Shown above is an early 1970’s edition of one of the largest indoor Christmas trees in the world, and certainly the most famous one of any kind in the Chicago area – the “Great Tree” inside the Walnut Room restaurant at the legendary State Street home of Marshall Field & Company.
The Walnut Room (named for its beautiful walnut paneling) and the tree tradition date all the way back to 1907, when the current-day Marshall Field building, which evolved over a couple of decades on the corner of State and Washington streets, took on the form that is still largely recognizable today.
Standing 45 feet tall and sporting 5,000 or more ornaments and too many lights to count, the Great Tree was actually a real tree until recent decades when more stringent fire codes were imposed. Every year, a Marshall Field manager was assigned the task of traveling to Mellen, Wisconsin, a half hour from Lake Superior. There, with the assistance of local timbermen, he would select the perfect fir tree to be cut down and shipped by rail 400 miles back to Chicago. The annual lighting of the “Marshall Field’s Tree” was a big event, broadcast on and off over the years on Chicago’s WGN –TV.
For several years, our family had a tradition where the folks rousted us out of bed at 7am the day after Thanksgiving to drive downtown for breakfast at the Walnut Room, where we endeavored to be seated as close to the tree as possible. There were always long lines, but we usually ended up with good seats. These were the late 70’s and early 80’s, when Field’s launched their annual “Marshall Field’s & Christmas” campaign every year at this time, complete with commemorative hot chocolate mugs to take home. When this tradition started we were already teenagers, a period of time when I became “too cool” for a great many things, but somehow it always got through to me.
With the passing of time, much has changed, not the least of which is the name on the front doors of the store. (The name on the corner of the store remains the same, thanks to the National Register of Historic Places.) When my family and I were in Chicago this past Thanksgiving, we popped in to take a quick 3-minute look at the Walnut Room. The tree was still beautiful, the lines were still long, and I assume the food was still good. All I know is that the people I saw were having a great time. Oh, and that there’s very little I’m too cool for anymore.
I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your readership, loyalty and friendship during a year when I posted here far less than I wanted to. Hopefully what was new here you found to be enjoyable and informative.
And once again, may the True Joy of Christmas be yours, may your holidays be great and spent with family and friends, and best wishes for a wonderful and healthy New Year!