The Quick 10: 10 Trees That Changed the World
As you might know, we’re kind of Disney freaks in this family. When you combine this with my love of obscure road trip stops, it’s rather astonishing that I grew up just two hours from Walt Disney’s hometown of Marceline, Missouri, and never once dropped in to see what the fuss was about. Well, I finally did over the long Labor Day weekend, and was quite taken with his Dreaming Tree. Walt’s just one of several people who had trees that meant a lot to them - here are a few of those stories.
1. Walt Disney was born in Chicago, but his dad relocated the family to a farm in Marceline when Walt was four. He spent hours under a tree he called his “dreaming tree,” hanging out with his sister Ruth and drawing the field mice and squirrels and other critters running around under the tree. When he came back to Marceline to visit in 1956, to his delight, he discovered that his tree was still there and requested some alone time so he could sit under his tree and do a little dreaming. The tree is still there, but it has been struck by lightning and has definitely seen better days.
2. When Anne Frank was stuck in her attic prison, she took solace in the horse-chestnut tree outside of her window. It appears in her diary three times:
“Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs, from my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind. As long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy.”
Sadly, after years of speculation on the tree’s lack of stability, the Anne Frank Tree snapped off nearly at the base, leaving just a foot or so of trunk. The tree was thought to be 150-170 years old.
3. Everyone knows about Isaac Newton and his apple, obviously, but what happened to the tree the apple supposedly fell from? We’re not exactly sure. There are a couple of places that claim to have The tree, most notably Woolsthorpe Manor, Newton’s family home. A piece of this tree was even sent into space in May.
4. If you’ve ever been to Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange, you probably can’t imagine a quaint little street with a buttonwood tree. But that’s exactly what it used to be. Back in 1792, 24 stock brokers stood under a little Buttonwood tree on Wall Street and signed the Buttonwood Agreement, founding the NYSE. It’s long gone now, but it certainly left quite the legacy.
5. Like the Dreaming Tree and the Anne Frank Tree, the Mercer Oak is a shadow of its former self. During the Revolutionary War, General Hugh Mercer was stabbed by a British soldier during the Battle of Princeton in 1777. He staggered to the great white oak, bracing himself on its trunk so he could continue to support his troops. Mercer ended up dying some days later, but his oak tree became a symbol of his bravery and for the Princeton community. It fell in 2000, but it was propagated and a new tree was planted in the trunk of the old one.
6. The Geneseo Big Tree was the victim of a flood sometime in the mid-1800s, but prior to that it was the site of the Treaty of Big Tree, which opened up what is now Western New York for settlers and established 10 reservations for the Seneca nation.
7. Hampton, Virginia, is the home to the Emancipation Oak, a tree where former slaves and their children met to get an education. Teacher Mary Smith Peake taught up to 50 children and 20 adults under the oak tree until she got ill in 1862 and died of tuberculosis. In 1863, the tree became the site of the first Southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.
8. King Charles II of England wouldn’t have lived to sign the charter that established the Hudson Bay Company if he hadn’t taken refuge in the Royal Oak during the Battle of Worcester in 1651. As Commonwealth troops descended upon Boscobel House where Charles and other Royalists were holed up, the King took the opportunity to flee to the oak tree on the grounds, figuring his enemies would never think to scale a tree to find him. He was right: Charles confirmed in 1680 that a soldier stood directly below him while he hid there. The tree was virtually destroyed in the following years as people came and sawed off chunks for souvenirs, but “Son of Royal Oak” lives on. After it was damaged in a storm in 2000, Prince Charles planted another sapling, making it “Grandson of Royal Oak.”
9. A tree with even older royal ties, the Queen Elizabeth Oak, lives on the grounds of the Royal Palace of Hatfield where Elizabeth I spent her childhood. She was supposedly sitting under this tree when she was informed she had become the Queen of England. It no longer stands today, but perhaps the strength and beauty of the original is what prompted Elizabeth to say this when she was told of her future: "A domino factum est mirabilis in oculis nostris" or "this is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes."
10. Would the use of medicine be as widespread today if the Tree of Hippocrates had never existed? …Okay, yeah, it probably would be. But maybe the tree hastened our knowledge of it, because it’s where Hippocrates, considered the father of medicine, taught his students everything he knew about the subject. The current tree is only (“only”) about 500 years old, but it’s believed to be a descendant of the original. Cuttings of it can be found at Yale, the University of Alabama College of Medicine, the University of Michigan Medical School and at the University of Victoria, among other places.