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New From The Post
Liberty Tree Is Felled

Anne Zolkower, left, and other volunteers from St. John's College collect leaves and branches to hand out to visitors. (Lois Raimondo The Post)
By Jefferson Morley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 25, 1999; 1:00 p.m. EDT

Annapolis's famed Liberty Tree is no more.

In a brief ceremony on the campus of St. John's College this morning, several hundred people bid a fond farewell to the majestic tulip poplar that in 1775 sheltered rebellious Maryland colonists dreaming of a new nation.

"Here the seeds of revolution were planted for this country and the world," Gov. Parris Glendening (D) said. "We say farewell to an old friend."

After the Liberty Tree was badly damaged during Hurricane Floyd last month, experts advised St. John's that it was in danger of collapsing and should be cut down for safety reasons.

The requiem featured patriotic sentiments and ringing bells and a work crew in orange hard hats sizing up the doomed tree. Students, uniformed military officers, history buffs and sightseers with video cameras quietly paid final respects to the campus' last survivor of America's revolutionary past.

Two hundred twenty four years ago, every large city in the American colonies had a Liberty Tree. Celebrated in a popular song by Tom Paine, these trees were beacons for those who wanted to cast off British rule. Today's crowd came accompanied by the flutter of the helicopter and the scurrying of the TV cameramen.

But on Sept. 27, 1775, the citizens of Annapolis were beckoned to the tree by the sound of beating drums to debate how Annapolis should react to British taxes.

"They came to the tree to talk about throwing all the British royalists out of town," said Frank Tippett, a 10th generation Marylander and history buff. "Here we are, still gathering around the same tree."

As the visitors lined up for souvenir leaves and branches handed out by volunteers from the college, many seemed keen to grasp something that might ward off the sense of time passing. The college also plans to make some mementos to be sold to the public.

"It's very sad," said Douglas Bowers, a retired high school English teacher.

Ernest Smith, a barber from the Naval Academy, strolled in the crowed with a video camera in hand recording the event "for my grandchildren"

"Its just terrible," said one 1999 graduate of St. John's who asked that her name not be used. "Just think how many people have hung out under that tree or had a beer or made out or played croquet."

As Glendening said, the tree symbolized the growth of the country.

"This tree has seen the expansion of freedom within our nation as we have moved from a society open only to the privileged few to a society that is one of the most open in the world."

But for all the invocations of history and the endurance of the idea of liberty, there was also a sense of fragility in the crisp autumn air.

Annapolis Mayor Dean Johnson (R) noted that the mighty tree, almost nine feet in diameter, was but a slender "thread back to our forefathers' dream."

And the thread had to be cut. After the bells tolled for the tree and a wreath placed on its trunk, the chain saws started to whine. A crane lifted a worker, Daniel Bruce Miller, up to the tree's crown. He went to work, and at 9:10 a.m., the mighty branches of the Liberty Tree began falling to earth.

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© 1999 The Washington Post Company

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