White House Christmas tree, and another hoax about Obama

October 21, 2009

First, the press release from the National Christmas Tree Association:

White House Christmas Tree: 2009
White House Staff Select Blue Room Christmas Tree

Chesterfield, MO (October 20, 2009) — A beautiful Douglas-fir from Shepherdstown, W.V., will be the official White House Christmas Tree this year.

Douglas-fir Selected= The Blue Room Christmas Tree will be officially presented to First Lady Michelle Obama by Christmas Tree growers Eric and Gloria Sundback. The Sundbacks earned this honor by winning the National Christmas Tree Association’s (NCTA) national Christmas Tree contest held in August 2009 in Chattanooga, Tenn., and becoming Grand Champion.

The Blue Room Christmas Tree was handpicked by Director of the Executive Residence and White House Chief Usher Stephen Rochon and Superintendent of Grounds Dale Haney on Oct. 20, 2009. The tree, which was planted by the Sundbacks in 1996, will be cut in late November and sent to Washington, D.C.

Eric and Gloria are no strangers to the White House Christmas experience. This will be the fourth time that the couple has won the contest and presented a tree to the First Lady. “It is always an exciting time and it is interesting to meet all the First Ladies,” Gloria says.

The couple first began growing Christmas Trees in 1956 in western Pennsylvania. In 1959, Eric’s work as a landscape architect took them to the Washington, D.C., area where they began a search for land to continue their Christmas Tree farming on the best soil possible, settling near Shepherdstown, W.V. In 1967, Eric and Gloria started retail lots in Bethesda, Md. and Washington, D.C., which they operated for 40 years before passing the retail side of their business to two veteran employees. Both in their 80s, Eric and Gloria continue development of the seed orchard part of their farm. Sundbacks Named Grand Champions

The presentation to the White House is tentatively scheduled to take place on Nov. 27, 2009. The tree will be set up in the Blue Room later that day, where the White House Floral Department staff and volunteers will decorate it.

Members of the National Christmas Tree Association have presented the official White House Christmas Tree for display in the Blue Room since 1966.

I post the press release here because — you just knew this was going to happen, didn’t you? — someone is passing around a hoax letter claiming President Obama has banned the mention of Christmas.


I caught the word from Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars; he got the word from Politico.

The White House Historical Association has been receiving calls and emails about an alleged Obama decree that the Christmas trees in the White House would now be known as “holiday trees.” And artists submitting designs for ornaments on the Blue Room tree were not allowed to depict Christian themes.

“It’s strange,” said Maria Downs, the historical association’s spokeswoman. “They’re almost saying, ‘Are you aware of this?'”

One of the chain emails circulating around in-boxes claims that “a friend at church who is a very talented artist” got a letter from the White House saying not to send any ornaments painted with a religious theme.

“Just thought you should know what the new residents in the WH plan for the future of America,” concludes the email hoax. “If you missed his statement that ‘we do not consider ourselves a Christian Nation’ this should confirm that he plans to take us away from our religious foundation as quickly as possible.”

The truth is the White House has already made plans to celebrate Christmas this year. In August the National Christmas Tree Association announced that a couple from West Virginia will “present the official White House Christmas Tree to First Lady Michelle Obama for the 2009 Christmas season.”

Never mind that historical association sells the official White House ornament, not the actual ornaments that go on the White House tree. How does it respond to concerned citizens? “We just tell them no,” said Downs.

So if somebody sends you an e-mail asking you to get steamed up over this issue, send them the press release from the tree growers, and invite them to buy an ornament from the White House Historical Association.

Maybe Larry T. Doughty could be persuaded to buy an ornament, instead of spreading false rumors.  How many other bloggers fell for this hoax?  (Both Snopes.com and Urban Legends have posts debunking the hoax; also see Media Matters Action Network.)

