Viewing the site, it’s easy to imagine a rocky, brush-strewn hill outside Jerusalem.
Looking up, you can see the 24-foot lighted concrete cross on top of the hill whose northeast slope provides a prospect of Highway 481 connecting with Interstate Highway 10 south to San Antonio. The crest of the hill overlooking the golf course, the fairgrounds, and the South Llano River is known as Lovers Leap, but the hill below has for the past seventy years been known as the Easter Pageant Grounds.
It was here in 1950 that the newly organized Men’s Bible Class held the first Easter Pageant in Kimble County. The class had been formed in 1948 by Methodist minister James Jordan, who noted that many men unwilling to attend church would nonethe- less attend a class. They began meeting in the Junction movie theater, and their classes were broadcast for years on local KMBL radio. The class whose first project was the construction of the Everlasting Cross atop the hill in 1949 then poured the original 40′ x 100′ concrete stage for the pageant the following year.
At an early Easter morning service in 1949 broadcast from the foot of that new cross, Kimble County native and former Texas governor Coke Stevenson spoke to an audience of 1,500 worshippers gath- ered in the valley below declaring that for the believer, “There is a better life in a better world.” It was this occasion that sparked the Men’s Bible Class to produce the first pageant the following Easter.
Nearly seven decades later, the passion play has never been canceled for any reason, including inclement weather. It is produced entirely by volunteers and still sponsored by the Men’s Bible Class, led for the last several years by director Larry Trimble. According to Trimble, the cast has varied from the original twenty-three members to as many as 150 over the years. As for the event’s leadership, however, he notes, “I’m not really the director—actually more of an assistant director who gets direction from a higher source.” Trimble has been involved in every role and capacity involved in putting on the show from lighting, to reading scripts, acting, and set construction.
By the event’s second year, in a story dated March 29, 1951, the Junction Eagle newspaper declared the show a rousing success. A front-page story headlined “Easter Story Attracts Throngs Here Sunday,” described the scene. “A colorful and stirring Easter Pageant at the foot of the cross on Lovers Leap was seen by 2,500 visitors, starting at 3:30 am Sunday morning, sponsored by the Men’s Bible Class.” It was reported that the cast included 34 main characters, with 23 acts portraying the last week of Christ’s life and including a five-minute sermon, a choir, and coffee and donuts served from Ranger Capt. Gully Cowsert’s chuck wagon.
By 1955 plans were reported in the local paper for the fifth annual Easter Pageant involving material for new costumes, improved light and sound, and printed programs, and a resolution urging all men in the 80-person cast to grow beards through Easter Sunday. A follow-up story that year also reported that “as soon as the Easter Pageant is over, Wilson Buster has agreed to take his hair trimmers to the Pageant, plug them in immediately following the show and relieve the boys of their facial hair.”
Over the years, start time has been adjusted from that first year when it began at half past three on Easter morn- ing to midnight the night before, then 10 p.m., and now about thirty minutes after sundown on Easter Eve. As it was in 1950, admission to the play is still free, the audience still parks their automobiles at the base of the hillside beginning at noon, refreshments are still served, and the pageant story remains unchanged. For the 70th edition of the Pageant on April 18, 2020, around 9 p.m. when the crowd has gathered and the cast is in place, there will be a brief recital of the names of those original twenty-three men who started it all in 1950.