The concrete cross on the hill of Webb City’s former Sunrise Park, which is now private property.

Easter Sunday in Sunrise Park

Webb City’s tradition that drew thousands

Jeanne Newby

Back in 1935, an annual civic project for Easter was begun on West Broadway on what was known as Hatten Golf Farm and later as Sunrise Park. Harry B. Hulett came up with the idea in 1934 and took on the challenge of organizing the event. He won the support of area ministers, citizens and businesses.

The natural hillside made a beautiful setting for the sunrise service. By 1935, a concrete cross had been constructed by Ed Anthony and 31 volunteer workers with funds collected from donations. Larry Larsen, of the Civic Theater, showed a benefit movie to earn some of the funds. Mrs. E.E. Wood headed up the Cross Project. Webb City’s Alton Jones, president of the Cities Service Co. in New York supplied the lighting for the cross.

The school and area churches organized the local talent with musicians and choirs. The backup music was supplied by the Municipal Band and the Girls Drum Corps. Volunteers helped to paint the beautiful scenery in the background depicting the Resurrection. Youth and adults alike contributed many hours making costumes, painting scenery and practicing music, which added to the beauty of the production. Springtime added beautiful colors from trees, flowers and shrubs. The birds added sweet music along with the choirs singing. A beautiful story unfolded before the eyes of the many awe-struck spectators.

Each year, the numbers of the audience grew as the word spread about the Easter Sunrise Service in Webb City. The Highway Patrol in 1941 estimated there were approximately 25,000 people in attendance. That attests to the wonderful pageant put on by the dedicated citizens of Webb City.

In 1992, Emily Hardy Kramer sent me a letter about her memories of the Easter Sunrise Service. She wrote: 

“I remember the Easter Sunrise Service held on the Golf Course (later known as Sunrise Park). All the local churches participated. The Girls Drill Team, the eighth and ninth grades, and the Girls Drum & Bugle Corp participated at the Living Cross.

“We were wrapped in a white sheet and formed a cross on top of the hill above the natural cave. If I remember correctly, the hill was the ninth hole and there was a large cement cross, spotlighted at night, erected on top of the hill. And as the choir sang below on the natural stage, we moved slowly down the hill. Just as the sun was coming up in the east, the ‘Living Cross’ was in place. I was a member of this group for several years. The spectators told us it was a beautiful sight. I think it was discontinued during the war years. Probably 1942 was the last year the pageant was performed.”

A special thank you to the Emily Hardy Kramer for sharing this memory, which will live forever in stories of the Sunrise Service.

I also received a story from a gentleman who told me about his daring escapades as a youth, which included some dynamite and the natural cave at Sunrise Park. He said that after blowing off some sticks of dynamite, the entrance to the natural cave was roomier for the pageant. Do you think the city was appreciative?

 The park was sold in later years and a residence now lives on the hill that brought so many spectators to share the Easter Story.

Another memory: The Dairy Queen at Fourth and Jefferson streets had an Easter Egg Hunt across MacArthur Drive on the southeast corner of Jefferson and MacArthur, the day before Easter in 1961. The bags of goodies that the children searched for had slips of paper offering DQ treats as an extra bonus. One little fourth grader found lots of those bags with the added treats. Her grandfather helped her carry all those goodies home. Her grandmother emptied out the freezer, which was about 5 inches wide to store the goodies to eat later. By the end of the week, they were full of those ice cream delights! But the memory lives on!

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.

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