When I hear someone talking about the “magic” of the Christmas season, these days, I think about the miracle of the conception, birth, life, death and resurrection of one Jesus of Nazareth. But when I was a much younger individual living a mere stone’s throw from the center of Kansas City, Missouri, the magic was all about the amazing Christmas decorations downtown.
The window displays in all of the major retail stores, cafeterias, and office buildings were incredible. Places like The Jones Store Company, Macy’s, Alaskan Fur, Helzberg’s Diamonds, and — of course — the Jenkins Music Company, were all decked out in their finest of all holiday finery. There were lights everywhere, and Christmas music could be heard from all corners of the area, as if it came from the heavens. It was, it seemed to me, magical indeed. But as I think back on it all, one element stands out as a most wonderful memory.
They stood 13-feet high, were 17-feet in diameter, and each required its own electrical transformer to power its over 100 60-watt light bulbs. Each weighed approximately 2,000 pounds, and was held in place by specially designed brackets attached to the third-floor of buildings at key intersections throughout the downtown shopping district. Aircraft grade cable was attached to each one, and they were lifted into place from flatbed trucks.
Of course, I am talking about the Christmas Crowns. And — to my notion — they were the most magical sight of all.
A brief history online reports the crowns were manufactured by The Mannequin Company of Independence, Missouri (later Manneco Inc.), And that they first appeared around 1962 and the original crowns were displayed through 1966. A new set of lighter crowns was apparently ordered for Christmas 1967. That order reportedly included smaller crowns that could be mounted on streetlights, but I mostly remember those behemoths hanging overhead at each major intersection.
Sadly, with downtown retail business continuing to decline through the 1970s, the crowns made their final appearance for Christmas in 1976.
Like many of my contemporaries who lived in the old North End and Northeast areas of Kansas City back then, the downtown area was, indeed, a magical place to visit during the holiday season. From November through the new year there was always something happening. The American Royal Livestock Show, complete with its parade through downtown K.C. (that in my humble opinion would rival any in the nation) started things off. From then on it was one big holiday celebration.
The Country Club Plaza, which now seems to be the focus of Christmas lighting ceremonies and much fanfare, was a great place to visit during the holidays as well. Village scenes with snow and trains and all things Currier & Ives and Norman Rockwell were on display in the windows of the upscale shops there. Walking those streets as the snow was beginning to fall was — again — quite magical.
But for me there was nothing so magical; nothing that inspired a young boy from old Northeast; nothing that said “Christmas” as those giant, sparkling downtown Christmas Crowns.
May your days “be merry and bright.” And may your holiday memories bring you joy.
Merry Christmas, everybody.