J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Boston’s Second Liberty Tree

I grew up and live in Boston’s western suburbs, which means that most of the North Shore and South Shore suburbs are nearly as foreign to me as the Solomon Islands. I think I’ve been to the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers, but only once or twice. And I had no idea that its centerpiece for two decades was this piece of public art commemorating Liberty Tree in Boston.

According to the Boston Globe obituary for artist Albert A. Surman, he designed that tree for the New England pavilion of the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.

“He created the large-scale sculpture, a stylized tree composed of thousands of metal tubes as the centerpiece of his design for the New England pavilion,’’ said his son, Barry S. of Scarsdale, N.Y. “It symbolized an actual tree where the Sons of Liberty posted notices until it was chopped down by the British in the early days of the American Revolution. The sculpture’s multicolored glass leaves reflected New England’s famous fall colors.’’
After the fair, the tree was moved to Boston Common, as shown above in the Globe file photo. After being refurbished, from 1972 to 1992 it was the anchor for the Liberty Tree Mall.

Which is somewhat ironic since Liberty Tree was originally used to promote consumer boycotts. Okay, that’s not as ironic as the Huck Finn Shopping Center in Hannibal, Missouri (“Hey, let’s name the mall after a poor homeless kid!”), but it shows how we Americans can eventually harness nearly everything to commerce.

According to the mall and the Surman family, however, the tree has now disappeared. Anyone on the North Shore know where it is? Anyone?


Heather Rojo said...

This is almost as silly as the Myles Standish Mall in Plymouth, located right on the exit for Rt. 44 off Rt. 3. Everytime I go down the highway and pass this sign, I have to laugh.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Just outside of Wilmington, DE, on Rte 202 is Independence Mall - a strip mall centered by a compressed reproduction of the real Independence Hall. It's...something.

J. L. Bell said...

I love the Independence Mall, especially at night! Though in the daytime there’s also the ironic pleasure of seeing how many of the shops are designed around goods and foods from other countries.

J. L. Bell said...

I guess I haven’t been to the Independence Mall for a while. I just visited its website and found that stores like A Taste of Scotland are no longer there. At least the anchor is still the Melting Pot fondue restaurant, with its Liberty Bell replica.

John L. Smith said...

Although Florida is void of almost anything of colonial-era, we DO celebrate Gasparilla Days, named after the pirate Jose Gaspar, who pillaged, raped and robbed his way into 20th century hearts here. It also is a huge commercial success as well as a local holiday.

J. L. Bell said...

Since it’s October, I can point out how the Salem witch trials were a century-long embarrassment for Salem and all of Massachusetts, but now the engine of the city’s tourist trade—and modern Salem isn’t even where the trouble started.

historicist said...

Never knew about this sculpture. I have to say, it's hardly an attractive homage to one of our great historical symbols. Maybe it's for the best that it's gone!

DAG said...

Mr. Bell, If I remember correctly this "liberty tree" was stored for awhile behind the current 'Yale Electric' building. While driving on Rte.93 south it was very visible. Of course, as this was some time ago (years) it was probably after the Common display and before the Mall installment.

Wayne MacPherson said...

I was scared dead of this tree as a little kid when it was in the mall. I used to call it the dead tree.