Remember When, Chattanooga? 50,000 people attended the downtown Christmas parade

News-Free Press file photo via ChattanoogaHistory.com / The 1950 downtown Chattanooga Christmas parade is said to have attracted 50,000 people. The inflatable train, shown here, was one of a score of balloon features in the event, which was called the Retail Merchants Association Christmas Parade.
News-Free Press file photo via ChattanoogaHistory.com / The 1950 downtown Chattanooga Christmas parade is said to have attracted 50,000 people. The inflatable train, shown here, was one of a score of balloon features in the event, which was called the Retail Merchants Association Christmas Parade.

Chattanooga's annual Christmas parade, sponsored by downtown merchants, was one of the biggest community gatherings of the year.

The accompanying photo of an inflatable train in the 1950 Christmas parade shows the event in its mid-century glory. A Chattanooga News-Free Press article on Nov. 28 that year reported there had been an estimated 50,000 people in attendance at the parade the night before.

It's unclear whether the "Beat Baylor" message scrawled on the side of the train was part of the float's design or graffiti, but the newspaper reported that it alternately attracted "cheers and jeers" along the parade route, as sides in the Baylor-McCallie school sports rivalry weighed in.

The train, one of several inflatables in the parade, was guided by local Boy Scouts. Other parade balloons included a "fat frog, an elephant, a seal and a large bull," according to the newspaper.

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Several high school bands provided the musical backdrop to the parade, and Betty Langston, a student at Chattanooga High School, was named "Queen Christmas."

The newspaper article described the scene: "The mellow yuletide season rode into Chattanooga last night, heralded by a smiling, beautiful queen and a jolly, fur-bedecked Santa Claus riding aboard glittering floats ..." When the parade concluded, many downtown stores remained open until 9 p.m. to encourage holiday shopping, the article noted.

In more recent decades, the parade was rebranded the Holiday Starlight Parade, which was canceled in 2014 due to a lack of funding. The MainX24 festival, an early-December event in the Southside neighborhood since 2007, includes a yearly parade.

Also visible in the 1950 newspaper photo is the Plaza Hotel, at 11th and Market streets. At the time this photo was taken, the property was owned by the state of Georgia as part of the real estate holdings of the Western Atlantic Railway Co., according to news report. In 1950, the Plaza owners signed a 25-year lease on the property.

The Orchid Beauty Shoppe, also seen in the photo, was at 1002 Market St. opposite the downtown bus terminal. In newspaper ads, it was billed as "the most beautiful and most modernly equipped beauty shop in town."

To read earlier articles in this series, visit ChattanoogaHistory.com or join the public group on Facebook.

Remember When, Chattanooga? is published on Saturdays. Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645.