Oak Ridge Cemetery "Witness Trees" Receive TLC

Nearly 20 arborists donate services to care for cemetery trees in advance of Lincoln funeral re-enactment

Nearly 20 volunteer arborists, some in bucket trucks and others manually climbing, spent today trimming trees at Oak Ridge Cemetery, some of them “witness trees” that were present 150 years ago at President Lincoln’s funeral. The arborists contributed their services to help the cemetery prepare for the thousands of people who will converge on the cemetery May 1-3 for the sesquicentennial re-enactment of the president’s funeral. 

Fifteen of the arborists, from Bartlett Tree Experts, traveled from the Chicago area to care for the historic trees. They arrived Wednesday night so that they could get an early start today and perform as much work as possible before leaving in the late afternoon. Others were from Springfield’s own Throop & Son Tree Service.

The arborists worked primarily in the area in the cemetery where the re-enactment will take place, in front of the original receiving vault. They also removed dead trees. 

“This generous donation enables us to have a beautiful entry site for the thousands of visitors from around the nation and worldwide coming here to see history come alive,” said Mike Lelys, executive director of Oak Ridge Cemetery. “Most of these trees date back to the Lincoln era. But we just don’t have the manpower or equipment to give them the care they need. That so many volunteers traveled here all the way from the Chicago area is testament to the ability of people to come together and do something for the greater good.” 

“It is such a privilege to care for a piece of not only our state’s but our nation’s history with these trees,” said Tom Tyler, the certified arborist who organized Bartlett Tree Experts’ volunteer contingent. “To be part of this sesquicentennial event is just a phenomenal opportunity.”  

Guy Sternberg, of Starhill Forest Arboretum of Illinois College, in Petersburg, helped make the day of service happen. He reached out to the Illinois Arborist Association and Tree Care Industry Association in search of volunteer tree care professionals. “This year, with the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s assassination and his funeral, there are re-enactments happening nationwide, culminating with the re-enactment of his funeral at the Oak Ridge Cemetery – with the replica train car, hearse, re-enactors as civil war soldiers standing guard along the route,” he said.

“At the same time, we have a lot of big trees here still struggling from the massive drought of 2012. A lot of ash trees are dying. And a lot of trees planted in the 1850s are sensitive to disturbances around them. So we were looking for volunteers to donate their time and expertise for this once-in-a-lifetime event.” 

Opened in 1855 – and dedicated in 1860 with Abraham Lincoln present – Oak Ridge Cemetery has grown to be the largest municipal cemetery in Illinois. It encompasses 365 acres of rolling prairie land, thousands of hardwoods and conifers, and over 75,000 interments. It has the distinction of being the second most-visited cemetery in the nation, second only to Arlington National Cemetery.  Nearly one million people visit annually, not only to pay respects to deceased ancestors, but also to visit the final resting place and pay homage to the nation’s sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln. Oak Ridge Cemetery is a National Living Memorial, as certified by the USDA Forest Service.

Founded in 1907 by Francis A. Bartlett and in its third generation of family management, Bartlett Tree Experts has pioneered the science and services that make landscapes thrive. With offices in 27 U.S. states, Canada, Ireland and Great Britain, the company's tree care experts provide a rare mix of local service, global resources and innovative practices that lead the industry. Distinguished by having its own tree research laboratory, Bartlett is the only tree care company in the National Plant Diagnostic Network, a consortium of government agencies and universities providing rapid diagnosis of plant pests and diseases.

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Christine Esposito

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