This is a reading comprehension exercise for children. It is written by Susan Fineman, a reading specialist in the New Haven, Conn., school district.

A bell tolled 13 times recently in Annapolis--once for each of the original colonies--as a crew with chain saws began cutting down the last of the Liberty Trees, where American patriots gathered to plot against the British.

The 400-year-old tulip poplar in Maryland's capital fell victim to years of disease and decay and a final blow from the winds of Hurricane Floyd.

Experts who examined the tree on the campus of St. John's College said it was in danger of collapsing and had to be cut down.

Before the Revolutionary War, Liberty Trees were gathering places for local chapters of the Sons of Liberty throughout the colonies.

Records show that British forces destroyed trees in Boston and Charleston, S.C., said Edward Papenfuse, Maryland state archivist. He said other trees were cut down or died of disease and old age.

The end of Maryland's Liberty Tree was commemorated with a solemn ceremony Oct. 25 on the campus of the nation's third-oldest college. Wreaths were laid at the base of the tree and that of a 100-year-old offspring, which stands about 100 yards away.

Among those on hand was Gary Coleman, a University of Maryland scientist who is trying to clone DNA taken from the tree about four months ago. He said it will be midwinter before he knows whether the effort will succeed.

If so, a clone will be planted at the site of the Liberty Tree, and others will be presented to the 49 other states.

Dennis Claude, a 70-year-old Annapolis resident who as a child played under the tree's branches, recorded the cutting-down ceremony with his camera.

"It's a sad day. It really is," he said. "I thought it would be here as long as I was."

Quiz

1. What is the historic importance of Liberty Trees?

2. How were the trees named?

3. Where was the last Liberty Tree located?

4. What was wrong with the tulip poplar?

5. Was cutting down the 400-year-old tree the right thing to do?

6. How was Maryland's Liberty Tree commemorated (honored)?

7. Why did Dennis Claude attend the tree-cutting ceremony?

8. Why is University of Maryland scientist Gary Coleman trying to clone (reproduce) the woody plant?

9. When will Coleman know whether the experiment worked?

10. What's your favorite tree? Explain.

Answer key (wording may vary):

1. Before the Revolutionary War, Liberty Trees marked the spots where American colonists met to plot against the British.

2. Answers will vary.

3. The last Liberty Tree stood on the campus of St. John's College in Maryland.

4. Experts found the tree to be weakened by disease, decay and the effects of Hurricane Floyd.

5. Answers will vary.

6. Before the tree was cut down, a ceremony was held on St. John's campus.

7. The Annapolis resident went to the ceremony because he played under the tulip poplar when he was a child.

8. Coleman hopes to plant a cloned Liberty Tree in each of the 50 states.

9. The scientist will have to wait until the middle of winter to find out whether the cloning was successful.

10. Answers will vary.