Flagstaff’s Easter Cross is now a forgotten symbol


On March 1, 1954, the United States tested a hydrogen bomb in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Halfway around the world, at the University of Colorado at Boulder, scientists were checking the fallout daily.

That year, at the dawn of the “H-bomb era”, Christians turned out in large numbers to celebrate Easter. A reporter at the time reflected on their mood and said, “Joy that Christ has been resurrected is mixed with fear that man has made a weapon that could doom civilization.”

Some worshipers attended services at downtown churches, while others left their homes before dawn for the annual sunrise service in the amphitheater near the top of Flagstaff Mountain. Those taking the winding mountain road passed a string of lights in the shape of a cross stretched across the mountainside.

The 90-by-215-foot Christian symbol shone from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. between Palm Sunday and Easter, then stayed lit all night before Easter. Today, the symbol has been forgotten.

Preparation for the cross began in 1947, when the Boulder Chamber of Commerce began construction of Flagstaff’s five-pointed Christmas star, with steel poles that held (and still hold) cables strung with lights .

Changing the shape from the star to a cross only required adding a few light bulbs and poles and then reconfiguring the cables. From 1948, the cross is lit for Easter and visible from afar on the plains.

Over the next few years, employees of the Public Service Company and the Boulder Fire Department maintained both the star and the cross, while residents and local businesses contributed the funds that kept them shining. .

Then came the volatile decade of the 1960s, epitomized by folk singer Bob Dylan’s hit song, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” The college pranksters again hung the lights to form an “M” for the School of Mines and also changed the string to an “A” for Colorado A&M, now Colorado State University.

In 1969, after millions of Americans took to the streets to protest the United States’ continued involvement in Vietnam, the people of Boulder woke up to a new configuration – a gigantic sign of peace. Even so, the star was still lit for Christmas and the cross was lit for Easter.

Some locals, however, were fed up with the cross, the occasional sabotage, and even the star. Focusing on the cross, however, they complained to the Boulder Human Relations Commission that it violated the US Constitution in its separation of church and state.

In 1970, disgruntled residents launched a resolution banning all lighted displays on Flagstaff. The lights were (and still are) on Boulder City Park property, so their objections went to the Boulder City Council.

The council decided that only the star could stay, as she was “part of the history and culture of the town”. The Easter cross and other symbols have been banned and faded in the past.

Even though UC scientists detected no fallout in Boulder in 1954, a reporter from the time said that many residents found the lighted cross “spiritually comforting.” To others, he said, “it represented a work of quiet beauty in the night and a mark of distinction for Boulder”.

Silvia Pettem can be contacted at [email protected] She and Carol Taylor alternate the “In Retrospect” story column.

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