Tree has deep roots in history Fort McHenry elm is believed to hold historical importance

April 24, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

A few minutes after 10 a.m. yesterday, the yellow-and-black truck with the tree-moving equipment lifted the 11-year-old English elm out of the Fort McHenry soil. This was history, so Dale Brukiewa snapped pictures and began to get sentimental.

"It makes me kind of proud to watch this," said Mr. Brukiewa, the fort's grounds foreman. "It's like watching one of your kids grow up and then go out into the world.

"Everything that happens from this point on is up to Mother Nature and that tree," he added.

A short while later, the truck carried the tree around the corner, where it was lowered into a 6-foot-deep, 8-foot-wide hole by the fort's front gate.

If the elm stays healthy, it is sure to become a signature of the fort landscape, with a 5-foot-wide trunk and branches that extend 100 feet and provide a 75-foot canopy.

The tree's historical roots run deep.

In 1932, the state Daughters of the American Revolution planted the tree's precursor, the so-called Washington Elm, at the fort to commemorate the first president's 200th birthday.

Although records are not completely clear, it is widely believed that the Washington Elm is an offshoot of a tree growing on the common in Cambridge, Mass.

Standing under that tree, Washington first took command of the Revolutionary Army.

But the Washington Elm at the fort could not withstand the Dutch elm disease that has destroyed the elms that once lined South Baltimore's Fort Avenue.

After an icy winter two years ago, park rangers discovered that the disease was choking circulation to the tree's branches.

They cut down the tree and removed its roots in hopes that the disease wouldn't spread.

Yesterday's swift move of the Fort McHenry elm, which was delayed by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. workers who had to temporarily disable a power line, had been in the works for four years.

Fort workers had pruned the tree's roots so that the crew from Turner Tree Movers, which transports about five trees a day, could fit equipment around it.

It took all of 20 minutes for the truck's steel jaws to capture the tree, lift it and place it in its new home. Fort workers spent the rest of day soaking the ground around its new home with more than 300 gallons of water.

The tree originally was planted out of public view, behind the building that houses the fort's administrative offices. Mr. Brukiewa, 39, said he wanted it there so he could keep a close eye on its health.

The elm had some early health problems -- the result of rabbits eating it.

One rabbit ate the tree's crown a few years back, causing the trunk to fork into two long branches about 4 feet off the ground. But the elm grew quickly and began to rub against neighboring pines. It had to be moved before it got bigger.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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