Cheers, applause and a cry of “It’s a Christmas miracle!” rang out as a crane lifted a towering spruce into the clear autumn sky Thursday over Devon and Julie Price’s home in Elkton.
The tree has been standing in their yard for roughly 85 years. But now it’s headed to a new home — New York City, where it will become the first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree to come from Maryland since the holiday tradition began more than 80 years ago.
Every year, Rockefeller Center receives applications from people eager to donate their trees, but the Prices’ 79-foot-tall, 26-feet-wide Norway spruce was the clear winner at first glance, said Rockefeller Center chief gardener Erik Pauze.
There was an element of serendipity to how it came to be: Pauze was coming back from a trip scouring nurseries and farms for trees in southern New Jersey and decided to take a detour through Maryland. That’s when he spotted it.
“I mean, when I drove by it, I went around the corner, drove to the other side of the tree. And when I got out of the car, I knew right away that it would be the tree,” Pauze said.
It did not take long for the Prices to come around to the idea of donating their tree after Pauze knocked on their door.
“He said, ‘Hey, Bud. Mind if I go look at that big, beautiful Norway Spruce behind your house?’” Devon Price said. “And I said, ‘Sure.’ So we walked around and he gradually divulged who he was and what he was looking for. The rest is history.”
The Prices love their rural Cecil County neighborhood of Glen Farms, with its rolling hills, farmland and serenity. But it was full of commotion Thursday, as more than 100 people came out to watch the tree be cut down and carried away. The couple said it was perhaps the most activity they’ve seen in the 31 years they’ve lived there.
Kristen Pucian, who lives in the neighborhood, set up a brunch tailgate about a block away from the actual ceremony. She woke up at 4 a.m. to make bacon and breakfast casserole; she offered the food, along with mimosas and Christmas-themed headbands, to anyone who passed by.
Chuck and Janie Hadley, who have lived in the neighborhood for 22 years, were nothing short of ecstatic to be there.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience! It’s the magic of Christmas,” Chuck Hadley said.
Janie Hadley said she had definitely never seen this level of excitement in the neighborhood.
“It is a once-in-a lifetime event to have, you know, a Christmas tree move someplace where it’s gonna be on a worldwide platform” she said. “We’re already planning our trip to New York City to go again before Christmas is over.”
From here, the tree will travel in the bed of a large truck up to Manhattan — a slow-moving journey, as the truck will have to drive roughly 40 mph. Rockefeller Center has arranged for the Prices to be there when it arrives Saturday morning.
The couple also will attend the tree lighting ceremony Dec. 1.
After the Christmas celebrations conclude and the tree has served its aesthetic role, it will be mulched for use in New York City parks, and the lumber will be returned to Cecil County for use by the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
At the end of the tree-cutting ceremony, neighborhood kids gathered around the stump to count the rings, which indicate the tree’s age, and placed a sprouting baby tree at the site where the spruce stood moments earlier.
“The most important thing is that, you know, it is being removed, but we are planting its offspring,” Julie Price said. “So in some way that tree will live on.”
Besides the Prices, nobody knows this tree as well as their daughter, Natalie Longo, who grew up looking at it from her window. Now an adult, she shed a few tears as it was lifted.
She reflected on the scene as hordes of people came to say goodbye to the tree in her childhood backyard.
“It’s a real sense of community,” she said. “I think the town of Elkton is really excited for this, and you know, it put our little town on the map.”