At the end of July, 1996, members of Noise Laboratories discovered that a beautiful, enormous tree that graced the Biological Laboratories courtyard at Harvard University had disappeared literally overnight. Below is an excerpt of email written by Chief Safety Inspector Steve Hoey.
Well, I tracked down the guy who made the decision to remove the Grand Stately Tree from the BioLabs courtyard. His name is Bernie Keohan, and he's in charge of trees University-wide for the Facilities Maintenance Department.
Turns out that that beautiful old tree was an Elm tree. And as you probably have already guessed, it was heavily afflicted with Dutch Elm Disease. They saw that it had spread throughout the tree, and the tree was already significantly weak. They realized it probably wouldn't last another season. With regret and sadness -- emotions that were very evident in Bernie's voice when we spoke today -- they "took down" the tree.
We ended up talking for about 15 minutes about the trees on campus, and just the beauty and majesty of old growth. He was so glad to hear the call, and said that he's planned a meeting with Jim Ciatti (sp?), who's in charge of the Bio Labs building, to discuss what next for that spot. Probably a locust tree (?) will go in that spot, a tree that's already significantly grown up, something that will have a huge crown and fill the empty space left by the elm. Bernie said he would pass on my sentiments to Jim, who would also really appreciate hearing them he said, because Jim works hard to keep the courtyard beautiful, and of course wants to hear positive feedback from the community.I said to Bernie, "It's such a relief to hear that you're obviously a tree-lover. I was afraid that that beautiful tree was felled because of some kind of maintenance concern about the building or the steam pipes underground or something." And he said, "Oh, hell no! No, I don't think we ever take down a healthy tree. That would be an awful, awful shame. Unfortunately, this one was almost gone with Dutch Elm, and really there's no cure for it."
Then he went on to tell me a story of how, in 1980, they lost a big limb from a tree in front of the Fogg Museum. When the guys with the bucket truck got there to remove the stragglers from where the limb had broken off, they looked down to see that the tree was completely hollow! And yet it was in full leaf! They were puzzled, so they brought in the arboretum guys, and sure enough, by rights the tree shouldn't even have been able to stand. The major limb basically fell off the tree, there weren't even high winds to pull it off. So they decided it had to come down safely, rather than collapse over the next year or two. Well, they were up there with the trucks, and a jogger ran by and stopped. He stood at the base of the tree and said "No way are you taking down this tree! This is a perfectly healthy tree, knock it off!" And then he ran through the yard straight into President Bok's office, proclaiming "You've got to stop these guys, they're pulling down a perfectly healthy tree in front of the Fogg Museum!" And within minutes 19 different people were there inspecting and questioning the crew, and the jogger was still very upset. So the tree guys said, "Look, we don't take down healthy trees, this one's completely hollow. Come on up and take a look!" So they brought him up in the bucket truck and he could see for himself the tree was just a shell. When they got down the jogger apologized, and Bernie said to him, "No, don't apologize. You did the right thing. I mean, god forbid somebody was trying to take down a healthy tree, someone SHOULD stop them!"
So even though the tree we loved was lost, I feel a lot better about its passing knowing that it was cared for through the course of its Dutch Elm Disease, and that it was "put to rest" with reverence rather than ignorance.
And I look forward to sitting beneath the spreading branches of the locust tree, and to telling it the story of its wonderful predecessor.
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Updated 22 October 1996
Steve Hoey, Chief Safety Inspector