(description follows image)
|The “veritable and venerable” Great Elm, printed on its own wood|
|Author:||L. Prang & Co.|
|Title:||THE GREAT ELM ON BOSTON COMMON. / Destroyed, February 15th, 1876.|
|Published:||Boston, ca. 1876|
|Description:||Lithograph on wood veneer, 11.5”h x 6.75”w plus margins, uncolored|
|Price:||$950 Inventory: BRM0751|
|The Great Elm on the Common was for a quarter of a millennium an enduring symbol of Boston. Already full grown by the early 18th century, by 1860 it was 24 feet around at the base and over 70 feet high. Its significance for Bostonians was such that it merited no less than an eight-page account in Shurtleff’s Topographical and Historical Description of Boston. Clearly the Elm aroused a wide range of associations and emotions in those who beheld it.
“…it was more for its beautiful proportions and graceful limbs than age or size that it gained its notoriety with those who had paid particular attention to trees; and the associations connected with its history will always keep it in remembrance. Upon its largest limb… it has been supposed that some of the early executions in the colony took place, and it is certain that during the revolutionary struggles of America this tree was one of the places of constant resort of the Sons of Liberty, who frequently caused it to be illuminated with lanterns…. many has been the tory who has been hung in effigy from its branches.” (p. 334)The tree’s demise in a Winter storm on February 15, 1876 created an immediate frenzy for relics: “The usual mania for carrying away portions of the old landmark as curiosities, was exhibited in a large degree, and at the first of evening the tree began to vanish with amazing rapidity; but later a guard of police was stationed there to prevent any part of it being taken.” (Cited from a newspaper clipping attached to verso of frame.) Some enterprising craftsmen carved a large chair from the wood, which now resides in the Rare Book Room of the Boston Public Library, and Prang’s Lithography ran off this view of the Elm on a veneer made from its wood.
The upper two thirds of the image depicts the massive Elm just before its destruction, vast but vulnerable, and surrounded for its protection by an iron fence erected in 1854. Printed below is an attestation from the Mayor:
“As the Great Elm on Boston Common, with an age in years outdating the settlement of the Town, was destined to fall, by wind and decay, during the time it was under my guardianship, as the Mayor of the City, I can do no less than give the attestation of my name to certify that this is a perfectly correct view of it, just before it fell, and that the surface on which the photograph is presented is a veneer from the wood of the veritable, and venerable, tree.
The Great Elm is discussed at immense length in Shurtleff’s Topographical and Historical Description of Boston (1871), pp. 332-340, written while the remnants of the Elm still stood. Winsor’s Memorial History of Boston, written posthumously as it were (1881), extends this history through to the tree’s destruction and alludes to the present print. (vol I p. 21)
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