Wisconsin has a number of picture-perfect Christmas towns, but only one of them actually actually earned its title by being featured on Christmas cards. Elkhorn, WI is most widely known as the home of the Beast of Bray Road, but during the holiday season the town takes on another persona as the “Christmas Card Town.” The city of Elkhorn garnered national attention when it was featured in a 1952 television series called “The March of Time.”
In that episode, the camera crew captures city workers decorating the downtown area for Christmas along with other activities happening around town.
Watch the episode here:
The March of Time
The television program opens with a view from the highest point in town, the platform of the water tower, overlooking the downtown area.
“The city seems asleep on this bleak winter’s day,” the narrator says.
But the bustle in the streets below is just beginning, and the crew starts following Claude Eames, editor of the Elkhorn Independent, on his rounds to drum up the day’s news.
“The first signs of the holiday season are making their appearance at Elkhorn’s main intersection,” continues the narrator, “the corner of Wisconsin and Walworth streets, where the evergreen garlands and Christmas bells are going into place.”
We see a shot of a large bell being hoisted into the air.
“Each year the city takes the lead in holiday preparations, and the putting up of street decorations is quickly followed by the arrival of wreaths, and holly, and Christmas gifts in the shop windows along the main street.”
Then Eames pays a visit to Elkhorn’s oldest resident, George Belton, to commemorate his 30 years of service as Justice of the Peace.
Belton, the narrator says, watched Elkhorn grow “from a sleepy little farm village to a bustling agricultural and industrial center.”
“You’re the oldest resident of Elkhorn who was actually born in this community,” Eames says. “Just how old are you, really?”
“Well, I don’t know if I’m 79 or 97,” Belton responds.
“These past 30 years,” Eames says, “There must be some pretty good high spots here, somewhere.”
“Well, we had the Touhy Gang,” Belton says.
Roger Touhy was a well-known mobster involved in bootlegging, racketeering, kidnapping, and other crimes. He even had a deadly rivalry with Al Capone that got his bootlegging partner Matt Kolb murdered.
While headed back to Chicago from a Wisconsin fishing trip on July 19, 1933, Touhy, along with fellow gangsters Edward “Father Tom” McFadden, Gustave “Gloomy Gus” Schaefer, and Willie Sharkey, skidded off the road during rainy weather and hit a utility pole.
“Roger Touhy, then public enemy number one, blustered so loudly when all he faced was a minor fine for reckless driving, that a rookie cop got suspicious,” the narrator says, “and found his luggage filled with submachine guns.”
“That little mistake enabled this country justice of the peace to help put Touhy behind bars.”
The episode also features footage of the Elkhorn high school glee club practicing for their Christmas concert, the high school band working on their Christmas songs, and kids in shop class making Christmas decorations which they later display in the park.
Elsewhere around town we see a local Air Force radar station and the volunteer-based Ground Observer Corps who monitor the skies for a surprise attack from enemy aircraft, Elkhorn’s prominent horse-racing community, and other local families, farms and businesses such as Frank Holden & Co., the largest of Elkhorn’s thriving band instrument manufacturing companies that make up the town’s biggest industry.
Christmas Card Town
“Another light covering of snow has fallen,” the narrator says, “giving Elkhorn a postcard look. Today, even the grim exterior of the courthouse seen from across the park has a holiday air about it.”
In 1958, artist Cecile Johnson was commissioned by the Ford Motor Company to paint six images of small town life. Johnson recalled the holiday scenes she saw of Elkhorn on TV, and that became the inspiration for those works.
Later, those paintings were printed by a major publisher as Christmas cards, solidifying Elkhorn’s reputation as the idyllic Christmas card town.
The city commissions an artist to create a new, official Elkhorn Christmas card every year that can be purchased at the Chamber of Commerce and other businesses around town.
Artists Jan Castle-Reed and T. James Carson have contributed numerous works over the years.
“In Elkhorn, Wisconsin, as in every city and town in the country, the thoughts of the people turn again to the fervent hope for peace on Earth,” the narrator says. “Time marches on.”
Every Christmas Elkhorn celebrates with the Christmas Card Town Annual Tree Lighting, parade, and more holiday activities.
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