Long before the Theater in the Park version made its debut, North Carolina audiences enjoyed Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol (published on this date in 1843) as read by Dr. Frederick H. Koch, founder and director of the Carolina Playmakers at UNC.
In Raleigh, Dr. Koch brought the voices of "Old Scrooge, the meanest pinch-penny in England, and Tiny Tim, the sweetest invalid" to the Ambassador Theatre.
Each year Dr. Koch, who has passed his 200th public reading of the Carol and is as busy as Santa Claus around Christmas time, includes Raleigh on his itinerary. And each year hundreds have been turned away because the Ambassador Theatre could not accomodate all those who wanted to get in.
Dr. Koch's reading of the Carol has brought such a deep sense of the Christmas spirit to so many thousands that he is in demand all over the country.
In Chapel Hill and several other North Carolina cities, his reading has become an annual institution, and the people go to hear him again and again -- if they can get in.
Dr. Koch reads the entire Carol with only a slight rest between the cantos. His voice creates vivid impressions as it moves from Scrooge's whines to the somber tone of the ghost to Tiny Tim's plaintive "God bless us every one."
He first read the Carol to a group of friends in 1905 and that started something. His audience at the University of North Dakota demanded a repeat performance the next year, and the audience grew until hundreds were turned away for lack of space. He was urged to read the Carol in nearby cities and towns. By 1935 he had read the Carol 125 times, by 1938 more than 160 times, and now he is looking forward to his 200th time. -- The News & Observer 12/11/1941
The following year, Dr. Koch gave 19 readings in 17 North Carolina cities and towns. He continued these performances until his death in 1944.
Dr. Frederick Koch (left), with his student Paul Green. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.