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Chicago’s Christmas tree in Millennium Park: Where it comes from

Throughout the years the city’s official tree frequently has consisted of many smaller trees. Since 2009, however, a single tree has been chosen by either a contest or nominations. Though the tree’s location has been changed several times since then — including a move in 2015 to Millennium Park — the lighting ceremony has always been a highlight of the holiday season.

This year’s tree — donated by the Glisovic family in Morton Grove — was chosen by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. The city’s tree lighting ceremony takes place at 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18 in Millennium Park.

The city’s first official Christmas tree was lit on Christmas Eve 1913 by Mayor Carter H. Harrison Jr., as heralding trumpets played atop the balcony of the Chicago Athletic Association building on Michigan Avenue.

The tree was placed in Grant Park atop 40-foot poles — studded with smaller trees to give the appearance of a much larger tree — and decorated with 600 multi-colored lights. The 35-foot Douglas spruce was a gift of F.J. Jordan, in honor of his deceased friend Capt. Herman Scheunemann. Scheunemann commanded the vessel known as the Christmas tree ship.

Santa Claus waves to the crowd after lighting the 96th Annual Christmas tree at Daley Plaza on Nov. 25, 2009. The tree was donated by the Weivoda family, left, of Palos Heights.

Chicago Tribune story from Nov. 5, 2009:

The 60-year-old, 57-foot spruce that will become Chicago’s official Christmas tree was cut down this morning in Harlan Weivoda’s front yard in southwest suburban Palos Heights.

It will be erected in Daley Plaza at about 8 p.m.

“I knew they (the city) always put a big tree up on top of all the other trees, but I had no idea it would be THE tree,” Weivoda said. In late September, he went on the city’s official Web site and offered to donate the tree.

He soon heard back from the Office of Special Events, which sent out a Long Grove landscaper to size it up.

“When they finished, they told me it was smaller than they had hoped. I told them, well, maybe next year,” Weivoda said. “They said there were four other trees they were looking at.”

But a few days later he received an e-mail saying the city wanted the tree.

Click here to read the story.

A crowd braved the weather to watch as a Christmas tree was lit Nov. 24, 2010, at Daley Plaza. Mayor Richard Daley and his wife, Maggie, were joined for the festivities by their grandchildren as well as actress Joan Cusak and John and Pat Colomer (John is shown on the right), who own the farm where the tree came from. More than 5,000 votes were cast for the 70-foot blue spruce from McHenry County.

Chicago Tribune story from Oct. 26, 2010:

After a four-month-long campaign, Chicagoans have weighed in for the first time on an issue that — for the sentimental, at least — outshines who gets to be the next governor, U.S. senator or mayor: The Daley Plaza Christmas tree.

The winner, after 5,182 votes were cast, is a 70-foot blue spruce on property in McHenry County owned by the Colomer family.

With 2,678 votes, the 80- to 90-year-old tree beat out the other candidates in a city-sponsored contest that began in July. The second-place tree received about 1,300 votes. About 60 other entrants were shorter than the required 55 feet.

In keeping with contest rules, John Colomer nominated the tree with a story about how generations of children at Montini Catholic Middle School have watched the tree grow across from their school.

“It would be a great experience for the schoolchildren to see the removal of the tree from the site and to know its fate would be to site in a place of prominence,” Colomer wrote.

In one way or another, though, the tree’s days were numbered.

Its current home, on the northeast corner of Richmond Road and Pearl Street in downtown McHenry, is scheduled for eventual commercial development.

Click here to read the story.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel waves on Nov. 23, 2011, in Daley Plaza after the lights for Chicago's official holiday tree are activated. The tree, a 55-foot blue spruce, was chosen as the best among 38 entries to become the winner in the city's Christmas tree contest, and is courtesy of the Spangler family in Western Springs, right.

Chicago Tribune story from Oct. 27, 2011:

Ever since her family moved in 18 years ago, the giant blue spruce in Klaudia Spangler’s Western Springs yard has been a venue for celebrating birthdays, a landmark for directing visitors and a fortress providing shade.

But the tree’s size also made it too cumbersome to decorate, so it never truly became the light-covered holiday centerpiece the self-proclaimed “Christmas maniac” had envisioned. This year, though, it will get its chance to shine.

Voters have selected the Spanglers’ spruce to adorn Daley Plaza as Chicago’s Christmas tree, the city was set to announce Thursday morning.

