This Old Tree
This Old Tree
Oct 14, 2022
Chronicling a Tree: Thoreau's Concord Elm
Play • 1 hr 4 min

Concord, Massachusetts, 1856. Four men cut down a huge, seemingly healthy American elm tree using block and tackle, and ropes drawn by a horse. The graceful tree towered above a house whose owners heard creaking during a storm - they felt unsafe and had it removed. The event would have been long forgotten, except one of America’s greatest writers and earliest environmentalists also lived in Concord - Henry David Thoreau. 

Supremely ticked-off, the removal of the stately elm inspired a flurry of journal writing by Thoreau that defined elms as symbols of virtue that looked to Concord’s past and the country’s future. Guest Thomas Campanella, Professor at Cornell University and author of Republic of Shade: New England and the American Elm, shares his work. It turns out, elm trees  helped define our young nation’s sense of itself.

Thomas J. Campanella
Professor of City and Regional Planning
Cornell University
Republic of Shade: New England and the American Elm, Yale University Press, 2003.
Henry David Thoreau and the Yankee ElmArnoldia, 2001.

Other Sources:
Thoreau and the Language of TreesRichard Higgins, Univ of California Press, 2017.

Podcast Consultant
Martha Douglas-Osmundson

Diccon Lee,

Dahn Hiuni,

Transcripts available on the website!

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We want to hear about the favorite tree in your life! To submit a ~3 minute audio story for consideration for the "Tree Story Short” segment on This Old Tree, record the story on your phone’s voice memo app and email to:

This episode was written in part at LitArts RI, a community organization and co-working space that supports Rhode Island's creators.

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