word unique is surely one of the most misused of words.
We find events or objects in our daily environment that
we are told are 'almost unique,' or 'believed to be unique.'
It is truly rare when something can actually be declared
unequivocally unique. In the case of this stunning Coast
Redwood exhibit section now offered for purchase it is possible
to employ that appellation in its most proper sense. Looking
at the attached
pictures, it can be seen that this is an historical
and biological object of considerable significance for the
interpretation of both American cultural history and natural
history: it would make a superb addition to any number of
institutions which emphasize these disciplines.
walk-in reconstruction of a cut Coast Redwood tree from
the forests of the northwest Pacific coast of California
is the only known exhibit of this nature outside of its
native area, it is, in a word, unique Found only in a narrow
strip at and inland of the ocean in Northern California
and southern Oregon, the Coast Redwood is one of three species
of related trees that are commonly referred to as redwoods.
The common name Coast Redwood is reserved for Sequoia sempervirens
by both botanists and the National Park Service (NPS), which
protects many of these individuals in Redwood National Park,
in order to differentiate it from members of the species
Sequoiadendron giganteum, the Giant Sequoia. That common
name is also formalized by the botanical community and the
NPS and is as well known by the public as is its relative
the Coast Redwood. Protected in several national and state
parks (and newly established areas in National Forest lands)
in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California - its
only endemic area - the Giant Sequoia is the largest living
thing on Earth. Like its biological relative the Coast Redwood,
the Giant Sequoia had a circumglobal range in past geological
times and is well known from the fossil record For reasons
that have never been fully understood, ecological changes
planet-wide have restricted both species to relictual areas
in either the Sierra Nevada or Pacific Coast for these two
species. The third redwood tree is equally restricted to
a tiny area, in this case in China. The Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia
glyptostroboides, is unusual among conifers - cone-bearing
trees -in that it is deciduous. Discovered by Western science
only in the 1940s, the Dawn Redwood had been venerated by
the Chinese in temple grounds, but few individuals survived
the depredations of a fuel-hungry people where not guarded.
All three of the redwood species, though each in its monospecific
genus (only one species in the genus) are classified in
a single botanical family, the Cupressaceae. Much debate
on this classification has gone on in recent years as the
redwoods had long been in a taxon known as the Bald Cypress
family (Taxodiaceae), but current botanical opinion has
moved them out of this position. An international conference
to be held in 2003 in Germany will consider this and many
other aspects of all three redwoods. All three species are
widely planted worldwide today horticulturally.
Coast Redwood was first seen by members of the Spanish Portola
Expedition and described by their priest Fray Juan Crespi
on October 10, 1769 in the area of Monterey, California.
The tree had been well known, of course, by Native Americans
in prehistoric times. Very near the southern end of its
then endemic range, the great trees in the Monterey grove
of the Coast Redwood were described by Father Crespi as
"very high trees of a red color, not known to us."
There is a tantalizing suggestion that peoples from beyond
North America, other than the Indians and the newly arrived
Spaniards, had seen the tree much earlier. The Chinese junk
of mariner Hee Li, misguided by a stuck compass needle,
arrived in the Monterey area in 217 B.C. and Li surely would
have seen the redwoods. While Li was very real, his landing
on the central California coast remains unproven. Chinese
artifacts are known from the area, however.
this 'titan race' of Coast Redwoods could not remain untouched
by an expanding nation as the new North Americans in their
hoards moved westward. The discovery of the high quality
of the wood fiber in the Coast Redwood sealed its future
as a species to be harvested on a truly gargantuan scale.
Its cousin, the Giant Sequoia, though much larger in total
bulk (but not nearly as tall on an individual basis) offered
surprisingly poor wood for any large structural purposes
-but, sadly, magnificent wood for shingles, shakes, fence
posts and other ignominious uses for such a noble tree.
