The Liberty Tree holds a significant place in American history, and its story is told through the impressive oak in Disney’s Liberty Square.

FEW people know the story of the tree that grows in Liberty Square in Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World in Florida. The tree is a Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) and from its branches hang 13 lanterns, representing the 13 original colonies of the United States of America. The tree helps to shape this part of the park, which is designed to tell the story of the fight for American independence from the British.

The tree is called the Liberty Oak and is based on the original Liberty Tree, which grew in Boston, and was, in fact, an elm. This Boston tree is where the ‘Sons of Liberty’ or American patriots gathered, to protest against the Stamp Act. It was under this tree and many others like it throughout America that the revolution was fermented.

Forestry Journal: Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom, Florida.Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom, Florida.

The tree has for company some other icons of this era in American history. In Liberty Square, there is a building with two lanterns in its upper window, placed there to replicate the signal system used in Boston to warn the revolutionaries of the arrival of the British forces. There is also a replica of the Liberty Bell, one of two that are to be found in Florida, and the Hall of Presidents. The Hall of Presidents tells the stories of some of the most famous American presidents. Visitors can see the Great Seal of the United States in the carpeting. This is the only place outside of the White House where it can be seen on display.

Walt Disney and the planners of Walt Disney World wanted to create a part of the Magic Kingdom Park that reflected the revolutionary history of America. They were particularly focussed on having something in place before America’s Bicentennial celebrations in 1976, hence the development of Liberty Square. It is said Walt himself was the man who discovered the Southern live oak, which was to become the Liberty Tree, growing on the land set aside for the development of Walt Disney World.

Forestry Journal: This notice tells the story of the Liberty Tree and its place in American history.This notice tells the story of the Liberty Tree and its place in American history.

The story surrounding the American Revolutionary War was told in the 1957 Disney film Johnny Tremain. In one scene, the titular character and his friends are shown singing in the streets and tying lanterns to the Liberty Tree. This film sowed the seeds in Walt’s mind about having a Liberty Street or area in one of his parks.

Finding the tree was, in fact, the easiest part of the project. The tree chosen was 100 years old, weighed in at around 38 tonnes and was located eight miles from its planned home in Liberty Square. The task of how to move this tree, which had a root ball of 18 ft by 16 ft by 4 ft deep, became the focus for the Disney planners and those in the Disney horticulture department. The fact that the tree was so big made it impossible to lift it by using the normal method of wrapping cables around it.

Forestry Journal: 13 lanterns hang from the branches of the Liberty Oak to represent the original 13 colonies of the United States of America.13 lanterns hang from the branches of the Liberty Oak to represent the original 13 colonies of the United States of America.

Using this method of moving a tree, which was quite commonplace, would, in this case, have caused irreparable damage. The cables would have crushed the bark and cambium layers, found just under the bark, which are, in effect, the lifeblood of the tree. It would have been the sheer weight of the tree that would have caused this to happen, had this method been used.

In the end, those tasked with the moving of the tree opted to use a method of drilling holes into the hardwood centre of the oak’s trunk, allowing steel rods to be inserted into it. These rods were then used as handles so the tree could be lifted by a 100-tonne crane to its new home in Liberty Square. While the Disney teams had used this method to transport trees before, many people involved in the industry and those involved in academia believed it would result in the loss of the tree.

Forestry Journal: Wires are used in the canopy to help maintain the structure and shape of the Liberty Oak.Wires are used in the canopy to help maintain the structure and shape of the Liberty Oak.

The fact the tree is now over 140 years old and still growing strong in Liberty Square proves this highly innovative method was the right one. It is perhaps not surprising when you look at the Disney theme parks, with all the new innovations they have introduced over the years, that such a method of moving trees should be tried by them. Disney has moved several hundred trees using this method across their lands and parks, a great many after the movement of the Liberty Oak. Few have resulted in the loss of the trees.

Once the Southern live oak was settled into its location, the steel pins were removed and sections of hardwood were placed into the holes. Doing this allowed the tree to heal its wounds over time. The whole process of movement took several months to achieve and this tree is the largest the Disney teams have ever moved. The Disney horticultural team adopted the Liberty Oak as its official logo; such was the pride at achievement of its movement to Liberty Square.

Forestry Journal: The Liberty Tree plaque.The Liberty Tree plaque.

There is a plaque placed underneath the tree, which reads: “The Liberty Tree – Under the boughs of the original Liberty Tree in Boston in 1765, Patriots, calling themselves ‘The Sons of Liberty’, gathered to protest the imposition of the Stamp Act. In the years that followed, almost every American town had a Liberty Tree – a living symbol of the American freedom of speech and assembly.” There is also a white noticeboard, which explains about the history of original Liberty Tree in Boston and tells the story of the Patriots.

Today, the Liberty Tree shows some signs of maintenance work having been carried out. There are also some wires in the upper branches, between its major limbs, to help maintain its shape. Today, under the branches of the Liberty Oak, on any given day, it is not Patriots that gather but rather people sheltering from the sun and taking time to recover their strength before taking on the challenges of the Magic Kingdom theme park. Many of them have no idea of the tree’s significance and the effort that was put into transferring it to this location.