who dress up as clowns and pass out balloons, this delightful event has filled the seasonal void left by the extinct Cotton Bowl parade.
Christmas with His and Hers
IN 1960, NELMAN MARCUS STARTED A CHRISTMAS TRADITION TO satisfy the world press’ appetite for newsy tidbits on the excesses of oil-rich Texans. The first. His and Her gifts were matching Beechcraft airplanes. Here are some other favorites:
Most Imaginative: mummy cases, 1971
Quaintest: portrait chairs, painted in the likeness of favorite relatives, 1990
Most Aggressive: the Humvees, patterned after die LYV Hummer all-terrain vehicles used in Operation Desert Storm, 1991
Most Texan: designer Western tux for Bubba and leather ensemble for Bubbette, with paint horses and silver saddles, 1989
Best Moniker: the Cloud-hopper, a hoi air balloon, 1988
Most Artistic: Greek bell-kraters, 1973
Sexiest: a double bathtub, 1966
Most Historic: original letters from George and Martha Washington, 1975
Most Outrageous: hide-away desks disguised as a longhornsteer and a quarter horse, 1984
Timeliest: urban windmills during the energy scare, 1977
Most Memorable: two-person miniature submarine. 1963