Skip to main content

Auburn U. cutting down poisoned oaks

By Ben Brumfield and Phil Gast, CNN
April 24, 2013 -- Updated 0956 GMT (1756 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A fan of a rival team poisoned the live oaks in 2010
  • He called in to a college sports fan radio station to brag about it
  • He was arrested, pleaded guilty and will serve a six-month sentence
  • On Tuesday, the school is taking down the trees, which have stood for more than 130 years

(CNN) -- Two years of rescue efforts could not save them. So, Tuesday, Auburn University cut down two iconic trees that a disappointed fan of its intrastate rival poisoned after his team lost a game to Auburn.

The landmark live oaks, used for celebrations by fans, who rolled them with toilet paper after big victories, were more than 130 years old. On Tuesday, they were coming down branch by branch from the campus gathering place, Toomer's Corner.

Local television news cameras broadcast the removal live.

"While it is sad, it will do nothing to change the spirit of Auburn," Auburn junior Carlee Clark told CNN iReport Tuesday, as the trees came down. "I think I speak for students and alumni alike when I say that I count it a privilege to be a part of this family, and the presence or absence of two trees could never alter that."

Crews remove pieces of live oaks on Tuesday, April 23, at Toomer's Corner in Auburn, Alabama. Auburn University spent two years trying to save the trees that a fan of rival Alabama poisoned in 2010. Auburn fans would roll the iconic oaks with toilet paper after big victories, and they did so for the last time on Saturday. Crews remove pieces of live oaks on Tuesday, April 23, at Toomer's Corner in Auburn, Alabama. Auburn University spent two years trying to save the trees that a fan of rival Alabama poisoned in 2010. Auburn fans would roll the iconic oaks with toilet paper after big victories, and they did so for the last time on Saturday.
Auburn says goodbye to its oaks
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
>
>>
Photos: Auburn says goodbye to its oaks Photos: Auburn says goodbye to its oaks

In 2010, both the Auburn Tigers and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide football teams were nationally ranked.

On November 26, Auburn, playing at UA in Tuscaloosa for the annual Iron Bowl, came back from a huge deficit to squeak past the Tide by a point, beating its tough sibling 28-27 on its home field.

Man pleads guilty in poisoning of famous Auburn trees

Revenge for a loss

Tide fan Harvey Updyke didn't like losing and did something about it, which he confessed anonymously two months later on a UA sports radio show. He called in as "Al from Dadeville."

"Let me tell you what I did the weekend after the Iron Bowl. I went to Auburn, Alabama, because I live 30 miles away," the caller said. "And I poisoned the two Toomer's trees."

He ended the call with "Roll Damn Tide," a battle cry for the University of Alabama.

The herbicide was highly potent, and tests of soil samples confirmed that he had applied a liberal amount. He had doused the soil around the trees.

When news about the poisoning spread on campus, students rallied around the trees and rolled them with toilet paper.

Updyke, who is in his mid-60s, was arrested. He pleaded guilty in March and will serve at least six months of a three-year sentence for criminal damage to an agricultural facility, a felony.

Upon release, he will be under five years of supervised probation, which includes a 7 p.m. curfew, a ban on attending any collegiate event and a ban on stepping onto Auburn University property.

He may be assessed for restitution.

Saturday night, students and fans of the Auburn Tigers gave the two trees that had graced the campus since the 1800s a final rolling. Next year, two new oaks will be planted in their place.

Tori Allen, a 2008 graduate, drove from Atlanta to say one last goodbye to the trees.

"The trees were always constant when I was in school and they definitely symbolized the Auburn family and pride, so I felt I owed it to them," Allen told CNN iReport. "A lot of people I know didn't want to go because they wanted to remember them as they used to be, not the shell they are now. But I didn't want to rob myself of the memory of saying goodbye."

She said the university had a band that played all throughout the night and blocked off the area "so it could be one big block party."

The oaks weren't just rolled after football games, she said.

"Any time someone wanted to celebrate anything, they were rolled. Presidential elections; when classes were canceled because of a hurricane; graduation; weddings; anything. The trees symbolized a place to celebrate your joy, whether it involved a sport or not," Allen said. "It's something special to see people of every age, infants to elderly, finding glee in tossing toilet paper around, screaming our cheers and singing the fight song."

CNN's Daphne Sashin contributed to this story.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT