The Hangman's Elm, Manhattan

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Erik Danielsen
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The Hangman's Elm, Manhattan

Post by Erik Danielsen » Sat Jan 09, 2016 8:23 pm

Located in the very northwestmost corner of Washington Square Park in Manhattan, the Hangman's Elm is one of those trees lucky enough to have its own wikipedia page. The official record lends no credence to the notion that any poor souls were in fact hung from its boughs, though other circumstantial evidence and less-official sources do render it at least plausible. In 1989 the Parks Department determined this English Elm, though its definitive planting date on the original farm property was not recorded, to be at least 310 years old. Today that translates to 337, and must be part of a small club of non-native specimens in the eastern US that are closing in on three and a half centuries.
When I first arrived there appeared to be some sort of tour group standing beneath the elm (they've moved on in this photo). I wonder if the tour guide threw the group any numbers, and if so, what they were.
When I first arrived there appeared to be some sort of tour group standing beneath the elm (they've moved on in this photo). I wonder if the tour guide threw the group any numbers, and if so, what they were.
Hopefully that figure is more reliable than the Park's Department's other stats on the tree. Jenny posted a photo ( http://www.nativetreesociety.org/fieldt ... ington.htm) of the tree in 2009 and relayed the Park's Department's official numbers at the time- 135' tall and 63" in diameter. The department's current page for this elm in their "Great Trees of NYC" listing (a program reminiscent of state champion lists and with all the attendant problems) states 131.2' tall (very specific!), 67.2" in diameter, and 42.5' for average crown spread. An archived Parks blurb from 1989 has it at just 70' tall and a diameter of 61". The Wikipedia page, interestingly, lists a height of 110' and dbh of 56", the source seemingly a NY Times letter to the editor by Luther Harris in 1994 claiming the height to be 110' and the girth 61", though I'm not sure what would explain the discrepancy on girth.

As for how they stack up, well- the Hangman's Elm is 111.8' tall, 17.62'cbh (67.3"dbh), has an average crown spread of 82.5', and a maximum crown spread of 90 feet. AF points=344.

A caveat to my own crown spread measurement- the area beneath the main leader on one side of the tree was inaccessible due to construction. From afar it appeared to be about the same length as one of the leaders I did measure (using spoke method), so I subtracted a yard to be conservative and incorporated that into the average. Once that construction is done I will revise.

Wikipedia's source appears to have done something right in its height measurement, though the girth is significantly low. Parks is consistently overmeasuring the height, probably standard tangent error. Some pruning of the crown has occurred in the last decade but none of the pruned limbs appear to have had any chance of adding 20+ feet to the tree, and realistically it appears that the highest portions of the crown were retained. Their girth measurement is at least solid. I cannot account for the crown spread listed, except perhaps that the person measuring was under the impression that crown spread was a measure of how far the crown extends outwards from the trunk in a single direction, rather than across.
Silhouette emphasizing the crown's oddly narrow structure, exacerbated by pruning.
Silhouette emphasizing the crown's oddly narrow structure, exacerbated by pruning.
Numbers aside, it's a beautiful and imposing tree, and worth a detour if you ever find yourself in the vicinity.

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dbhguru
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Re: The Hangman's Elm, Manhattan

Post by dbhguru » Sat Jan 09, 2016 10:06 pm

Erik,

Good job. Now we know. There was the Big Apple before Erik and now after. Who says one person can't make a difference.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

tclikesbigtrees
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Re: The Hangman's Elm, Manhattan

Post by tclikesbigtrees » Sat Jan 09, 2016 11:32 pm

My family and I were there to see that tree a few years ago. I had heard about it and as I like to see big trees, I decided that we would stop on the way to see some other things.

Tom

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John Harvey
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Re: The Hangman's Elm, Manhattan

Post by John Harvey » Sun Jan 10, 2016 9:28 am

That story reminds me of the Keeler Oak in New Jersey. In the revolutionary war there was a battle in the vicinity of the tree and legend has it that some British "deserters" were hung from the tree. The tree is mentioned in historical records of that time and there were definitely deserters hung on the road it is on, but in all honesty no one knows if it was "that" tree although it's very possible.
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John D Harvey (JohnnyDJersey)

East Coast and West Coast Big Tree Hunter

"If you look closely at a tree you'll notice it's knots and dead branches, just like our bodies. What we learn is that beauty and imperfection go together wonderfully." - Matt Fox

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Will Blozan
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Re: The Hangman's Elm, Manhattan

Post by Will Blozan » Sun Jan 10, 2016 9:42 am

Very cool story and tree!

I'm sure you know this but for the benefit of others; if you can get a laser shot to the end of the branch over the construction from the vicinity of the trunk, simply get angle and solve for horizontal distance.

-Will

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: The Hangman's Elm, Manhattan

Post by Erik Danielsen » Sun Jan 10, 2016 9:59 am

For some reason that just didn't occur to me; I've only measured spokes shooting in, not out. Next time!

John, historical claims about various trees are always interesting... taking the northeast as a whole, by the number of large sycamores, elms and oaks that washington or other contemporary notables were supposed to have stopped to rest beneath and admired on their way to this or that battle, one might conclude that our founding fathers were a bunch of proto-ents. There's one such elm (named the "Washington Elm") a little way further up manhattan that I figure I'll check out sometime, though its dimensions are rather less interesting than its history.

This 2009 article in "The Awl" has some nice leafed-out photos of the Hangman's Elm and also supplies our wildest height assertion yet- "Close to 200 feet." Maybe in central america somewhere is a mexican elm to fulfill that one! http://www.theawl.com/2009/08/in-the-we ... he-red-men

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