“The exciting thing is it will be all lit up for everyone to see and kind of how I envisioned it when we first moved here,” Spangler said.

Click here to read the story.

Megan Theiszmann, 17, from left, her father Tony Theiszmann, Tony's mother Barbara Theiszmann and Tony's sister Kathy Patton watch on Nov. 1, 2012, from the front yard of the family home, where Barbara now lives in Prospect Heights, as a giant, 63-year-old Colorado spruce is removed, to be erected in Daley Plaza in Chicago as this year's Chicago Christmas tree. The tree is 64-feet-tall, and the 99th annual tree-lighting ceremony will be held at the plaza on Nov. 20, 2012.

Chicago Tribune story from Nov. 19, 2012:

This year’s tree, donated by the Theiszmann family of Prospect Heights, is a 64-foot-tall Colorado Spruce tree estimated to be 63 to 65 years old and weighs 12,000 pounds, according to the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

It was among 25 trees considered to be Chicago’s tree and fit the criteria of being at least 55 feet tall, a spruce or fir tree and within 100 miles of the Loop.

The tree will be decorated with 14,600 multi-colored lights and topped with a brightly lit star.

Click here to read the story.

Homeowner Terri Moore, right, poses for a family photo with her daughters Kirsten, 11, and Taylor, 8, on a stump as workers from La Grange Crane Service and Brickman Group landscaping move their freshly cut 57-foot Colorado blue Spruce tree, which was chosen as the Christmas tree for Daley Plaza, to an awaiting flatbed truck on Nov. 7, 2013 from her yard in South Holland, Ill. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Chicago's Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony which took place on Nov. 26, 2013, left, at Daley Plaza.

Click here to see photos from the 2013 tree lighting ceremony.

In the shadow of the newly lit Christmas tree, which came from the Atkinson family's front yard in Elgin, right, people shop at the Christkindlmarket in Chicago's Daley Plaza on Nov. 25, 2014.

Chicago Tribune story from Nov. 5, 2014:

When Donna Atkinson first moved into her Elgin home more than two decades ago, her friends and family all pressed her to decorate the billowing Colorado blue spruce tree in her front yard in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

“I told them, how?” Atkinson said. “Even 20 years ago, it was way too big to decorate. It was huge when I moved in.”

Atkinson will at last see her tree decorated and illuminated, as it’s been chosen as this year’s official Chicago Christmas tree. The 57-foot tree will be wrapped up and cut down from her South Worth Avenue home Thursday morning and delivered to Daley Plaza on Friday. On Nov. 25, it will be the focus of the city’s 101st annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

This is Atkinson’s fourth year nominating her tree for the Daley Plaza display. She was selected as the runner up the past three years.

Click here to read the story.

Fireworks illuminate the audience after Mayor Rahm Emanuel orders the lighting of the tree during the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Millennium Park on Nov. 24 2015, in Chicago. The Colorado blue spruce was donated by the Voelker family of Northlake.

Chicago Tribune story from Nov. 9, 2015:

Two weeks ahead of Chicago’s 102nd annual Christmas tree lighting, city officials announced they have picked out the tree they’ve been pining for: a 63-foot Colorado blue spruce.

After receiving 130 nominations for trees, which had to be at least 55 feet and within 100 miles of the Loop, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events selected the mammoth spruce, which was donated by a Northlake family.

The tree, which towers over the family home in the front yard, is scheduled to be cut down Monday morning and delivered to Millennium Park on Tuesday night, according to the department.

The official tree lighting is set for 6 p.m. Nov. 24 in Millennium Park near Michigan Avenue and Washington Street, city officials said. The lighting will follow a performance by opera singer Renee Fleming, who will sing holiday classics.

For almost 50 years, Chicago has held its tree lighting in Daley Plaza. However, city officials said this year it would be combined with holiday activities, including special visits with Santa Claus after the tree-lighting ceremony.

Click here to read the story.

People take and pose for pictures in front of the Chicago Christmas following the annual tree lighting ceremony at Millennium Park, on Nov. 18, 2016. (Alyssa Pointer/ Chicago Tribune)

Chicago Tribune story from Nov. 9, 2016:

Chicago has chosen a Norway spruce to light up as its official Christmas tree in Millennium Park on Michigan Avenue.

