Hidden in a corner of Central Park lives a tree that, if you pass by at the right time of year, will share with you its secret identity as the Pet Memorial Christmas Tree.
The tree shines with hundreds of laminated photographs, notes, ornaments and memorials of deceased pets.
There's Milo, commemorated as “A Good Boy,” and the “Al Dente Brothers,” who are “loved forever.” There's Sherman the Eastern box turtle, Geo the fish, and Miss Parker, the “brave, independent, and fun” Central Park squirrel.
Decorated each year by the “Tree Keeper” and volunteers, the tree is a public expression of love displayed between Thanksgiving and Three Kings Day in January.
The keeper then saves each keepsake to be placed again for the next holiday season.
Dozens of new memories for the tree arrived on Saturday, when a group led by the Central Park NYC chapter of Ever Walk, a walking initiative across the United States and abroad, walked the Ramble to the undisclosed location.
In the crowd, Kendra Oleckna, her husband, Robert Foote, and their 1-year-old Pomeranian, Stansha Rebotska, were preparing to hang a memorial to their beloved Jazz, another Pomeranian who died a year ago.
Described as a brave and handsome boy, Jazz was the couple's best friend and caregiver and loved Mexican restaurants, she said.
Last month, Larry Closs, a writer and photographer, published an article detailing the tree's history, dating back to the 1980s, when casting director Jason Reddock, who had been walking his dog on the Ramble, noticed a tree with dogs. toys in it.
The next day, Mr Reddock was walking his dog again, accompanied by actress Nicki Gallas and her dog, when she noticed him too. They began the tradition of returning to the tree and bringing their own decorations and keepsakes.
“Since the tree was evergreen and Christmas was only a few weeks away, the couple decided it was a Christmas tree and the Pet Memorial Christmas Tree was born,” Closs wrote.
“It's always extremely moving and moving when someone comes and has, I call it, memories, memories,” he said. “You see them put it on the tree, you know, and the tears inevitably come. And it's hard not to feel a lump in your throat under those circumstances.”
Marianne Larsen, the tree's current keeper, who replaced Reddock about five years ago after walking became too difficult for her, said the pandemic was “the big instigator” that led to a recent flood of photographs.
“In 2020, we added 200 photographs,” he said. “In '21 there were another 200, and in '22 there are another 200. So now we are more than 600, and I think that from today we could reach at least 750.”
The tree's location was kept secret for decades and remains largely unknown. It has to be found by chance or someone has to know where to look.
Standing by the tree with his dog, Ulla, on Saturday, Larsen said part of the joy is discovering the tree.
“You'll walk by and say, 'What is that?'” he said. “And if you take a moment to walk in, you'll see that it's a memorial tree because some people think it's just a celebratory Christmas tree, but it's not.”
Ms. Larsen said even people who moved from New York stop by during the holidays to visit the memorials they left behind.
Kelli Lipson, her fiancé, Jorn Santegoeds, and their dog, Jakes, a 7-year-old Boston terrier mix, approached the tree with a photo in hand. Pictured is Nando, the couple's 5-year-old French bulldog who died of a brain tumor in August.
Ms Lipson said Nando not only changed their lives but those of other dogs as well, as his short life had inspired them to start fostering pets.
“I will never buy another dog again,” he said. “He did a lot of good for the world, that's why we want to commemorate him.”
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