On the day leading up to the final rally of Donald Trump’s “thank you” tour, city officials in Mobile, Ala., raved about its plans for a festive, Christmas welcome for the president-elect. The mayor’s chief of staff tweeted that the city “did the impossible,” erecting and decorating a 50-foot Christmas tree as a backdrop for Trump’s speech.
But some Mobile residents soon speculated that the majestic cedar tree was one they had seen before, AL.com reported. Just over a mile away from the stadium where Trump would speak, in a public park, a massive cedar tree was gone.
— Colby Cooper (@ColbyJCooper) December 18, 2016
As skeptical residents raised questions with the mayor, city officials confirmed that, indeed, the tree had been removed from Public Safety Memorial Park and taken to Ladd-Peebles Stadium. In emails and across social media, residents erupted in outrage.
“Our city parks aren’t Christmas tree farms,” one woman said she wrote in an email to Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson. “An old growth tree from a city park for backdrop? Insane.”
In an initial statement, Colby Cooper, the chief of staff for the city, lauded the city’s efforts, saying “A Christmas Tree was needed and the City provided it,” AL.com reported. But on Sunday, following public criticism, the chief of staff issued an apology for his role, saying he became “overzealous” in making sure “every detail was covered and the expectations” of Trump’s team were exceeded ahead of Saturday’s televised rally.
“I now know there are citizens who are upset and offended that a tree from a City park was used as part of the decorations for the event,” Cooper wrote on Facebook.
“For this, I sincerely apologize. Going forward, I will be more sensitive to the spectrum of concerns regarding trees.”
Mobile resident Denise Grier first noticed a commotion at the city park Thursday morning as she walked her dogs through the park, just like she had for 20 years, she told AL.com.
She saw a crane and about seven trucks “in position to pull out a magnificent old cedar,” she said. “It was odd because so many supervisors were there. I knew it was something big.”
She took a photograph of the tree, positing it on the Nextdoor online community forum and expressing her concern for it. When she returned to the park later that day, the tree was still there. But on Friday morning, a neighbor commented online that the tree was gone.
“It had character. It was gnarly,” she said. “It had sentimental value.”
That day, Cooper tweeted a photo of the 50-foot Christmas tree being lowered into the stadium by a crane, saying enthusiastically that this is “how we roll” in Mobile.
— Colby Cooper (@ColbyJCooper) December 16, 2016
The next day, Trump would speak for more than an hour before a large crowd in the stadium, with the cedar tree — festooned with Christmas ornaments — blocking the stadium’s scoreboard in the background.
“This is our last rally, our last stop,” Trump said. “This is where it all began. I just want to thank the people of Alabama and start by wishing you a very Merry Christmas.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2016
On Monday, Cooper tweeted that to “make the Christmas tree situation right,” he would personally pay for three cedar trees to replace the one taken, as well as all of the ornaments used on the tree. He then said the tree would be “repurposed,” although it was not immediately clear what he meant.
Let's focus on the GREAT momentum Mobile is experiencing & the role the City is playing in improving the quality of life for its citizens.
— Colby Cooper (@ColbyJCooper) December 19, 2016
Where the cedar tree once stood, near a walking path at the edge of the city park, all that remained Friday was a ground-level stump, with a two-foot section of the trunk lying nearby.
“Poor tree,” Grier wrote in a post online. “Killed for a ridiculous purpose.”