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Capitol Window Christmas Tree


After a fire destroyed North Dakota's first capitol building on December 28, 1930, a new Capitol was constructed. Completed in 1934, it was a dramatic departure from the style of the old building. Very tall and solitary, the Capitol towered over the burgeoning city of Bismarck, standing 241 feet, 8 inches high. Being built during the Great Depression meant money was tight. Consequently, many exterior embellishments were dropped from the design.

Nonetheless, for the building's first Christmas, arrangements were made to decorate the Capitol by lighting up the windows in a pattern – to form a cross, topped by a star. This use of the Capitol lights for decoration is a tradition that carries on today. During the forties, the pattern was made to resemble a large Christmas tree. All who come through Bismarck after Thanksgiving and before New Year's Eve see this lit-up Christmas tree, glowing in green and red on the north and south sides of the tall building. The pattern is made by lights shining through a combined total of 88 green and red shields – 20 red and 22 green on each lit side. The tree is also topped by a star, situated at the top of the building.

On this date in 1943, this was the only tree glowing in the Capitol. Due to war-time economizing, the real tree traditionally placed in the Capitol’s Memorial Hall was skipped. According to the Bismarck Tribune, however, "beautiful colored lights shone from the windows of the mammoth hall...and were visible down Sixth St. A big star hung from the balcony at one end of the hall and big, red Christmas bells hung from each of the five chandeliers." Of course, "North Dakota's biggest Christmas tree" on the sides of the Capitol was hard to miss.

The Capitol windows are also patterned to showcase the numbers of the new year for New Year's Eve, and the date on the Fourth of July. And in August 2014, for the celebration of North Dakota's 125th year of statehood, the Capitol displayed large the number "125."

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker


Bismarck Tribune, Thursday, December 30, 1943