Honking Tree fans mobilize to rememberThe Honking Tree is gone, but already people are mobilizing to see that it’s not forgotten. The most immediate plan is for a drive-by-and-honk parade, Sunday at 6:30 p.m., organized by Erin Carlson of Two Harbors.
By: Monica Isley, Lake County News Chronicle
The Honking Tree is gone, but already people are mobilizing to see that it’s not forgotten.
The most immediate plan is for a drive-by-and-honk parade, Sunday at 6:30 p.m., organized by Erin Carlson of Two Harbors.
Those who want to participate should gather at the rest area in Knife River, accessing it off Scenic Highway 61. Vehicles will leave the rest area at 6:30, and will drive past the Honking Tree site, where the trunk still lies, and honk their horns.
Drivers must maintain safe highway speed, which means at least 40 miles per hour.
Other mobilization began with comments under the online stories that informed people about “the chainsaw massacre,” the act of vandalism that felled the white pine landmark on northbound Highway 61 enjoyed by passersby for over 40 years. The tree itself may have been as old as 113.
Indignation, exasperation, grief, anger—the comments included all of those. People wrote online, talked about it on the street, and phoned their friends to share the shock and sadness.
Then, the ideas began coming.
The first is to preserve the trunk and turn it into a memorial of some kind. That came from the Minnesota Department of Transportation itself. Steve Baublitz, MnDOT maintenance supervisor at Two Harbors, was the one who first reported the Honking Tree’s demise to the Lake County sheriff.
“My stomach turned sick when I saw what had happened,” he said on Thursday, shortly after the news began to circulate. “When I drove by, something just didn’t look right.”
What was wrong was the large empty space where the tree once stood.
No decision had been made on Saturday, although the idea of a chain-saw carving seemed to be gaining popularity. MnDOT plans to delimb the tree and move as much of the trunk as possible to a safe location.
Steve Anderson of Knife River called the Lake County News-Chronicle in the hopes that someone would organize a fund drive to replace the tree. He volunteered the first dollars, and any time needed to get a new tree planted.
Carlson began her plans for the memorial drive-by-and-honk parade after she acquired 900 members on her newly created facebook site, “Remembering the Honking Tree.”
“People began suggesting we do something visible as a memorial, so I decided to organize this parade,” she said on Saturday.
Meanwhile, people have begun creating their own memorials. A wreath on a stand was placed next to the stump. A stuffed bear sits atop the stump, along with flowers, a miniature honking horn, and other items.
Passersby honk not just once, but several times, in solidarity with the tree and those who loved it. Others stop, get out, and take a closer look.
On Saturday, two of those who stopped were Jim Robb and Wendy Kihlstadius.
“I live just three-quarters of a mile up the road, and I used to hear people honking at that tree any time of the day or night,” Kihlstadius said. “It was such a landmark, and such a part of my life.”
Robb said he himself always honked when passing. He remembers, as a kid, arguing with his siblings over who would get to honk the horn. When his father, Myron Robb, died 15 years ago, the family wrapped a ribbon around the Honking Tree.
As they reminisced, Leonard Weiss of Knife River stopped and approached slowly, his face somber. During the years when he lived in the Cities and lead youth expeditions to the Boundary Waters, he always acknowledged the Honking Tree as he passed.
“I didn’t honk, but I always waved,” he said, obviously fighting tears. “This just breaks my heart. This tree was a good friend.”
Weiss leaned over the stump, spreading his arms around it in a final, affectionate farewell. He laid one palm on the sawed-off end of the trunk, and patted the lichen-encrusted bark with the other.
“This was an act of terrorism against an innocent person,” he said.
When asked to do so, Weiss squatted down and began counting the rings on the tree, while those standing nearby waited to for the result.
“One hundred thirteen,” he said.
If the rings can be believed, the Honking Tree got its start 113 years ago, in 1896, when Two Harbors had barely left its Whiskey Row roots behind. Whiskey Row was the derogatory name given to the first townsite on the waterfront, after businesses and residents had moved farther uptown.
The Honking Tree was first known as “Charlie’s Tree” for Charlie Hensley, a highway engineer who ate his lunch under that tree when the expressway was being constructed in the early ‘60s, and who insisted that it not be cut down with the rest of the trees.
Later, for reasons no one seems to remember, the tree received its new name, and it became tradition for people to greet it as they returned home to Two Harbors. The story spread, and soon others coming to the North Shore added their honks.
“This is just so senseless,” one bystander was heard to say. “And it can’t be undone.”