Several weeks ago there was a newspaper article about a very large Southern Magnolia on the White House lawn that has become old and badly damaged and is to be cut down. Aside from the fact that it is very old with an extremely large and wide canopy and trunk size, it has a very interesting background. This magnolia is a memorial tree that President Andrew Jackson had planted in memory of his wife, Rachel. The recent election campaign of 1828 was a very contentious and vicious one, pitting the populist Jackson of Tennessee against the Eastern establishment. This election was much worse than the recent one of 2016, with much dirt and negative background being flung by each side. One issue brought up was the accusation of bigamy leveled against Jackson’s wife Rachel. There was some ambiguous truth to this charge as Rachel had been married before and she married Jackson, unknowing that her divorce had been not yet been finalized. The campaign’s intensity about this charge by the opposition affected Rachel so much that she sickened and died a month after Jackson’s election. Jackson was very grief stricken, blaming opponents for his wife’s death. One thing he did for her memorial was to plant a seedling magnolia from their home in Tennessee. The tree flourished and grew for almost 200 years, becoming a very popular site on the White House grounds. However, as it aged in recent years, many attempts to save it were undertaken. However, these efforts failed and there was no option left but to cut it down.
This episode highlights the use of trees as memorials to the deceased as well as for historic events in our society. In 2010, the September 11 Survivor Tree was replanted at the National September 11 Memorial. The “Survivor Tree” was a Callery Pear, one sign of life that was discovered in the rubble caused by the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. The tree was badly crushed and scorched and barely alive. It was taken to a nursery where it was restored to normalcy and then replanted at the memorial site.
Other trees have also become symbolic of major events in our history. One of the most famous of these was the Liberty Tree, growing in Boston Common at the time of the Revolution. The revolutionary Sons of Liberty would meet under its branches to hear independence speeches and plot acts against British rule, such as the famous Boston Tea Party. Unfortunately, the tree was cut down by the British in 1775. However, liberty tree sprouted up in numerous colonial towns as a sign of independence.
We commemorate people and events with statues and stone and metal memorials, but why use trees as memorials? Trees have a certain benefit for remembrance. They have a certain emotional and transcendental appeal that the other types lack. Trees are living things that continue to grow and spread their branches out further and further. We have to look upwards to view them. They are a part of our psychic make-up. “We do not see trees, we feel them.” And so when anything as venerable and appealing as a tree, especially with some memorable attachment to it comes down, we all take notice of it.
If you have questions or concerns, feel free to contact the Vermilion Tree Commission by contacting Anne Maiden at the Mayor’s Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 440-204-2402. You are also cordially invited to attend our monthly Tree Commission meeting which is on the second Wednesday of the month. The Tree Commission will meet at the Ritter Public Library on Wednesday, February 14, 2018, at 9:30 AM.