Dakota Datebook

Capitol Christmas Lights


During the decade of the 1920s, the people of North Dakota watched as farm prices declined and the hot, dry winds of summer began to devastate the landscape. 1930 rolled around, and shortly after Christmas that year, more bad news, as the symbol of power in North Dakota, the State Capitol Building, lay in ashes. In the fashion of the pioneer spirit that created the state, the people of North Dakota were determined to build a new Capitol. Despite the harsh economic conditions, plans were made and over the next four years, beam by beam and brick by brick, a new, modern state Capitol crept its way skyward.


By 1934, the finishing touches were being completed on the building which, with its stark architectural style, loomed high above the surrounding countryside. On that Christmas season, the City of Bismarck, and symbolically, the State of North Dakota, would sleep under a Star of Bethlehem perched over a huge cross, shining brightly on the hill north of the city.


E. M. Nelson, superintendent of the Capitol Building created the cross by permitting light to shine only through certain windows of the building. The cross was approximately twelve stories high and was visible from a long distance away. Perched above the cross was a star, sixteen feet in diameter, composed of one hundred and twenty electric lights. The star was built by construction workers and placed on the top of the building. Mr. Nelson stated that some of the lights and wiring had been loaned by a local electric company as there was no appropriation with which to buy them.


Over the years, the cross was replaced with a Christmas tree and colored shades have been placed to add to the festivity. But in the middle of the Great Depression, during that Christmas season of 1934, the huge white cross and brilliant star brought a feeling of peace and a glimmer of hope for a better tomorrow to many impoverished families across North Dakota.


Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis




The Bismarck Tribune December 20, 1934


» View the post.