Monday, September 22, 2008

Disneyland in Focus: The Petrified Tree



One of the more oft-told stories about Walt & Lillian concerns the Petrified Tree sitting in Frontierland on the Banks of the Rivers of America. As the story goes, Walt & Lillian were near Colorado Springs in June 1956; Walt saw a sign that said "Petrified Trees for Sale” and promptly pulled over. Leaving Lillian in the car, he checked things out for himself. Photo #1 was supposedly taken of Walt surveying the petrified goodies; I have included a close-up of “Walt’s” face; you be the judge.



About an hour later, Walt returned to Lillian, who had been waiting in the car the whole time. Knowing that he was in deep, Walt quickly said, “Lilly, I just bought you a wonderful present—a petrified tree.” The 5-ton marvel was shipped to the Disney’s Holmby Hills home just in time for their July 13, 1956 anniversary. I could say that Lillian was enthusiastic, but you’d know I was being a smartass. Other than Walt, how many people would have been enthused about a 5-ton Petrified Tree?!? It sat in her garden until Lillian “graciously” donated it to Disneyland about a year later. More than likely, this is where Walt wanted it in the first place. Here are two previously posted photos from November 1960 showing the tree and its original descriptive signage:





Here are a few shots of the Petrified Tree as it looks today:









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12 comments:

Matterhorn1959 said...

I am not convinced the photo is of Walt. You cannot tell by the face and the pose does not look like a Walt pose.

Major Pepperidge said...

Hmmm, I can't tell... at first I thought it wasn't Walt, it kind of doesn't look like his profile in the closeup. I thought I remembered reading that he had a collie, for whatever that's worth!

Anyway, the whole story of the petrified tree trunk is like the guy who buys a new TV for his wife because HE wanted it!

Ron Schneider said...

Dave -- I'd never heard the bit about the tree residing at Carolwood for a year before being 'planted' in Anaheim. I'd always heard that Lillian was so disgusted with Walt's frequent stops at small attractions that he had it sent straight to DL and gave her credit on the plaque as an inside joke. Her renowned passion for her garden makes me think she wouldn't have permitted on her property... Anyone else heard differently? Experts?

TokyoMagic! said...

If you look at the "then" and "now" comparison shots that were taken facing the river, it looks like there is a chunk of it missing about halfway up on the left side. I wonder where that chunk is today?

Great post Dave!

Biblioadonis aka George said...

Actually, it does kind of look like Dave from this angle...hmmm...

outsidetheberm said...

Hi Dave -

Here's our two cents for what it's worth.

This particular photo has always been a bit of a head scratcher. At first look, the figure really doesn't strike you as being Walt, but...

John (or Jack) Baker apparently sold the tree to Disney from his roadside tourist attraction known as 'Pike's Petrified Forest' or the 'Pike Forest Fossil Beds' in Colorado in 1956. This particular photo was sold as a souvenir for quite some time from the attraction - and was said to be an image of Walt Disney. Because of this, we would tend to give the benefit of the doubt to old John Baker and say it probably is indeed Walt. After all, he met with the man and sold him the tree! The dog is probably one that had the run of the property.

As far as the delivery of the tree. Try going to www.idareds.com
/moonlightmining/jackbaker/
disneyletter.jpg (sorry about all the paste work here - links never seem to work for us) You'll find the letter Walt wrote when he bought the tree from John. As stated in the letter, delivery was to be made directly to the park within thirty days and was to include an additional ton of 'small pieces of petrified stone' (where'd that end up?). It's a great letter to look at!

Hope that helps some.

Davelandweb said...

I could still go either way on the photo; the idareds website actually shows the photo printed in reverse, which is how it was used on a souvenir plate...which actually has no mention of Walt, which could either be for copyright reasons or because it isn't him. Ron - the story about the tree being at Carolwood came from the book, "How To Be Like Walt,” which sounds more like a romantic than a well-researched book. "The Nickel Tour" gives a more factual look at the events. Either way, I compiled all the photos and info on my new Petrified Tree page; who knew that a stump could warrant so much! http://davelandweb.com/frontierland/petrifiedtree.html

Biblioadonis aka George said...

So....

We are all kind of stumped?

;)

Anonymous said...

IdaRed here... I'm the guy that sold the original photo on Ebay. I wasn't there when Jack sold the stump to Walt, but Jack told me that the picture was of Walt. I read somewhere that Walt had a fetish for hats, but this is the only picture I've seen attributed to Walt where he is wearing a hat. This is the only candid photo that I've seen. I am sure they must exist, but I haven't found one yet. In case you are curious, I do not know why Jack obscured the amount on the Bill of Sale. Jack recounted the Story of the Stump about a million times when I was growing up, leaving no details out. Jack never mentioned Lilly being with Walt on that trip. Not a detail that Jack would have forgotten, so I'm doubtful that the stump was intended as an Anniversary gift. The actual delivery date was well after their Anniversary, according to the bill of sale. I'm certain that the stump was delivered to Disneyland, and not Walt's home. Somewhere we have the Confirmation of Delivery from WED, but I'm not sure where that it is at the moment. Take a peek at this link: http://www.idareds.com/serendipity/disney/tree.html
Did the size of the stump change over the years?

Davelandweb said...

Thanks for the link; i just compared a 1958 photo and a 2008 photo and the stump looks identical. Angles can be deceiving. However, you are correct that the signage changed over the years, with the brass version probably a more permanent material than the original sign...which I am guessing was just tossed.

Suzanne G. said...

This may be a little late... However, I just came across this blog after googling Disneyland Frontierland looking for photos of this petrified stump. I have accurate and verified information regarding this tree stump. I recently participated in a paleontological field course for teachers and paleo outreach educators at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado. The head paleontologist, Dr. Herb Meyers, related a very interesting story while giving us a walking tour and history of the Florissant grounds.

Here's Dr Meyers account:
"One of the other stories I like to tell is that one of the former landowners here [at Florissant], Toby Reynolds, worked here in 1956. July 11th of 1956 when they were closing there was this big car that came into the parking lot with a man and his wife. The guy came up and pounded on the door and wanted to take a tour. Toby, who was 12 years old at the time, said 'well it's getting dark you know I can't show you a lot.' He brought the guy out, showed him the tree out here. The guy pointed to another stump that used to be right there and said 'I'd like to buy that.' Toby said 'well I think we can do that but let me introduce you to the manager here. What's your name?' The guy said 'well I'm Walt Disney from Los Angeles.' So there actually was a sale and it took place and that other stump that used to be right here is in Frontierland by the Riverboat that is there in Disneyland."

So there you have it. The petrified stump was purchased from Pike Petrified Forest which is now part of Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado. The information on the Disneyland signage is not entirely accurate. Most fossils in the monument are from the late Eocene (34.07 million years ago). This includes the redwoods which are estimated to have been 500 to 700 years old at the time they were buried by a volcanic mudflow from the Guffey volcanic complex located 15 - 20 miles away from Florissant. See http://www.nps.gov/flfo/index.htm for more information on the petrified forest and other fossils of Florissant.

Dave DeCaro said...

Thanks for the info, Suzanne!