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The Yule Candle and Other Holiday Decorations at University Park

Updated: Dec 22, 2022


Indianapolis Christmas decorations Circle of Lights University Park

This will be a short post, but one relevant for the holiday season, and another example of a historical topic found while researching for another, unrelated project. Everyone is familiar with the decorations put up every year on Monument Circle, called the “Circle of Lights,” which features the Soldiers and Sailors Monument dressed up as large Christmas tree.


This celebration has been an annual tradition since 1962. Prior to that, in 1956, celebrations and decoration were also done at University Park, just north of the Federal Courthouse. The centerpiece of that park is the Depew Fountain which was installed in 1919 and provided as a gift to the city from Emma Depew, in memory of her husband, Dr. Richard Depew. Emma had died in 1913, and her husband had passed in 1887, but her estate had left $50,000 for the memorial.


The park, which had been part of the original plat of the city, had been set aside for the construction of a university, but was never used for that purpose. The park was redesigned by George Kessler in 1914, with the fountain a component of that plan. The map below shows the design for the park and appeared in a blog post about Kessler's plans for several Indianapolis Park properties. That post can be read here. There is also a link in that post for an enlarged version of the diagram below.

Indianapolis Christmas decorations Circle of Lights University Park
Report of the Board of Park Commissioners for 1914, Digitalindy.com

The Depew Fountain decorations varied over the years. In the late 1950’s the fountain was decorated as a simple Christmas Tree, with a small booth, called “Santa’s Workshop,” where people could meet Santa. Strings of lights and other holiday décor also decorated the park grounds. The image below is from 1957.

Indianapolis Christmas decorations Circle of Lights University Park
Digital Indy, Indianapolis Public Library, Indy Parks Collection

In 1961, the fountain was transformed into a holiday carousel. According to the Indianapolis News on December 5, 1961, the carrousel had been built in Germany and installed at Broad Ripple Park in 1918. More recently, it had been in storage over the previous few years after it left Broad Ripple Park in 1956. The carrousel, pictured below during the festivities, looked the holiday part, but based on images from the scene, it appears it had been set up just for show. Note the top of the fountain visible at the center of the carrousel where the ride's machinery would normally be locaed. Since 1976, the carrousel has resided at the Childrens Museum of Indianapolis.

Digital Indy, Indianapolis Public Library, Indy Parks Collection

Starting in 1963, the decorations at Depew Fountain went up a notch, and the center portion of the fountain was enclosed in an almost two story tall, red, holiday candle, dubbed the “Yule Candle.”


All of these photos of University Park in its holiday splendor were located with the Digital Indy collections at the Indianapolis Public Library and cover several years of the assembly of the centerpiece candle and other celebrations at the park.


In addition to enclosing the Depew Fountain, the park was also decorated in the standard holiday lights, and other items. As reported in local media, the decorations were often lit by a woman who was crowned Miss TB Christmas Seals, part of the Christmas Seals tuberculosis fundraiser, and was usually a local high school student, or other young person. This person would throw an over-dramatized switch to turn the lights on in the park. In 1964, a torch was used to 'light' the candle, as shown in the newspaper clipping below. The two images of the 'switch' are from the 1963 festivities.


The Yule Candle does not appear to have survived the 1960’s. In 1969, a letter to the editor of the Indianapolis Star lamented the change in the decorations at University Park, including the loss of the candle which had been mounted atop the Depew Fountain for the previous few years. Other decorations continued to be hosted by the park. In the early 1970’s photos of the park show a holiday village type of theme, and a return to the fountain being used as the foundation for a Christmas tree type decoration. A manger scene was also featured on the steps of the fountain, although this was the subject of a lawsuit against the city in the mid-1970’s. These decorations or some variation appear to have continued into the 1980’s but it appears the decorations fizzled out in 1981 or 1982.


As of the afternoon of December 21, 2022, when I took a walk through University Park, there are no holiday decorations set up. The fountain is still there, of course, but is currently undergoing renovation or repair work.


Sources


Digital Indy at Indianapolis Public Library. All images of the Yule Candle and Andrew Seager Archive of the Built Environment, Ball State University, Search Results - The Indianapolis Public Library Digital Collections (digitalindy.org)


Indianapolis Star: December 22, 1956, December 6, 1963, December 9, 1964


Indianapolis News: December 22, 1956, December 5, 1963, December 7, 1966, December 24, 1969, November 30, 1979




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