A decades-long tradition is about to come to a sad conclusion. The fabled Toomer's Corner oaks in Auburn, Ala. — under which Auburn University football fans have celebrated their team's victories for generations — will be cut down on April 23. The two trees were poisoned in 2010 by a jealous University of Alabama football fan, who soaked the soil with a powerful herbicide after Auburn won the Iron Bowl, an annual matchup between the bitter rivals. Despite valiant efforts, university officials have finally concluded that the trees cannot be saved.
"The university's Tree Preservation Committee does not believe the trees will survive despite the extensive work the university and others have done to keep them alive," Ron Booth, director of project management in Auburn University Facilities Management, said in a news release. "The decaying wood is a safety issue, and the only option we have at this point is to remove them."
The university and the city of Auburn will host a block party on April 20 that they have dubbed "Celebrate the Tradition." The event will feature speakers, live music and a spirit rally. It will also offer Auburn football fans one last chance to drape the Toomer's Corner oaks with toilet paper, a tradition that accompanied every football game between rivals Auburn and the University of Alabama.
Three days after that, weather permitting, the trees will be cut down. The university has come up with a new landscape plan for the part that currently holds the trees, which will be announced during the "Celebrate the Tradition" event.
The tree poisoning came to light in January 2011 when a University of Alabama fan named Harvey Updyke Jr., called into a sports radio show and admitted to poisoning the trees with the slow-acting herbicide Spike 80DF the previous November. Until that point, the poisoning had not been detected.
The university immediately took action to try to save the trees. They first removed much of the soil from around the oaks, then added activated charcoal to try to absorb as much of the herbicide as they could. In August 2012 the trees were heavily pruned to remove dead and dying limbs and officials injecting the sugar into the trees to promote new growth. Unfortunately, all of their efforts were not enough to save the trees, which began to rot and crack.
As for Updyke, his strange saga continues. Arrested after his on-air confession and charged with first-degree criminal mischief, the then-62-year-old was soon homeless and living in his car. A few months later he recanted his confession and then reported that he was assaulted at a gas station. The case has proceeded slowly, with Updyke changing lawyers several times and seeking new venues for his trial. Last September he failed to appear at a court hearing, and in February a judge revoked his bail bond and had him taken into custody. Earlier this month the same judge consented to have Updyke's trial moved to a different county, where he could receive a trial "free from prejudice." His trial is now tentatively slated to begin on April 8.
Auburn University, which had previously announced plans to convert some of the wood from the Toomer's Corner oaks into souvenirs, will also commission an as-yet-unnamed woodturning artist to create a memorial item that will be permanently displayed at a nearby museum.
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