A few days ago, William Gregory of Chester called to share a fascinating newspaper article about the 2012 Capitol Christmas Tree.
This annual tree tradition began in 1964 when House Speaker John W. McCormack placed a live Douglas fir on the Capitol lawn. It was re-decorated each year through 1967 when it was severely damaged in a wind storm and subsequently died.
White pines from Maryland were used for the 1968 and 1969 seasons. In 1970, the Capitol architect asked the U.S. Forest Service to provide the Christmas tree. Since then, an evergreen has been chosen from one of the 155 National Forests to be what another Speaker of the House, Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, called “…the People’s Tree, an emblem of peace for the nation and the world.”
This year’s selection is a 73-foot Engelmann Spruce from the White River National Forest in Colorado. It grew for 74 years atop a mountain where the Ute Native American tribe has lived for centuries. Before being harvested on Nov. 2, it was blessed in a special Ute ceremony. The tree was then honored with a celebration in the nearby town of Meeker before being readied for its 5,000-plus mile journey.
Estimated to weigh over 9,000 pounds, the tall conifer rested in a custom built cradle atop a 100-foot long trailer. After being coated in a waxy substance to retain moisture, each individual limb was secured to the trunk. Then the entire tree was wrapped in plastic and covered with a plywood box. The tip could be viewed through a Plexiglas window, while the cut end lay in a water reservoir, allowing it to drink 30 to 40 gallons a day. A long banner attached to the container offered well-wishers a place to leave comments and holiday greetings.
Transported by a festively decorated Mack Pinnacle truck driven by former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the tree spent three weeks on the road visiting, 28 communities and military bases across the country before arriving at the Capitol shortly after Thanksgiving. It was then adorned with more than 3,000 handmade ornaments created by Coloradoans and depicting this year’s theme, “Celebrating Our Great Outdoors.” The Capitol Christmas tree was lit nightly from dusk to 11 p.m. through Dec. 26.
To see video of the tree’s preparation for travel, its stops en route and the lighting ceremony, visit the official website of the Capitol Tree at www.capitolchristmastree2012.org.
— Joanna Angle is a Master Tree Farmer and 2012 South Carolina Tree Farmer of the Year. Her Cedarleaf Farm in Chester County is a Certified Stewardship Forest and part of the American Tree Farm System.