The latest national Christmas tree, which National Park Service officials traveled more than 7,000 miles to find last year, is dead and is to be cut down this week.
The 30-foot Colorado blue spruce was transplanted on the Ellipse last fall to replace the previous 40-foot blue spruce that died after three years.
The new tree was knocked down in heavy winds twice one day last January, shortly after its decorations had been removed.
Park Service officials said then they did not expect the tree to survive and immediately began scouring the countryside for a replacement.
In fact, to be safe, they found two:
After driving more than 2,000 miles of back roads north of Washington this spring, a ranger chanced upon a "perfect" 26-foot blue spruce in the front yard of a York, Pa., couple, Mr. and Mrs. William E. Myers.
Mrs. Myers said last week that Park Service officials arrived at her door one day in June and said they had traveled thousands of miles, like the Wise Men, looking for the perfect Christmas tree for the nation and that they had just seen it on her front lawn.
The second tree was planted earlier this summer in a remote corner of the Ellipse. The 18-foot blue spruce, purchased from a New Jersey nursery, was acquired as spare, to be used in case the latest live tree also dies.
Despite the embarrassment of having two "living" Christmas trees die in two years, the Park Service still is strongly committed to a live Christmas tree on the Ellipse, says Ranger Bill Ruback, who manages the President's Park - Lafayette Square, the White House grounds and the Ellipse.
The idea of a Christmas tree for the nation began in 1923, when Middlebury College in Vermont sent a large spruce to native son Calvin Coolidge. A live Vermont tree was sent to the White House the following year and was successfully planted on the White House grounds, where it was decorated every Christmas until 1941 when it died and was replaced by two live Oriental spruces, one of which still stands on the White House grounds but is somewhat scrawny looking, according to Ruback.
The practice of cutting large trees for the Ellipse, several more than 70 feet tall, was begun in 1954 but dropped in 1973 when the National Arborist Association donated the 40-foot spruce that was cut down last fall. The Arborists' spruce, from Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, was injured when it fell off the truck just before being transplanted. It looked so scraggly by 1976 that the Park Service had to cut up a 25-foot spruce and tie its branches onto the tree so it would look nice enough for the televised Christmas Tree lighting ceremonies.
The present tree was killed Jan. 26 when 60-mile-an-hour winds, which destroyed hundreds of trees in downtown parks, broke two of the tree's four steadying cables and toppled it, ripping its roots out of the frozen ground. Although the tree was righted and recabled, high winds later in the day broke two cables and again knocked down the tree.
The new tree, though smaller and thus considered better able to survive transplanting, will be secured with stronger wire cables, says Ruback. The tree will be purchased from the Myerses for $1,500, because "we thought it was the appropriate thing to do."
The latest ill-fated tree was donated anonymously by a Rockville family. It will be cut up and burned as a Yule log, as was its predecessor, during the three-week Pageant of Peace on the Ellipse, which begins Dec. 14.
The two bronze plaques on the Ellipse stating that the national Christmas tree was donated by the National Arborist Association will not be changed, says Ruback, except for the dates the tree was planted. Last year the 1973 date, was changed to read "planted in 1977," says Ruback. "We'll just have to change the date again."