The Way It Was


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PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE WALTER P. REUTHER LIBRARY ARCHIVES OF LABOR AND URBAN AFFAIRS, WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY (THE DETROIT NEWS)

1964 Cobo Hall (now Cobo Center) triggers a lot of warm memories. Some recall the Pistons shooting hoops there, or wrestling rivals The Sheik and Bobo Brazil tangling on the mat. Still others have memories of seeing The Doors, Bob Seger, The Rolling Stones, or Frank Sinatra. And some recall Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech — two months before he delivered the speech in Washington, D.C. But for children who grew up in the early ’60s through the early ’90s, the Christmas Carnival held at Cobo was impossible to forget. The Carnival began in 1962, the same year the Ford Rotunda in Dearborn burned to the ground. Since 1953, the Rotunda had wondrous holiday displays, but it was never rebuilt. Cobo’s extravaganza had twinkling trees, animated elves, a giant snowman, a host of rides, and, naturally, old St. Nick. The tykes in this shot are enjoying coasting down an Arctic slide. The book Detroit: A Young Guide to the City, published in 1970, describes the Christmas Carnival this way: “There’s a Santa Claus Castle, direct phone lines to the North Pole, and a play area with a two-story snowman slide. (There are) clowns, puppets and animated figurines, including a mechanical ballerina that flips out all the little girls.” The Carnival was so popular, special Detroit Street Railway (DSR) buses went directly to Cobo Hall. There doesn’t seem to be a clear reason why the Christmas Carnival came to an end, except that as the North American International Auto Show grew in scope, so did the need for advanced setup time, edging out the Carnival. 

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