The 45-foot blue spruce was lifted high into the air, then lowered carefully onto the back of a flatbed truck.
Throughout the holiday season, the tree will serve as the 107th annual City of Chicago Christmas Tree at Millennium Park.
The towering beauty came from the backyard of Morgan Park resident Catherine Townsend, and as city crews took it away on the morning of Nov. 6, Townsend beamed with pride.
“It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s just simply unbelievable,” Townsend said. “It’ll take a while for me to integrate this into my organism. This is wonderful, just beautiful. Sharing it with all of Chicago—who would have thought? I never would have dreamed, ever.”
According to the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), over 50 trees were nominated for the honor.
Townsend’s tree was installed at Millennium Park on Nov. 9, and a virtual tree lighting, to be presented live on YouTube, will take place on Nov. 19. The tree will be displayed until Jan. 7.
Townsend’s homegrown story of the tree catapulted her to the win.
The 85-year-old retired Chicago Public Schools teacher planted the tree, and two other blue spruces, at her home on the 11000 block of South Homewood Avenue 35 years ago, two years after she moved there.
She had the same type of trees at her previous home in East Beverly.
Townsend considered submitting one of the trees for the honor a few years ago, and this year her daughter, Sherri Mitchell, encouraged her to do so after seeing a news report about the contest in October.
Townsend agreed—and was stunned when her daughter told her the good news.
“I never dreamed anything was going to happen,” Townsend said. “When she called and said, ‘Mom, your tree was selected,’ I couldn’t believe it. And, I still can’t believe what’s happening.”
Townsend recently moved from her home into a senior living community. The home is for sale, and while that saddens Mitchell, she is thrilled that her mother received a memorable final chapter.
“It’s kind of bittersweet for my sister and me. Because when she said she wanted to sell the home, we had some ambivalence,” Mitchell said. “But, it’s really nice because she loved gardening. She always got compliments on her yard. For me, number one, it provides a little bit of closure.
“And, she gets to share a little bit of her yard for the last time with all of Chicago. It’s great. I’m so happy about this—and happy for her.”
City officials said they will plant a tree in the community in 2021 to replace Townsend’s.
Neal Heitz, DCASE program manager, said Townsend’s story was too good to pass up.
“You can’t get any more Chicago than this,” Heitz said. “This is like mustard on a hot dog. She planted the trees in the early ’80s, and you get to 2020—arguably the most challenging year our country has faced in many, many years—and you find out that there’s a woman in Morgan Park, the beautiful 19th Ward, in Chicago, that planted trees, that is willing to donate them to be part of the city of Chicago’s Christmas tree? The story writes itself. It’s beautiful. She’s lovely and proud. There’s a hundred more reasons why this is the best tree for Chicago.”
Townsend’s tree is part of the “Millennium Park at Home: Chicago Holidays” program, which is replacing the traditional in-person lighting ceremony. Visitors are still encouraged to visit the tree in coming weeks.
Ice skating will not be open at Millennium Park’s McCormick Tribune Ice Rink this season, but the Chicago Park District will offer skating in neighboring Maggie Daley Park at the Ice Skating Ribbon, which opens Nov. 20. Reservations must be made.
Townsend was gifted a small piece of the tree trunk to keep as a memento.
Soon enough, she will join other Chicagoans in visiting the tree in the heart of the city.
“No doubt about it,” Townsend said. “My kids will take me down there.”
To watch the tree lighting at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 19, visit YouTube.com/ChicagoDCASE.