Photo of The Month – Dec 2008
The Flagpole Tree
Picture contributor: Phillip White
There were community Christmas trees and decorations of various sizes and styles in Cliffside. This one was situated in front of the school. Phillip White, former principal of Cliffside School, describes it:
The ‘Christmas Tree’ made of strings of lights strung on the flagpole on the front lawn was my idea. It was put up every year after Thanksgiving and stayed up until January. The picture was taken in the early 1990s, I believe, by Mike Caldwell, our school picture photographer. The window lights are battery powered candles.
“The tree was something that just evolved over time. We had outdoor Christmas programs for PTO beginning in the 1970’s. Our chorus would make a singing Christmas tree formation up the front steps with the top being formed on the old set of wooden steps that had previously been used in the auditorium to come from the floor to the stage. Chorus members would hold real lighted candles. All the school lights would be turned off creating a beautiful scene. Mrs. Mashburn would be at the piano located on the top porch at the entrance doors.The nativity account would be narrated by a local minister. He would pause after a couple of verses and the chorus would sing a verse of an appropriate Christmas carol. Our Kindergarten and first graders would be down on the ground to the right of the steps under the Principal’s office in costumes of characters, animals and angels performing a ‘live’ nativity play to the narration and carols.The entire program would be approximately 25 minutes long. Afterwards everyone was invited to come inside for hot chocolate. About 1990 the flagpole tree was used as a great backdrop to the live singing Christmas tree on the steps.
June Davis, wife of Brown Lee Davis, was very interested in the town of Cliffside and wanted to do something to get people to come to town. She wanted to do an old fashion community Christmas. Lumanaries would be placed around the front drive of the school, down the right hand sidewalk to the (now old) Baptist church building. The program would begin with the singing tree at the school. There would be ‘stages’ at locations along the route and someone or a group would perform.There were several thousand lumanaries and again it was beautiful. Some who helped included Horton Landreth, Bob Hawkins, Eddie McGinnis, Joel Moore and many others.
The lights on the flagpole tree were incorporated into this old fashioned scene. Earlier, I had approached Terry Hines one day and told him of my idea for the lights. He agreed [for Cone Mills] to buy the strings of lights, have the shop guys make it up, put the tree up on the flagpole, make up a long electrical cord to reach from the school to the pole and take all of the strings down after use each year. The mill carpenters made a big wooden hinged box to keep all the assembly in and stored the box each year down at the mill. Before the mill closed, the box was brought to the school. It is still in storage there.
At first I would plug in the tree and go back later that night and unplug it. Finally I talked our school electricians into installing a timer clock in the basement. It was set to come on at 5:00 p.m. and go off at 12:30 a.m. (The mill was running then and the second and third shifts could drive by and see it.)”
Some years large cedars were installed downtown on the ground, or atop the Memorial Building; in other seasons, lights and garlands were rigged above the fountain/fish pond on the square, as shown in this photo from the 1970s made by Roy Lee Harris.