The city announced Wednesday the tree is a 69-footer donated by a Wauconda, Illinois, family. The Scholla family’s tree was selected from 129 submissions received.

Click here to read the story.

A portrait of Frank and Darlene Dorfler sits on the stump of the Norway spruce tree that the Dorfler family donated to the city of Chicago for its annual Christmas tree in Millennium Park, right, on Nov. 2, 2017 in Grayslake. The tree is 62 feet long and weighs about 9500 pounds.

Chicago Tribune story from Nov. 2, 2017:

Two Christmas wishes were granted Thursday morning when a 62-foot Norway spruce growing in the northern suburbs was chopped down to become Chicago’s Christmas tree in Millennium Park.

The Dorfler family tree in Grayslake was selected from a field of 71 candidates submitted for consideration to the city of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events for its 104th Christmas tree. After being taken down on Thursday, the donated spruce is scheduled to be installed Friday night at Millennium Park in Chicago, and the tree lighting is set for Nov. 17.

“It was my husband’s dream for it to go somewhere to be used as a Christmas tree, like Washington D.C.,” Darlene Dorfler said, but this was the perfect opportunity for their beautiful tree. Her husband, Frank, passed away in 2016.

Dorfler added that her neighbor and part of the family who originally planted the spruce — Arlene Olsen, who also has since passed — had a similar dream for the tree.

“She always said it was such a perfect tree that it should be lit up. She probably planted it as a sapling. So we have a combination of dreams,” Dorfler said.

Click here to read the story.

Workers lift and remove a 60 foot Norway spruce from the home of Deborah Orth, of Elmhurst, on Nov. 1, 2018, to become Chicago's 105th Christmas tree.
Crowds attend the annual Christmas tree lighting at Millennium Park in 2018.
With his 5-year-old brother, Jace Melton, looking on, Adam Melton, 8, jumps off of the stump of their grandparents Connie and Gene Nelson's 55-foot-tall, 7,000-pound blue spruce which will be this year's Chicago city Christmas Tree on Nov. 7, 2019 in Elgin.
A person documents the moment while attending the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Chicago's Millennium Park on Nov. 22, 2019.

Chicago Tribune story from Nov. 7, 2019:

Connie and Gene Nelson and their family watched Thursday morning as the 55-foot blue spruce tree in front of their Elgin home was cut down.

The 46-year-old tree, older than the Lyle Avenue home they moved into 23 years ago, was the backdrop for many family photos and memories, they said. Its new role as the city of Chicago’s Millennium Park Christmas tree means it will be doing the same for the thousands who will gaze upon it this holiday season.

“The last family picture in front of the tree will probably be downtown (in Chicago),” said Jennifer Melton, Gene and Connie’s daughter.

The Nelsons joined neighbors and onlookers to watch a landscaping crew saw through the trunk of the 7,000-pound tree and lift it via crane onto a flatbed truck for its two-day journey first to Long Grove and then to Chicago.

The family’s tree was selected from among 41 submitted for the honor this year, according to the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

Click here to read the story.

Catherine Townsend, 85, watches as workers cut and transport her 45-foot Blue Spruce tree from her yard in Chicago’s Morgan Park neighborhood on Nov. 6, 2020. The tree is going to be the Chicago’s “official” Christmas tree.
Workers prepare to transport the 45-foot Blue Spruce tree donated by Catherine Townsend, 85, of Chicago’s Morgan Park neighborhood on Nov. 6, 2020.

Chicago Tribune story from Nov. 6, 2020:

In 1985, Catherine Townsend bought seeds to plant three blue spruce trees in the yard of her home, a two-flat, red brick building in Morgan Park.

The home had a fairly large lot, and Townsend, a gardener, filled it with plants and flowers. Two of the three trees ended up sprouting, and, through the years, grew to a towering 45 feet.

The twin spruces were a beloved part of her garden, adding a “touch of elegance,” to her yard, said Townsend, an 85-year-old retired Chicago Public Schools teacher.

As Townsend prepares to sell her home, one of her spruces will take on a new life as Millennium Park’s Christmas tree.

“They really are beautiful,” Townsend said of the spruces, though the sale of her longtime home is bittersweet.

Click here to read the story.

The 51-foot blue spruce will be cut down Thursday.

Sources: Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events; Chicago Tribune archive photos and stories; pine tree by Mark McCormick from the Noun Project


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