We moved from Forest Avenue to Van Ness, when I was five and my sister Susan was seven. Our new neighbors from across the street, Carolyn and Kay, invited us to their house to decorate Christmas sugar cookies. It became a yearly tradition.
Every year we looked forward to seeing the star and three kings on camels appear on Tempe Butte. My grandmother, Ida Woolf O’Connor, had made the patterns for the camels years earlier when she taught at the I. D. Payne Training School. The Manual Arts teacher made them into huge wooden figures.
Christmas music was prominent. College performances of music, often from Handel’s “Messiah,” were presented on campus and at local churches. Even The von Trapp Family Singers appeared in the old campus auditorium in the early ’40s.
We didn’t have a fireplace in the house on Van Ness, so we hung our Christmas stockings on a ladder-back chair in front of a wood-burning stove in the dining room. When we moved to the Petersen House in 1951, however, there were two fireplaces and plenty of space for Christmas stockings.

We moved to the Petersen/Decker House in 1951. My father, Tom Harter, taught in the Art Department at ASU and received Mrs. Decker’s permission to meet his Landscape Painting classes at the Petersen house and ranch.
Edward Decker, Mrs. Susanna (Decker) Petersen’s nephew and Mrs. Decker’s husband, inherited the property upon Mrs. Petersen’s death. After Rev. Decker’s death, Mrs. Decker moved into town. As the place needed a resident caretaker, Mrs. Decker asked The Harters to live there.
Our first Christmas in the house was 1951. As had been our tradition, one of the family made the Christmas card. Tom did the first one. It showed the south side of the house with a Christmas tree showing from both the upstairs and downstairs windows. The card for 1961 was similar.
Through the years the city filled in around the old house. The card for 1966 showed that it was no longer out in the country. The same old house was surrounded by development, subdivision, heavy automobile, and airplane traffic. The Harters themselves were posed in “American Gothic” complete with pitchfork, cow and chickens, and daughter Susan on the front porch. The Harters had moved out of the Petersen House by 1968.

(Below are some of the Christmas Cards created at the Petersen House)

No photo description available.
No photo description available.