General Noble Tree

Posted on 16 April 2014

In the late nineteenth century, the federal government both preserved and destroyed giant sequoias. Shortly after the creation of Sequoia National Park, government officials contracted with a logging corporation, the beneficiary of land fraud, to cut down and hollow out a multi-millennial giant sequoia just outside the park. The eviscerated tree was used to adorn the main rotunda of the U.S. Government Building at the 1892–93 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Rotunda View

The dead sequoia was named the General Noble Tree in honor of the late John Noble, former secretary of the interior—the office with the greatest responsibility for the stewardship of the nation’s public lands. A spiral staircase inside the 30-foot-tall trunk led to the second floor, a reconstituted cross-section, where fairgoers could touch the hundreds of tree rings. After its sojourn in the White City, the monumental tree house came to rest on the National Mall.

American Celebration

It stood in front of the Smithsonian until 1932. Mall custodians topped the sequoia hull with a windowed cupola and used it as a toolshed.

General Noble 1923

(For a detailed history of giant sequoia, see chapter 1 of my book Trees in Paradise.)

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