Daytonians huddled around Deeds Carillon on Christmas Eve 1941, reeling from the recent news of Pearl Harbor. While the first Deeds Carillon concert was slated for Easter Sunday 1942, Dayton’s newest landmark made a much-needed early debut. Seventeen days after the attack on Pearl Harbor the mighty bells made their public premiere tolling Christmas music.

“‘Peace on earth, good will to men’ were a reality in Dayton on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as varied groups joined in the Yuletide rejoicing,” wrote the Dayton Daily News in its Dec. 25, 1941, edition under the headline “Dayton Hears Carillon In First Program.”

Towering 151 feet, with 57 bells, the limestone carillon was as much a work of art as it was a musical instrument. The surrounding grounds were designed by the Olmsted Brothers, the famed landscape architects responsible for Central Park; the carillon itself designed by Reinhard & Hofmeister, the same firm responsible for Rockefeller Center. And like New York’s iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, which debuted in 1931 during the depths of the Great Depression, Deeds Carillon was a hallmark of hope during the harrowing 1941 holiday season.

But Deeds Carillon isn’t the only Gem City symbol historically aligned with Rockefeller Center. For years, the NCR Christmas tree also channeled the spirit of the Rockefeller tree—two symbols of holiday cheer at the heart of decisive American cities.

Situated at NCR world headquarters (Building 10 on South Main Street), the tree’s thousands of lights shimmered in the December night, and like Rockefeller Center, NCR searched far and wide for the perfect tree. The NCR Factory News detailed the process in its December 1956 edition: “It was not until over 150 miles of territory had been closely covered that a tree was found … This tree, which was finally located in south-central Ohio, is a magnificent evergreen whose perfect trunk soars 45 feet into the air … The tree had grown on this spot for more than 40 years.”

The NCR carpenter and paint shop then adorned the 1956 tree with over 3,000 lights. From “the bottom of the trunk to the top of the star,” it stood approximately 50 feet tall. 

Since that time, myriad new Dayton traditions have replaced the NCR tree. It’s been 77 years since that debut 1941 Deeds Carillon Christmas concert, and the bell tower has been transformed from a figurative beacon of light into an actual beacon of light. As the centerpiece of A Carillon Christmas, Carillon Historical Park’s month-long holiday celebration, Deeds Carillon has been recast as the breathtaking Carillon Tree of Light. Towering upward of 200 feet, the electrifying Dayton holiday symbol is four times the size of the NCR tree and features nearly seven times the lights (over 20,000 total).

On Dec. 7, in remembrance of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Carillon Historical Park’s award-winning carillonneur, Larry Weinstein, will play a commemorative concert at 10 a.m. And on Nov. 28, at 6 p.m., the Carillon Tree of Light will illuminate the Dayton skyline for the first time during the kickoff to A Carillon Christmas.

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