Native American tree

Douglas Fir needles and the unique, identifying cone

Douglas Fir needles and the unique, identifying cone - USDA Forest Service image, courtesy the Hunt Institute

Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) does not grow natively in West Virginia — it’s a western tree famous for growing to massive size, and famous for providing timber from western forests.  We found it in stands throughout Utah and New Mexico in our air pollution studies, but the biggest ones grow along the Pacific Coast from northern California, through Oregon and Washington into Canada.  It’s not a true fir.  Classifying the tree was problematic for years.  The name it was mostly known by when we worked on them was Pseudotsuga taxifolia, which is “false hemlock with yew-like leaves. ”  It’s still classed as a false hemlock.  I see on some sites that there are five different species in the genus recognized around the world.  Douglas fir has a unique cone that usually will identify the tree dispositively.

So the White House Christmas Tree to be displayed in the Blue Room this year is a native American tree, important to the lumber industry, raised by a prize-winning Christmas tree farmer in West Virginia.

Who says we don’t have culture?

USDA Forest Service photo of Douglas Firs in a U.S. National Forest -- via UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO); FAO notes that trees of this species this large are unlikely to be found outside of National Parks today.

USDA Forest Service photo of Douglas Firs in a U.S. National Forest -- via UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO); FAO notes that trees of this species this large are unlikely to be found outside of National Parks today.

Update:  See more America-disrespecting crabbiness from BigGovernment.com here — and see my response belowEven more information on the crabbiness, here. Can you imagine how ticked off Mao would be to have known he’d be adorning an American Christmas Tree, in the Andy Warhol portrait?  The problem now is whether the Chinese Embassy will lodge a protest — way to go, BigGovernment.com.

Tracking down historic typewriters

October 21, 2009

By the way, Richard Polt at Xavier University lays it all over this blog in his listings of typewriters used by good authors and famous people.  If you’re looking for more information on the history of typewriters, or if you’re looking for information about an old typewriter you own, Polt’s site is a great place to start:  The Classic Typewriter Page.

The Flying Oliver, logo of Richard Polts The Classic Typewriter Page

The Flying Oliver, logo of Richard Polt's The Classic Typewriter Page

We become the ephemera of history: ‘Only the privileged few of us get to be fossils’

October 21, 2009

From “Whose father was he?” a four-part essay on tracking down the story of three children whose photograph was discovered on the corpse of a Union soldier killed at the Battle of Gettysburg, in 1863:

Perhaps more than any other artifact, the photograph has engaged our thoughts about time and eternity. I say “perhaps,” because the history of photography spans less than 200 years. How many of us have been “immortalized” in a newspaper, a book or a painting vs. how many of us have appeared in a photograph [32]? The Mayas linked their culture to the movements of celestial objects. The ebb and flow of kingdoms and civilizations in the periodicities of the moon, the sun and the planets. In the glyphs that adorn their temples they recorded coronations, birth, deaths. Likewise, the photograph records part of our history. And expresses some of our ideas about time. The idea that we can make the past present.

The photograph of Amos Humiston’s three children — of Frank, Alice and Fred — allows us to imagine that we have grasped something both unique and universal. It suggests that the experience of this vast, unthinkable war can be reduced to the life and death of one man — by identifying Gettysburg’s “Unknown Soldier” we can reunite a family. That we can be saved from oblivion by an image that reaches and touches people, that communicates something undying and transcendent about each one of us.

And the footnote, number 32:

[32] I had an opportunity to visit the fossil collections at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. It was part of a dinosaur fossil-hunting trip with Jack Horner, the premier hunter of T-Rex skeletons. Downstairs in the lab, there was a Triceratops skull sitting on a table. I picked it up and inserted my finger into the brain cavity. (I had read all these stories about how small the Triceratops brain had to have been and I wanted to see for myself.) I said to Jack Horner, “To think that someday somebody will do that with my skull.” And he said, “You should be so lucky. It’s only the privileged few of us who get to be fossils.”

See Errol Morris’s whole series, “Whose father was he?” at the New York Times blogs:

  • Whose Father Was He? (Part Five)
  • Whose Father Was He? (Part Four)
  • Whose Father Was He? (Part Three)
  • Whose Father Was He? (Part Two)
  • Whose Father Was He? (Part One)

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