The World’s Largest Living Christmas Tree (Wilmington, NC)
“The World’s Largest Living Christmas Tree,” shown here on a rare snowy day, was a project of James E. L. Wade, Commissioner of Public Works. He thought the enormous oak on Wilmington’s north side, was appropriate particularly because Hilton Park, where it is rooted, was Wilmington’s first playground for children. “Hugh MacRae’s Tide Water Power Company furnished all labor, most of the wiring and 750 light globes for the tree,” reported the Morning Star, Christmas Eve, 1929. “The moss in the tree, if it were carried away, would take three 2-ton trucks to do the work.”
(Image Credit: Louis T. Moore)
Prizes were awarded under the tree for outdoor decorations across town, a contest also instituted by James E. L. Wade. In 1929, judges included Mrs. Walter Sprunt, Mrs. J. B. Cranmer, Mrs. Henry Peschau and Mrs. R. C. Cantwell. In 1930, the giant Hilton Christmas tree was declared “the most beautiful of its kind in the state and nation” by the National Federation of Women’s Clubs.
On January 1, 1933, 5000 people gathered at the tree to hear “a program presented by negro residents of the city.” Participants from Williston High School Glee Club and St. Stephen’s, St. Luke’s and Central Baptist churches mesmerized the crowd; city fathers requested an encore performance the following evening.
In 1935, the city added fireworks shows near the tree and strung 2800 25-watt bulbs across town.
Motorists cruised the city, from Dry Pond to Hilton, during New Year’s celebrations in the early 1930s. Celebrants dragged cowbells and tin cans tied to their rear axles and “let them bump deliciously along the streets,” according to newspaper reports. “At midnight, there was the usual wild outburst. Bells clanged, horns tooted, sirens shrieked, firecrackers roared, pistols barked – so did the dogs.”
After eighty years of Yuletide glowing, the World’s Largest Living Christmas Tree was lit for the last time in 2009. Natural elements and concrete encroachments took their toll.
I had the sincere pleasure of visiting this magnificent oak tree several times together with my beloved CBW and, once on New Years Eve, with CBW and our children (her son and my kiddie-winkers). Rest assured, the countdown to midnight was followed shortly thereafter by a hearty stew of kosher hot dogs and black eyed peas. After all, The South IS The South!
The above text (aside from my personal not at the end) is from the ‘Wilmington Outskirts’ section of Wilmington Through the Lens of Louis T. Moore by Susan Taylor Block. Published by the Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear and New Hanover County Public Library. Mr. Moore’s panoramic photographs of Wilmington, North Carolina and surrounding areas document history; preserve what is lost in terms of people, architecture, and landscapes; and create a mood. Just as his camera was considered hi-tech during the 1920s in Wilmington, we think Louis T. Moore would smile if he knew his photographs were appearing in cyberspace.