Twenty years ago a man sat in a tree, protesting its removal. Twenty years later, that same man sat in the same tree celebrating its relocation anniversary on Saturday. That man is John Quigley and that tree is “Old Glory.”
In 2003, a heritage oak, later named “Old Glory,” was scheduled to be destroyed to make may for new development in Stevenson Ranch.
Quigley, a tree activist and visual artist, climbed up into the limbs of the heritage oak and remained there for 71 days, protesting its removal.
Quigley’s tree-sit quickly drew international media coverage and gained the attention of thousands.
People from near and far came by to witness the man in the tree.
More and more people came offering food, drinks and children began decorating the gated fence around the tree with artwork.
One of the women who came to lend her support through a tuna fish sandwich and some homemade chocolate chip cookies was Santa Clarita Councilwoman Marsha McLean.
All of Quigley’s needs were sent up and down in a bucket attached to a rope.
As the days went on, Quigley bared the conditions of the outdoors including up to 70 mph wind gusts. Quigley even cracked one of his teeth when he bit into a frozen power bar.
On the day of a rally, members and nonmembers of the community gathered round to decide on a name for the tree. Names were thrown out all day, but nothing stuck.
After the rally Quigley received a red envelope in his bucket. Inside was a letter from two Stevenson Ranch residents, one 13 years old and the other 10 years old at the time.
The letter was written and addressed to Los Angeles County supervisors begging them to not cut down the over 400-year-old oak that they called “Old Glory.”
The name ever since then stuck.
At the end of Quigley’s tree-sit, a deal was made. “Old Glory” would be moved to Pico Canyon Park to be enjoyed by future generations.
Quigley’s efforts, along with many other supporting parties, are the reason that “Old Glory” stands today at Pico Canyon Park 20 years later.
Members of the community were invited out to the park on Saturday to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of “Old Glory’s” relocation with music, speeches, original memorabilia from the tree-sit and to see Quigley once again in the branches of “Old Glory.”
“This tree is a symbol of what we can all do when we come together in order to preserve nature, preserve our wonderful oaks,” said McLean.
Members from what Quigley calls “the ground crew” (those who assisted Quigley in his tree-sit from the ground) came up and shared the part they played in saving “Old Glory.”
One of those was Shawnee Badger, who was 9 years old at the time.
“There’s a big difference between growing up and reading and watching something and then seeing a real-life human being, an adult living it, putting their body on the line for the trees, for the animals for the community,” said Badger. “I remember being 9 years old and standing in the sunshine with these vibrant activists, who were playing guitar and singing ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ by Joni Mitchell, and there’s something about being a kid and it’s just so easy to make that connection.”
Quigley said that one of the main reasons he wasn’t forced down the tree by the Fire Department one day was because of the kids like Badger. With kids chanting to save the tree, Quigley said he saw a fire chief shake his head down as if he couldn’t do it.
Badger, and many other children close in age, were the reason that on that day, “Old Glory” wasn’t met with a chainsaw.
“The thing that I was really impressed by was the enthusiasm, the sense of bonding,” said ground crew member Brent Horner. “I saw in this community bonding around this tree and bonding around everyone’s love for the trees.”
With everyone back around the tree, and Quigley in it, Quigley said that what he did 20 years ago was the greatest moment in his life and taught him so much about his life.
“Nature just goes with us, it just rides with us,” said Quigley. “And so for that, I often say that ‘Old Glory’ is my greatest teachings.”
To conclude the celebration, Quigley did the same thing he did after 71 days of sitting in a tree, he came down.
“I’m going to apologize for what I’m gonna do right now, I’m gonna come out of the tree,” said Quigley. “This is the first moment I’ve ever been in the branches of this tree where it hasn’t been under imminent threat, potentially, so let’s give it a cheer for that.”
Quigley descended down “Old Glory” to the live band playing “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong.
As Quigley’s feet hit the ground, dozens swarmed him with open arms to give him a hug, thanking him for what he did 20 years ago.