Chicago turns to Elgin again for Millennium Park Christmas tree. How did they move it?
Nobody yelled "timber!" when Gene and Connie Nelson's Colorado blue spruce went Thursday morning from being an Elgin neighborhood's towering landmark to Chicago's official Christmas tree.
That's probably because the 55-foot, 7,000-pound tree was carefully secured to a crane's hook and guided by five rope-wielding workers on the ground as it was sawed off, lifted up, then gently laid on a flatbed truck.
And lest you are inclined to cry about a perfectly good tree being slaughtered for holiday frivolity, take heart: The tree was going to come down soon anyway.
Its roots were encroaching on the foundation of the Nelsons' house and had already caused part of a landscaping wall to heave.
"Now we get to share its beauty. It's an end-of-life celebration," said Jennifer Melton, the Nelsons' daughter.
It's not the first starring moment for the tree, which was about 46 years old, judging by its rings. It was featured in an infomercial for a company that was selling a product for putting Christmas lights on big trees, Connie Nelson said. Gene Nelson used to put lights on the tree, when it was smaller.
The tree was a runner-up in the contest two years ago but was a foot too short. The city wants a tree at least 55 feet tall, said Mary May, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.
There were 40 entries this year, she said. Since the city resumed using a single tree in 2009, all of the trees have come from the suburbs: Palos Heights, McHenry, Western Springs, Prospect Heights, South Holland, Northlake, Wauconda, Grayslake, and twice from Elgin.
Why the suburbs?
The trees "are much taller outside the city," May said. "They just seem to grow them bigger out here."
But there are a few in Chicago she and other staffers are keeping an eye on, she said.
Sharon Yiesla, plant knowledge specialist for the Morton Arboretum, said suburban trees might grow taller because they have more space to grow, less exposure to road salt and vehicle exhaust, and soil that is less compacted.
"Soil is everything for roots," she said.
Spruce trees such as the Colorado blue can grow to be 30 to 40 feet wide, and their roots can spread even farther, she said.
Blue spruces are a popular choice for landscaping because of their color -- "they kind of stand out from other evergreens," she said. But they have been overplanted around here, she said, and in recent years have been more susceptible to disease because of changes in our weather.
"Let's enjoy them in moderation," she said.
The Nelsons' tree will be delivered Friday evening to Millennium Park in Chicago. Over the next two weeks workers will install up to 50,000 lights on it, plus other decorations.
The Nelsons will see it again when they help turn the lights on at a celebration at 6 p.m. Nov. 22.
For details on the ceremony and other events, visit millenniumpark.org.