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Giant mausoleum oak is finally felled

STANFORD -- The giant oak that watched over the Stanford Family Mausoleum for the last 100 years finally fell to chain saws Monday, Aug. 30.

Removal of the tree, which had been dying for about the last seven years, originally was scheduled for early spring, but that was delayed when starlings were found nesting there. Removal again was delayed when a woodpecker nest was discovered.

With the young birds gone, a crew working for grounds manager Herb Fong moved in with chain saws and worked two days to take the tree down.

Tree lovers, photographers and other interested community members watched and collected souvenir wood as the men used a cherry-picker to reach the top of the 70-foot-tall tree. One of the largest and most spectacular oaks on campus, the mausoleum oak had a trunk diameter of 55 inches and a branch spread of 120 feet.

Fong's crew saved him a slice of the trunk so that he could date the tree by counting its rings, but he said the age will be difficult to determine because the rings are very fine and dense. He will sand the piece, he said, in hopes that will make it easier to count. Fong has estimated that the tree is about 300 years old.

In the end, it turned out that the tree's main trunk and root system were sound, Fong said. The magnificent oak died not from internal rot, but from the bacterial diseases cryptocline, which killed individual leaves, and diplodia, which caused branches to die. "Essentially, the crown died back and that killed the heart of the tree," Fong said.

Environmental factors, such as excessive periods of prolonged drought, contributed to the tree's decline, he said.

Large limbs from the tree have been hauled to Martinez, where they will be milled in a variety of shapes and sizes. The wood then will be cured for a year or two in a secured, covered facility on campus, Fong said.

When it is thoroughly dry, the wood will be available to departments that want to commission woodworkers to make items such as tables, chairs or souvenirs - anything other than firewood, Fong said.

Memorial Church conservator Lesley Bone hopes to use a piece to make a staff that will hold a new processional cross for the church.

Fong said that departments interested in the wood should contact him.

He estimated the tree will produce about 1,500 board- feet of lumber. (A board foot is 1 inch thick by 10 inches wide by 1 foot long.)

Workers soon will grind out the stump and, when the weather cools down this fall, Fong's crew will transplant a 20-foot- tall oak tree from the research park to guard the mausoleum. Fong earlier planned to install a boxed nursery specimen, but the 10-inch- diameter tree - about 50 years old - is available from a development site, he said.

The passing of the grand tree was marked by President Gerhard Casper and the Stanford Historical Society last March during Founders' Day ceremonies.

Legend has it that the tree was a favorite of Leland Jr., but no documentation can be found to verify that.

However, the story may be true because in the early 1880s the Stanfords began planning a large new home near the oak. Jane Stanford laid the groundwork for the landscaping by planting an extensive cactus garden, the remnants of which remain.

When Leland Jr. died in 1884, the Stanfords abandoned plans for the new home and instead devoted themselves to planning and building as memorials the university and the Leland Stanford Jr. Museum.

Eventually, they decided to construct their mausoleum on the former home site. The mausoleum, lined in marble, was completed in 1893, just before the death of Leland Sr.

The tree may have sprouted in the late 1600s, Fong said, and certainly was alive at the nation's founding. During the bicentennial, the National Arborist Association and the International Society of Arboriculture installed a plaque nearby noting that the behemoth was alive at the signing of the U.S. Constitution.

Fong said he will remove the plaque.

The tree fell during a severe storm in the early 1930s, and was jacked back up. Photographs show that the tree trunk was never as vertical after the big fall as before.

Community members wanting souvenirs of the mausoleum oak are welcome to scavenge the site, Fong said.


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