Friday, September 11, 2009

The Survivor Tree (USA)

A photograph of the Survivor Tree elm at the Oklahoma City National Memorial as taken on 18 September 2004 by Dustin M. Ramsey.

The Survivor Tree is an American elm on the north side of the Memorial. This tree was the only shade tree in the parking lot across the street from the Murrah Building, and commuters came in to work early to get one of the shady parking spots provided by its branches. 
Photos of Oklahoma City taken around the time of statehood (1907) show this tree, meaning it is currently at least 102 years old. Despite its age, the tree was neglected and taken for granted prior to the blast. Heavily damaged by the bomb, the Tree ultimately survived after nearly being chopped down during the initial investigation, in order to recover evidence hanging in its branches and embedded in its bark. 
The force of the blast ripped most of the branches from the Survivor Tree, glass and debris were imbedded in its trunk and fire from the cars parked beneath it blackened what was left of the tree. Most thought the tree could not survive. However, almost a year after the bombing, family members, survivors and rescue workers gathered for a memorial ceremony under the tree noticed it was beginning to bloom again. In that instant the tree became a symbol of what the city had come through.
Like the tree, the city had been bent and bowed but it had not been broken. The tree and the city survived.

The Survivor Tree now thrives, in no small part because the specifications for the Outdoor Memorial design included a mandate to feature and protect the Tree. One example of the dramatic measures taken to save the Tree: one of the roots that would have been cut by the wall surrounding the Tree was placed inside a large pipe, so it could reach the soil beyond the wall without being damaged. A second example is the decking around the Tree, which is raised several feet to make an underground crawlspace; workers enter through a secure hatchway and monitor the health of the Tree and maintain its very deep roots.

The inscription around the inside of the deck wall around the Survivor Tree reads: 
The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.

Hundreds of seeds from the Survivor Tree are planted annually and the resulting saplings are distributed each year on the anniversary of the bombing. Thousands of Survivor Trees are growing today in public and private places all over the United States; saplings were sent to Columbine High School after the massacre there, to New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, and various times. 

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