The long fibers in the coast species made it ideal for many
purposes; both species offered extremely rot-resistant properties
due, in part, to their high tannic acid content. This 'tannin'
is what gives both species, and the Dawn Redwood as well,
their attractive reddish hue. So concentrated in bark and
heartwood (though not in the fungal rot- susceptible sapwood)
is tannic acid, that most fungi and insect pests are unable
to damage the trees. Both North American species heal easily
from damage due to invasive organisms or from fire. These
properties were central to the desire of the lumber industry
to bring to an end an utterly vast number of individual
giants prior to the partial protection granted to both species;
though this was not seen until well into the 20th century.
to a suspicious public in the East that trees of the sizes
claimed by the early California settlers was no easy task.
And it is with that several decades-long effort that the
exhibition section offered now for sale plays an historic
role. The first exhibitions to be created using redwood
materials were not from the Coast species, but from the
Giant Sequoia. The first of these was the famed Mother of
the Forest which grew in the Calaveras Grove of Big Trees
in the Sierra Nevada. The speculator George Trask hired
a crew of men in 1854, just three years alter the effective
discovery of the Giant Sequoia was made by hunter A. T.
Dowd, to build a scaffolding up the side of the tree and
strip its bark - no one had yet successfully prepared a
section containing the wood, as well. The bark strips were
sent to London and New York for display. The tree, of course,
died shortly thereafter. No tree species can survive with
such severe damage to its primary generative layer (the
vascular cambium beneath the bark) all the way around its
circumference. The Giant Sequoia is remarkable -not unique
- in its ability to heal itself if at least a small modicum
of bark and cambium remains intact up a portion of the tree.
The snag (a standing dead tree) of the Mother'stood in the
grove until nearly totally destroyed by fire in 1908. A
series of other famous exhibition trees were cut and reassembled
a great distance from their origins over the latter part
of the 19~ century, but again, most of these were Giant
Sequoias. Many of these stories have been told in capsule
form in a variety of books over the years, but only a few
have been detailed in any great degree. The Mother of the
Forest story has been well researched only recently and
an unpublished manuscript exists concerning it. It is listed
below in the select bibliography which considers several
of these exhibit trees.
the 1890s that appears to have changed. Perhaps the most
famous of the exhibit sequoias was one known as the General
Noble, so named for the Civil War general John Willock Noble.
Noble later became Secretary of the Interior and his name
was applied to an unusually large sequoia just prior to
its demise at the hands of a special crew hired to prepare
the exhibit section. Today, visitors to an area in Sequoia
National Forest just to the north of Grant Grove (above)
may view the remains of the Noble, now popularly termed
the 'Chicago Stump," as this massive section was cut
for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago
in that year. Often referred to as the 'First Chicago World's
Fair' it celebrated the 400th year since the
discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (albeit one
year late). The section stood in the rotunda of the U. S.
Government Building, arguably the most prestigious location,
and possibly the cut sequoia was the most viewed exhibit,
at the Fair. It was later shipped to Washington, D.C., where
it stood on the Mall near the now-demolished Agriculture
Department building for three decades. It was dismantled
eventually and stored in that Department's yards in Arlington,
Virginia where today the Pentagon stands. What happened
to the remains of the section when that five-sided building
was constructed is an enduring mystery, but is has been
suggested that it was ploughed into the foundation area
and will surely amaze some future archeologist upon its
early example was a tree that was cut just a few hundred
feet from the famous General Grant sequoia in Grant Grove,
Kings Canyon National Park (which is operated effectively
as a single park with Sequoia National Park in the southern
Sierra) east of Fresno, California. This ~~Centennial Tree"
was cut for the 1876 centenary of the United States and
was exhibited in Philadelphia. It was roundly derided as
a "California Hoax," but, of course, was the remains
of yet another sacrificed titan. The fact that its reconstruction
for exhibit was so poorly done is the likely reason it could
not be accepted by a curious public as having come from
a single tree. Even though the end of the Civil War had
brought many disillusioned soldiers west in the later 1860s
and would see these selfsame veterans name many individual
Giant Sequoias for their favorites generals, presidents
and others, those men represented too small a segment of
the American populace to convince their fellows of the reality
of trees of such giant proportions.
