WASHINGTON – How do you preserve the legacy of a 96-foot-tall tulip poplar that stood for liberty and justice for centuries?
Some people think croquet mallets are the perfect answer.
Others would like to see the Liberty Tree turned into musical instruments, clocks or picture frames.
The decision is up to administrators at St. John’s College in Annapolis, where the tree stood for centuries before it was cut down last month.
The croquet mallet idea, from an alumnus, might satisfy the administration’s desire to create a memento that is rooted in the school’s own history, said Barbara Goyette, spokeswoman for the college.
The school boasts only one inter-collegiate sport – croquet – and has played an annual grudge match for the Annapolis Cup against the nearby U.S. Naval Academy under the Liberty Tree every year since 1982.
“We thought the mallets were a pretty good idea at first,” Goyette said, although she stressed that no decision has been made yet.
It’s already too late for at least one idea. A proposal to leave part of the trunk standing, hollow it out and put a roof on top to create a sort of kiosk or shelter died when the tree came down and the stump was cut all the way to the ground.
Several people have suggested the tree be turned into benches. But Goyette noted that while there are a lot of ideas on what to do with the wood, there is “surprisingly little good wood available” from the tree.
More than 100 history buffs, Annapolitans and alumni have contacted the college with requests for pieces of the wood and suggestions. Several artisans have also submitted requests for wood pieces to create sculptures, carvings and bowls, Goyette said.
The wood is being cured while college officials sift through suggestions and requests. One thing that has been determined is that the college is not out to make a buck on the tree.
“We’re really not set up for marketing – we’re a college,” Goyette said. “We want to give pieces of the wood to students, faculty and alumni.”
She said the products that ultimately come out of the tree are not as important as the college’s desire to get pieces of it into the hands of those “to whom it means the most.”
St. John’s College has held its graduation ceremonies under the tree since 1929 and alumni often married beneath the Liberty Tree’s expansive branches, Goyette said, so many students, faculty and alumni hold the tree dear.
“Students want a little slice,” Goyette said. “They’re not interested in doo-dads.”