STRANGE GH: Tales behind Christian displays on Dewey Hill

Dec 19, 2011


The Nativity scene was dedicated by the father of a current Republican presidential candidate.

The first recorded cross erected on Dewey Hill was set ablaze on Sept. 15, 1923, courtesy of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan stirred things up into 1924 until they were run off.

The first Christian cross, as we know it, was raised on the Dewey Hill on Dec. 3, 1962.

The Grand Haven Tribune published an article announcing the raising of the cross, and attributed the structure to the support and handy work of Dr. William Creason, Larry Bailey, P&V Antenna, George Purcell, Henry Parker, Bernie Boyink and West Michigan Sound Co.

The cross, 48 feet in height with a 28-foot cross arm, was covered in masonite and coated with a reflective paint. It was lighted using a 17-inch, 1,500-watt flood lamp — which faced the structure.

But the new cross didn’t stay up long! Only three days after its debut, 50-mph wind gusts blew the star down on Dec. 6. It was placed upright again by Dec. 8, just in time for a holiday Musical Fountain performance.

Placing the star atop Dewey Hill took place the following year.

The creation and raising of the 44-foot star, engineered by Dake Corp., took place on Dec. 6, 1963.

The star was attached atop a pole that was raised 48 feet above the pivot point. A “10,000-pound hydraulic mechanism” raised the star from what was described as akin to a “concrete bunker” on the crest of Dewey Hill. A gift from the Dake Corp. to the city, the elaborate display and support system was the creation of engineers Jim Shaver and Harold Poort.

In his book “Grand Haven: In the Path of Destiny,” Dr. Dave Seibold relates the inception of the Nativity scene occurred in 1962 with Betty Ellis, a local artist, who came late to the craft in her 50s, and was the architect of the display. Ellis supervised the construction and the arrangement — which included 22-foot angels, 8-foot shepherds and 32-foot camels. In all, according to the Dec. 10, 1964, edition of the Grand Haven Tribune, Ellis designed and painted all of the 70-character Giant Nativity Scene.

The debut of the Nativity scene on Dewey Hill took place on Dec. 9, 1964, with much fanfare. Although the outdoor temperature was 24 degrees, the event began promptly at 8 p.m. with an estimated crowd of 4,000 to 20,000 throughout the city. There were 1,500 to 2,000 people standing on the Harbor Industries dock alone.

Grand Haven Mayor William Creason welcomed the Gov. George Romney (father of current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney), who dedicated the Giant Nativity Scene. Betty Ellis presented Romney with a painting of the Nativity scene at the dedication.

“Oh, boy — isn’t that beautiful,” Romney said upon receiving the painting from Ellis. Romney then kissed Ellis on both cheeks, surprising the woman.

When Ellis came to the microphone, she seemed somewhat unprepared. She informed the gathering that she had her speech well in mind on the ride from the airport, but had forgotten it.

“We thought it would be nice for you (Mr. Romney) to have a Christmas present,” Ellis said sweetly.

But, what about the hill these Christmas displays have found their place on?

In comes Jacob Glerum, then-city clerk, who holds the distinction of having been the man who bought Dewey Hill on March 18, 1909, on behalf of the city of Grand Haven. The cost was $2 per acre for 68 acres. The total spent for Dewey Hill was a paltry $136.


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