A cruel fate

An update:

Here’s a shot of the remnant stump of the adolescent tree, with the ancient catalpas beyond. 



The good news is that the park maintenance staff foresaw the need to plant a descendant catalpa tree next to the ancient specimens that stand in front of Chatham. They did so a couple decades ago, and the tree–just north of the pair of catalpas that appear in every Civil War-period image of the place–thrived, achieving a size comparable to its progenitor in 1863 (see historic photo, below).

Until Saturday night.  And that’s the bad news.

The catalpas in front of Chatham, 1863

A brief, violent storm ripped off the weighty branch of a huge Kentucky Coffee tree nearby. The branch, very precisely, crashed down on the adolescent catalpa, killing it dead.  The adjacent grand catalpas survived unscathed.

The orginal trees at left; the remnants of the adolescent catalpa beyond.

The catalpas at Chatham may be the most famous trees in the region.  They are gnarled and curious, imposing and evocative, and the object of much devotion and affection. These are the trees likely mentioned by Walt Whitman in his description of the surgeons at work at Chatham.  Over the years, the NPS has put in herculean efforts to keep them upright (they probably have as much metal as wood in them)…but their demise seems to be approaching rapidly. That makes the sudden death of the emerging specimen nearby all the more tragic.

Kevin Rawlings presents a program on Walt Whitman in front of the catalpas

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