The Tree on Main Street in Oshkosh Wisconsin
by Nikki Craft
In the late 1980s for approx five years I lived on North Main Street, in Oshkosh Wisconsin, in an upstairs apartment at the Naturist Society Headquarters. One morning I woke up to horrible noises that sounded like the earth was being forcibly moved. It was. When I stuck my head out of the upstairs window I looked up the block and saw a lot of activity. There were many workers in hardhats and several bulldozers pulling up all the trees by their very roots. At that time I didn't even know something like that could be done. I couldn't believe it. I quickly found out it was the owner of the hardware store across the street who was at that time in charge of city planning. (The hardware store is visible on the left side of the photograph (above) just beyond the theatre.)
Lee Baxandall and I went to an emergency city meeting set up for us to voice our complaints. In no uncertain terms we demanded that they stop it. They informed us the reason they were doing it was because they wanted to put down trendy cobblestone sidewalks (also visible in the left of the photograph above) and make the town more appealing to summer tourists arriving for the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) fly in every July. At that time walking around the city I could often see where the concrete was worn away to reveal the cobblestone they had covered up many years ago, to modernize, and now they wanted to pull up the perfectly good concrete that was already there, along with all the trees, to put down cobblestone. It sounded so crazy. How could this pass for city planning, I wondered.
I only remember two things about the meeting. One was that they tried to say that legally they were required to put metal grates with every tree and it would be too much of a danger for women walking in high heels. I quickly demolished that very weak argument by doing a double take and saying something very close to, What the hell are you talking about? You are putting down cobblestone? How do you think women in high heels are going to walk safely on that? Besides women walking in high heels are in danger everywhere they walk; they are walking victims if you've never noticed. The one woman in the meeting, the hardware store owners wife, was wearing spiked high heels. My memory, which could be wrong on this one point, perhaps more to my own interpretation at that time, is that they look rightfully embarrassed when faced with that obvious logic. In any event they quickly dropped that line of defense. The second thing I remember is that they refused to stop the destruction altogether, but they did agree to leave the tree that was in front of TNS.
All those trees meant so much to me and I could not save them. With the removal of each and every tree they pulled up and carted away on the big flat bed trucks I got physically ill and it might as well have been a funeral procession for my own family members. It went on for weeks. What a criminal act. But I did manage to at least save one of the the trees and it was right outside my bedroom and office window. This tree meant so much to me at the time. For one thing I treasure trees. It was green. It was life. The leaves fluttered in the wind and birds would land on the branches and chirp. Not a small part of it was that it was the only shield I had in the summer to block my immediate view of the pornography store on the corner across the street and only a few feet from my window; it was the only shield for part of the year to block the patrons from seeing directly into my own bedroom window as well. If you look in the photo (above) further down the street, at the other end of the block, on the right you can see the one last tree that was left in that block of Main Street. By fighting City Hall I saved that tree and that bleak, cold and sterile block of Main Street, with that one tree, stands as proof of that one small victory I had.