I grew up in Whoville. In its heyday Madrid, as a coal mining town, had ready access to electricity at a time when not everyone had it. And they made the most of it.
At that time, airplane pilots would direct passenger’s attention to points of interest, making it like a tour. Madrid was not normally en route, but at Christmas time they would divert flights so that passengers could see the magnificent lights.
Wooden cutouts were illuminated all over town and on the surrounding hills. There is still the square outline of the Bethlehem display on one of the mountains. The adult Jesus cutout consists of five or six panels four feet high, making the cutout 20 plus feet tall. The Christmas tree overlooking the town still stands, although it is not used in displays usually as the wood is original from before the town was abandoned in the 1930s. One year, a man we call Brave Dave did light the tree to everyone’s surprise.
One of the most magical things about Madrid at Christmas is that some of these wooden cutouts, angels mostly, were actually strung across the valley and floated across wires by motor. The structures used to hold up the angels were crosses at the tips of the mountains facing town. Some of these still stand as well.
As the story goes, Madrid actually inspired Walt Disney to create DisneyLand. There was a fair at the ballpark each year. The ballpark was the first west of the Mississippi to be lighted, and we had a successful baseball team, the Madrid Miners. But at Christmas the field was filled with lights and rides for the kids.
Madrid was a company town, and when that company decided to shut the town down, everyone left and the town was completely abandoned until the 1970s when some enterprising individuals re-built it as an artist community.
The Christmas displays were stored in a warehouse, which the owners of the town were guaranteed would not burn, but as you may have guessed, it did. All of the magnificent displays were lost.
The new Madroids enjoy this history, and we do a lot to recapture the spirit. Many new, although smaller, cutouts have been created and are used all over town. We have competitions for light displays. The main street of town is home to many galleries, which will often stay open late for the Madrid Open House which lasts most of the month of December. As you walk around sometimes you will find carolers or hot cider.
The big event is the annual parade. People who want to be in the parade meet up at the entrance of Backroad. We can have belly dancers, llamas, carriages, trains, politicians, etc. One year I dressed at St. Lucia and got a free ride atop a carriage, another time we had a motorcycle completely made of animal bones.
I miss home this time of year.
*Update – I found some more information about the old Bethlehem display, thanks to Midori Snyder.