Adults who were children during the 1940s, 50s, 60s and into the 70s have a wonderful memory that comes back to them every year about this time. They love to tell stories about how they rode through the Boys' School to see the decorations each year. It was part of Christmas for everyone living in the area, and we all went more than one time per year!
Dozier School (known previously as the Florida Industrial School for Boys) presented a Christmas extravaganza on the South Campus each December. This display was the North Florida, Southeast Alabama and Southwest Georgia "Disney World" for the Christmas season.
Under the direction of Mrs. Karlene Owens, the school's Art Department's students and led by teacher Mrs. Dale Unger, painted and updated the plywood cutouts of nursery rhyme characters, religious themes, comical arrangements and Santa scenes which were provided by the students in the Woodworking Department of the school.
Of the 700 residents there, each year they all worked very hard to update, set up, string miles of colored lights, install sound equipment to carry the Christmas music throughout the South Campus drive-through area, and many were there to help with the hundreds of children who came each year to enjoy the presentation. It is stated that almost every resident and trade shop had a part in preparing and presenting the Christmas Extravaganza. The boys also decorated numerous Christmas trees throughout the area.
The little narrow gauge train, which is now at the MERE Project in a covered protective building, had several hundred feet of track which wound throughout the South Campus area, taking the children "up close and personal" to the Christmas scenes.
1956 figures, collected from traffic counters, showed that 65,944 persons went through the campus, up from 55,864 in 1955, 40,000 in 1954 and 25,000 in 1953. The figure for 1963 was 100,000 people.
"Santa's Toyland" was the main attraction, with a whirling merry-go-round. The pony, "Trigger", pulled a carriage full of children and a goat drawn cart carried children through the maze of decorations. The photos here show some of the artistic arrangements provided by the residents for the entertainment of those from Florida, Alabama and Georgia who looked forward to enjoying the fabulous arrangements the boys had spent hundreds of hours setting up each year.
The photos and information used in this article are taken from the January 12, 1957 edition of The Yellow Jacket, the newspaper published by the boys and instructors working in the Printing Department of the school.
The printing press and many of the decorations were given to the Chipola Historical Trust when Dozier was dismantled. The decorations were passed on to Main Street Marianna in hopes that they could be used at some point in decorating downtown Marianna at Christmas time.
A member of the Marianna Woman's Club told the members at their December meeting how exciting it was for her family when father would prepare the back seat of their car to make it comfortable for her and her brothers and they would drive from Crestview to Marianna each year to enjoy the Christmas display. This was a most common occurrence for thousands of children during the 25 or so years the display was provided by the staff and residents of the school.