The Christmas magic is back: Classic holiday display starts Saturday at visitor center

Published 5:47 pm Wednesday, November 21, 2018

NATCHEZ — The classic Natchez Christmas display is back at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center, 640 S. Canal St., and an official lighting ceremony is set for 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

The display harkens to the days of the International Paper Company when painted wooden characters and Christmas scenes lined the business’ horseshoe driveway.

Natchez resident Burnley Cook said the mill stopped displaying the brightly lighted and sometimes animated figures in 1973 as a means of conserving energy.

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“Then President Nixon urged all citizens and businesses to really cut back because of the energy crisis at that time,” Cook said. “The mill, in its part, decided to stop doing the display, and even after the crisis was over they never picked it back up.”

Cook restored 13 of the displays and last year showcased them on the lawn of the Visitor Reception Center.

Cook said this year he added an additional scene that gives the overall display a sense of beginning and end, much like International Paper’s original display.

“On the mill they had an opening and closing display so you really understand, ‘here’s the beginning and here’s the end,’” Cook said. “You have ‘Welcome’ and ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy New Year.’”

Cook said the opening display is of Santa working on the engine of his Model T and the closing scene, added this year, shows Santa waving as he drives away in the car. Between the two are a sacred section, a Santa section and shadow box Christmas scenes, Cook said.

Lanus Hammack, an IP employee, created the original display, and Cook said Hammack’s daughter Jan Hammack-Swoveland helped in creating the manger scene, giving it special meaning for him.

“I think the wise men are one of my favorites because I repainted and made new figures last year,” Cook said. “She came over and did the glittering on their robes to make them look elegant and rich. She did such a beautiful job and I know her dad would be so proud of her.”

Cook said some of the figures are motorized and some are 11 feet wide. It is enough to fill the grassy strip at the south end of the visitor center, Cook said.

“It comes across real well,” Cook said. “It’s very bright. Once they all turn on the lot just really lights up. It looks nice in the day but in the nighttime they really shine.”

The lights will be illuminated from dusk to 9:30 p.m. nightly through Christmas, Cook said.