Yarmouth’s most famous elm tree lives on after death.
When “Herbie,” the largest American elm in New England lost its battle with Dutch elm disease in 2010, the man who had cut the fungus-borne illness from the tree’s massive trunk fourteen times in fifty years was stoic. “Nothing is forever,” Frank Knight, the retired tree warden for the town of Yarmouth, said as he watched workers saw down the tree. “I’m just glad we had him for so long. His time has come. Mine is about to, too.”
Behind the scenes, though, Knight took the loss of the tree he called his “old friend” hard. “In the beginning it was tough,” says Debra Hopkins, who succeeded Knight as tree warden a decade ago and counted him as a close friend. “We spent a lot of time in his backyard talking about it. We worked through the process, that this was going to happen, that it’s the other side of life.”
But Knight, who died in May at the age of 103, took comfort in the Herbie Project (yarmouth communityservices.org), which continues his legacy. Herbie (girth: 229 inches; height: 93 feet; crown: 110 feet; age: 217) yielded more than eight thousand board feet, which has been cut, carved, and sanded into hundreds of crafts by more than seventy artists, all for the benefit of the Yarmouth Tree Trust. In the two years since the first Herbie products were sold at the Yarmouth Clam Festival, $45,000 have been raised for planting and safeguarding trees on the shady streets of Knight’s hometown. —Virginia M. Wright