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Residents flock to see Capitol tree

November 30, 1998

Capitol treeBy SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




About 100 Tri-State area residents came to the Valley Mall in Halfway Sunday afternoon to get a look at what some of them referred to as "the nation's Christmas tree."

The special Mack Trucks Inc. trailer carrying the undecorated 5,000-pound Christmas tree arrives today in Washington D.C. The 27-year-old Fraser fir came from Pisgah National Forest in Western North Carolina.

The tree will adorn the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives will turn on the lights for the tree during a Dec. 8 ceremony.

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The Capitol Christmas Tree Tour had 18 public stops between the forest and the capitol. As is usually the case, Hagerstown was the last stop on the tour.

"We come every year," said Tricia Magaw of Hagerstown.

"I think it's terrific. I just think it's something to see," said her husband, Walt Magaw.

"I think it's wonderful," said Sue Lopez, of Hagerstown. "I like that we can see it before it is decorated. It's our nation's Christmas tree."

D.M. Bowman Inc. of Williamsport, Md., donated the use of a second truck, a Mack tractor-trailer, to the trip. That trailer contains 4,000 ornaments handcrafted by North Carolina residents from natural and recycled materials.

By the time the two trucks arrived in Hagerstown they had driven 2,162 miles each, said Pat Momich, project chair for the National Forests in North Carolina.

They started in Bakersville, N.C, near where a helicopter and tractor were used to put the tree onto the trailer and wrap it up so that it would not be damaged during the trip, Momich said.

In addition to their public stops, the trucks were part of the Christmas parade in Raleigh, N.C., and rode around the Charlotte Motor Speedway as part of a 29-vehicle convey, she said.

"It has been wonderful. It has been incredible," she said. "It has been an odyssey."

Dave Duvall, who has driven the truck carrying the tree for the last four years, has also enjoyed the trip. "It is a lot of fun. It's out of the normal routine," he said.

The fir tree measures 50 feet tall, 18.5 feet in diameter at the base and has a 25-foot branch spread. "Frasers are the Cadillac of Christmas trees," Momich said. Compared to other trees, Frasers have a more pleasant fragrance and stronger limbs, she said.

Some viewers Sunday expressed frustration that they could not really see the tree, since it was wrapped up. However, most jumped at the opportunity to write on two 40-foot sign boards attached to the sides of the truck. The sign boards will eventually surround the Bakersville, N.C., high school football field, Momich said.

Some simply signed their names. Others wrote more. One person wrote, "Merry Christmas, Hillary - and you too, Bill." while another scribbled, "Try to love one another ... or else!"

On top of a base built by Hopewell Manufacturing Inc. of Hagerstown was a display explaining the history of the tree and the trip. The display was designed by GS Images Division of Advertising Inc. of Hagerstown.

The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve coordinated its Toys for Tots program with the stops of the tree tour. Residents who donated a toy to the program were given a free ride in a light armored vehicle around part of the mall parking lot.

Through the Toys for Toys program, Mack Trucks donates about 1,500 stuffed bulldog toys to children in cities passed during the tree tour.

Besides Mack, Bowman, GS Images and Hopewell, the other major project sponsors are Columbia Helicopter, AT&T, AAA Carolinas, Poulan Chainsaws, Builders Way/Pelican Lumber, Wal-Mart, Amtrak, artist Teresa Pennington, Larry Coleman's Sign Shop and the U.S. Postal Service.

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