is important about the Chicago' specimen for our present
interest is the style of the exhibit made: it is almost
exactly the same as that of the Coast Redwood exhibit here
offered for sale: a 'room tree.' The story of the Noble's
cutting and showing has been thoroughly studied and a published
history is available (see bibliography). The pictures of
the cutting operation of this Giant Sequoia help, too, to
some degree, to understand better how the work must have
been done to prepare the section now on sale here. Some
contusion came to light immediately when more investigation
on the 'Niagara tree' (so called for present purposes; see
below) was undertaken in recent months as both the Noble
(Giant Sequoia) and the Niagara (Coast Redwood) were cut
in the same year of 1893. While a photograph (see attached)
of the Niagara would seem clearly to indicate that the tree
was different from the Noble, a wood scientist has recently
studied the Niagara to prove that it is, in fact a Coast
Redwood. This has been assured and is one more piece of
evidence that the 'room tree' offered here for purchase
is a Coast Redwood. This is significant, as no other such
exhibit is known to exist anywhere outside Northern California,
thus adding to the exhibit value of the Niagara tree.
Niagara tree was cut, as confirmed by a photograph of the
period, on February 14, 1893 along the Eel River in Humboldt
County, California and was felled in the manner typical
for Coast Redwoods. Unlike Giant Sequoias, which are unusually
wide near and a bit above the ground (the so-called 'butt
swell') that adds so much extra labor to cutting these trees
at that level, Coast Redwoods show little extra breadth
at this point. The actual cutting probably employed double-headed
axes and very long, large-toothed two- man 'whip' saws then
also commonly in use in the Sierra Nevada logging shows.
The Giant Sequoias were cut above the butt swell (sometimes
up to ten feet or more above the ground) by cutting small
holes deep into bark and sapwood and placing lengths of
lumber known as 'spring boards' which would hold a circumferential
walkway on which the lumberjacks could wield first their
axes and then complete the cut with the hard to manage "misery
whips." The Coast trees required no such special work
and another attached photo shows the cutting crew at the
base of the Niagara tree after its felling. The tree and
the room section are over 70 feet in circumference. While
the largest Giant Sequoia exceeds 100 feet in circumference,
the 70 plus feet of the Niagara tree indicate a very large
Coast Redwood. This but adds to the attractiveness of this
section is cut into 14 staves with both bark and wood present
with each stave being approximately 3, 4 or 5 feet in width.
The height is____. There is a doorway (see accompanying
photos) in one side. The purchaser might choose to use the
section as a stand-alone exhibit or to open the 'back'side
(that away from its doorway) and place the whole at an entry
to some broader exhibit of trees, forestry, logging history,
natural history, American history or other.
epithet used here of 'Niagara tree' bespeaks a portion of
its history, as unlike the Noble, the Centennial and so
many others, this tree was not formally named in its early
period. A detailed history of this exhibition section has
yet to be written. (The author of this prospectus is available
for a contract study of it, however, should the purchaser
of this section desire such a study. It is known, however,
that it was shown at the Pan American World's Fair in Buffalo,
New York in 1901 and subsequently became the property of
the Niagara Falls Museum (NFM), a curiousity type museum
near that famous water course. A picture taken on the cutting
day of the tree was published in an early guidebook to the
NFM with the erroneous statement that it was "nearly
twice the size of the one exhibited at the Chicago Fair."
Its actual smaller size does not detract at all from its
very high value as an exhibit for a museum today, however,
because the Niagara Room Tree remains in all senses unique.
by Donald J. McGraw MS, PhD (Associate Provost at the University
of San Diego and specialist in the natural and human history
of Giant Sequoias.)
Jeremy. Redwoods: The World's Largest Trees (New York: GalleryBooks,
1981). One of the best general works, this book covers
all three species of redwoods with regard to both human
and natural history.
Dennis. Sierra Nevada Big Trees: History of the Exhibitions
1850-1903. (Dawsons Bookshop, 1985).
Donald J. "The Tree that Crossed a Continent."
California History ppg. 120- 139; illus. Summer, 1982.
Donald J. "American Scientist 2000.
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