Marquette’s first municipal Christmas tree recalled

The 1914 Municipal Christmas Tree on Washington Street is pictured. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — In 1914, the community of Marquette came together to celebrate Christmas. The festivities included an elaborate pageant, entertainment in the opera house for needy children, a Salvation Army party and the city’s first municipal Christmas tree.

The tree stood in the middle of Washington Street where it was erected just outside city hall (then at 204 W. Washington St.) in a hole dug specifically for the purpose. The city raised $150 for the tree. Over a foot thick at the base, it stood 50 feet tall and was decorated with hundreds of incandescent light bulbs, tinsel, and other decorations.

The Mystery Play pageant at city hall was put on by the newly formed Marquette Women’s Welfare Club, along with the mayor and city commissioners. Its success was due in part to the advertising and celebration of the Christmas tree.

The initial run of 9 shows, with a total of 5,000 tickets, sold out quickly and an additional two shows were added, bringing the total attendees to over 6,000. The play had a cast of over 50 children and adults, including choruses. The costumes and lighting were said to be beautiful and colorful.

Abby Longyear Roberts, general chairman of the Mystery Play’s board, recalled a funny incident that occurred as a result of the theater production. A teacher, when telling the story of Christmas, asked her pupils where Jesus was born and one piped up and said, “In the city hall.”

Despite standing in the middle of Washington Street, the tree was reportedly not an issue for traffic. Most Marquette residents did not own cars in 1914, and those who did often put away their cars for the winter, as few roads were properly plowed for auto traffic.

The tree lights were turned on for the first time on Christmas Eve, following the final performance of the pageant. Hundreds of people lined both sides of Washington Street to witness the tree lighting.

At 5 p.m., a hundred children from the Baraga School marched up Front Street singing carols. When the procession reached the corner of Washington Street, the street lights were turned off and at the same instant, the tree was lit up. In front of the tree, a large bonfire was lit where the children assembled.

At 7:30 p.m., the 40 members of the Young People’s Choir from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, directed by Rev. Bates G. Burt, led the crowd in singing carols and concluding the night’s holiday festivities.

This year, the community will again come together to celebrate the holidays. The tradition continues with a tree lighting at the Marquette Commons on Friday. Starting at 6 p.m., the Downtown Marquette Winter Snow Fun Parade will travel south down Third Street to the commons building.

During the parade, the Marquette Post Office will be accepting letters to Santa. Once at the commons, the tree will be lit at 7 p.m. Santa will be present and hot cocoa will be available.

Other community events include the Marquette Ore Dock Laser Light Show, every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday until Dec. 30, plus New Year’s Eve, from 6-8 p.m. Each week features different fun and festive displays from holiday, winter, and Marquette themes to crazy, colorful and abstract. Check out their Spotify playlist while watching the light display!

The annual Holiday Brass Choir Concert features familiar Holiday carols and songs on Sunday, Dec. 10 at 4 p.m. at the Marquette Regional History Center. This event is free and open to the public; doors open at 3:30 p.m. The holiday season wraps up with the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop on Dec. 31 from 11:45-midnight on the 100 Block of West Washington Street.


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