Monday, September 08, 2008

Gone with the wind after 252 years


The old Boyd oak is falling in the storm

All the huge, green branches blowing down. . . .
Gustav took our tree out in the gale
I don't think that we can take it
'Cause God took so long to make it
And we'll never have that live oak tree again
(with apologies to Jimmy Webb)

The last of the great live oaks on the Capitol grounds in Baton Rouge deserves better than a "MacArthur Park" ripoff, but that's just what happened to come to mind.

It's not all hot gumbo and cold beer being a Baby Boomer, you know.

I TOOK the above picture of the Louisiana State Capitol 20 years ago through the massive limbs of what was called the Thomas Boyd oak, named after the LSU president who presided over the Ol' War Skule when it sat where Huey Long's legacy now reaches for the sky.

Was called the Thomas Boyd oak. Hurricane Gustav put it in the past tense while he was attending to the rest of south Louisiana -- particularly Baton Rouge.

And I'll never take that picture of the Capitol again.

Here's the story from The Advocate:
A tree that had seen more than 250 years of history at the State Capitol — the last of three historic live oaks remaining in the Formal Gardens — was downed by Hurricane Gustav.

The Thomas Boyd oak, with its large branches held off the ground by cables just high enough for passers-by to bend under, was uprooted by the winds that swept through Baton Rouge.

“That was our major loss,” said Mathilde Myers, assistant horticulture manager for the Office of State Buildings.

Back in the 1700s, Myers’ ancestors, the Cabo de Gonzales family, owned land that ran through the Pentagon Barracks to the Arsenal Garden area, she said.

“It was a horticultural garden back then as well,” Myers said. “It wasn’t just for growing row crops or sugar cane. It was more aesthetic-type gardens. It was more for the love of plants.”

The Thomas Boyd oak was once part of a tree trio in the Capitol garden, accompanied by the Annie Boyd oak and Nicholson oak.

The Boyd oaks were named for Col. Thomas Duckett Boyd, president of LSU from 1896 to 1927, and his wife, Anna Fuqua Boyd.

The Annie Boyd oak was uprooted during Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

The Nicholson oak, named for LSU math professor and two-time LSU President James S. Nicholson, was already declining after it was struck by lightning and had to be taken down in 2000.

A story in the 1961 Morning Advocate quotes the first grounds superintendent, Euberne Eckert, saying he took borings of the tree in 1941.

Based upon his estimate, the oak’s age in 2008 could be 252 years.

“It will make a real impact, as far as a feeling of loss,” Myers said.

“It was the centerpiece of the garden,” said Louis Wolff, horticulture manager for the Office of State Buildings. “It’s really going to change the overall look of the garden.”

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