WEST ONEONTA, N.Y. — The country's most iconic Christmas tree began its 200-mile journey to Rockefeller Center early Thursday.
A 75-foot, 11-ton Norway spruce was donated by Susan and Allan “Daddy Al” Dick, proprietors of Daddy Al’s General Store in Oneonta’s West End, and their daughter, Paula.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Paula said.
For the town of Oneonta, growing a Rockefeller-quality Christmas tree is a twice-in-a-lifetime event. A 94-foot, 14-ton Norway spruce was harvested from the Oneonta backyard of Angie and Graig Eichler in 2016.
“We grow ‘em good here,” Town Supervisor Bob Wood said, surmising that it's the first community to provide more than one tree for the New York City tradition, nearly a century old.
The first-ever Rockefeller Christmas tree was put up by construction workers building Rockefeller Center in 1931, according to the organization. A formal tree-lighting has been held every year since 1933.
Preparations to haul the 88th tree to in Midtown Manhattan began weeks in advance, Al Dick said.
The tree was under 24-hour guard in the weeks leading up to its felling, he said — a precaution against last-minute climbers, branch harvesters or others who may have wanted to make a statement by chaining themselves to the tree.
“We thought, 'What are they going to do, chop it down, put it on top of their car and drive off with it?'” Susan Dick joked. “Turns out they’ve had stuff happen before.”
Before the tree was cut, the family's telephone wires were relocated to a temporary pole on the other side of the house, two other trees were removed from the yard, and a neighbor’s mailbox post was pulled out to make room for a crane and truck.
A roadside ditch was filled with stone and leveled with a temporary platform and concrete barriers to secure the loading process.
While many Rockefeller trees are volunteered by their owners, the Dicks’ tree was scouted by a representative of Rockefeller Center who passing through the area four years prior.
Then at 71 feet, the approximately 75-year-old tree did not yet meet the requirement and still needed years of growing, the family was told. Every six months over the next four years, Rockefeller officials visited to water and fertilize the tree, grooming the spruce for its destiny as a New York City landmark.
Prospective tree contributors are asked to keep a low profile until right before a tree is harvested. In Oneonta, rumors rolled through the city leading up to the big chop, but the family would not confirm the tree's destination.
Then, on Thursday morning, they awoke to the glare of spotlights from news crews setting up across the street, about an hour before the tree was scheduled to be taken.
“Everybody on the planet was here,” Al said.
Susan, a locally renowned Christmas decorator of nearly 50 years, trimmed the front of the house with ribbons, garland and wreaths — “just enough so that it looked a little bit festive" - before the spotlight arrived.
“We’ve been known in Oneonta as the ‘Christmas Tree House’ for years,” said their daughter, Paula. “Since we moved here, my parents have gone all out on their Christmas decorations every year.
"What a great thing to take the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree from the Christmas Tree House in Oneonta," she said.
The Rockefeller Center's tree will be trimmed with about five miles of string lights containing 50,000 multi-color LED bulbs, and a 900-pound, three-dimensional star more than nine feet in diameter and encrusted with 3 million Swarovski crystals.
The tree-lighting ceremony, scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 2, will not be open to the public. It will be broadcast nationally on NBC from 7 to 10 p.m., EST.
Sarah Eames writes for the Oneonta Daily Star. She can be reached at email@example.com.