TAMIS preserves history of Christmas Parade

Mary Pom ClaiborneOur Town Stories

This Friday, the WIVK Christmas Parade steps off for the 48th time. This year’s floats promise to be dazzling affairs with glittery Santas and enthusiastic reindeer eager to deliver toys. Joyous marching bands from high schools near and far will fill the air with familiar carols. There’s nothing like the time-honored tradition of a hometown parade on Gay Street.

If you ever wondered what parades of yore were like, you’re in luck. The Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound, housed in Knox County Public Library’s McClung Historical Collection, has the first known recording of the Christmas parade in 1928. Eric Dawson, manager of TAMIS, has uncovered some footage from the stacks:

This footage includes:

1928: First Knoxville “Santa Claus Parade.” Filmed by Adolph Schmid, real estate agent who lived in Sequoyah Hills. Grandson John donated the films.

1951: Chamber of Commerce paid to have the parade filmed with multiple cameras, likely because they made the move from balloons to community floats and wanted to capture the communities. We suspect Sam Orleans might have filmed it. Sam was a filmmaker who had a studio in the Self building on W. Cumberland in 1945, but it was razed in 1965 to make room for the News-Sentinel’s expansion and printing press.

1952: Filmed by Walter Morris who owned the Lee, Pike, Capri and Tower movie theatres, and would then show the film of the parade in these theatres before features. Much of this parade was filmed along the 500 block of N Gay, where the motor mile was, possibly from the roofs of some of the buildings there. Other crowd shots were made further up N Gay, you can see the Sterchi building, and on S Gay you can see Haun and Company.

1969: WBIR news film b-roll footage

Here’s a parade from 1950, captured by city fireman Paul Hicks:

Eric Dawson appeared on WBIR last year to talk about Knoxville Christmas parades:

The 2021 edition steps of downtown Friday at 6:45 p.m.

Mary Pom Claiborne is assistant director for marketing, communications and development for Knox County Public Library. She writes a Wednesday feature for KnoxTNToday.com.

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