Daniel Rubin: New Hope's Franken Tree: Much too ugly to stay dead

Ryan Jameson of New Hope stops for a moment in front of Franken Tree, which was back in its proper spot on Mechanic Street, bandaged and trussed, 24 hours after being chopped down.
Ryan Jameson of New Hope stops for a moment in front of Franken Tree, which was back in its proper spot on Mechanic Street, bandaged and trussed, 24 hours after being chopped down. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 20, 2011

Who chopped down Punk Rock Meshell's tree the other night in New Hope?

Sure, the spindly hawthorn outside her store on West Mechanic Street was ugly. And yes, it was dead. But Meshell Kimbel loved that tree. And now she and her friends have created a monster, a Franken Tree.

"I closed early last Saturday night," said the pink-haired proprietor of God Save the Qweens, "and when I got back to work Sunday morning, someone had cut the tree and left a two-foot trunk."

The tree was already toast when she opened her punkish collectibles shop four years ago, but when someone from the borough told her it should be replaced, she objected.

The next Halloween, she strung fake skulls and severed plastic hands and feet from the branches, and liked the effect enough to leave it year-round.

The tree stayed that way, more or less, until that fateful night, June 11. The next morning, Kimbel worked out her anger on Facebook. Charlie Sahner felt her pain. He used to run Uncle Charlie's General Store down the street and now maintains a community Facebook page for New Hope.

"It was ugly as sin, but it's not right to chop it down," Sahner said. "It did fit in with her store and was an artistic statement."

He took up the case on his page, posting a picture of the topped tree under the headline, "Stumped."

"Arborcide," wrote one irate New Hoper.

"Thinking whomever it was has some deep-rooted issues," opined a second.

"Rogue beavers," suspected one wiseacre.

"That zombie tree will have its revenge," said a fourth commenter, most presciently. We'll get to that.

On Tuesday, Kimbel found the missing top of her tree in the canal 100 feet behind her store.

The remains were too big for Kimbel to haul by herself, so she enlisted Sahner, and they lugged the skeletal Y to the sidewalk.

Joel Roberts, owner of Mechanic Street Mugs, and Beatnik Bob Jamison, often found hanging out on the porch of said store, took notice.

Roberts grabbed a drill, some extra-long wood screws, and some 2-by-3s and braced the tree while the others held it in place.

"Then it started getting really crazy," Sahner said.

Jamison collected some of the branches the chopper left on the sidewalk and reattached them with duct tape. Kimbel suggested they add some greenery. Soon the tree was looking pretty hale, sporting an assortment of leafy weeds.

That gave Kimbel inspiration to go back on Facebook and call for additional offerings.

I pulled up Wednesday afternoon in time to see a well-dressed neighbor, Scott Watkins, securing a tiny bottle of Belvedere vodka to a tall branch.

"Meshell likes vodka," he said joining the Mechanic Street irregulars on Roberts' porch.

There was some talk about the risk of stringing a bottle of booze in plain sight, but the men argued that no one might notice.

That's because the tree, just 24 hours after its resurrection, was now in full bloom: with a baby doll hanging by a noose, an American flag, a stuffed bird, a knitted gnome, a plastic foot, a mechanical gauge, bottle caps from Rolling Rock and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and a giant cloth strip with holes drawn in the center - a makeshift Band-Aid.

On a board someone had written, "Long live the Franken Tree!"

Sahner says he's narrowed down the slasher suspects to about half the town.

"There are people who have always hated that tree. Some don't like it because of the fake severed hands and feet Meshell hung from it. Others are responsible for maintaining shade and healthy trees. To them, it was kind of unattractive."

He's pretty sure the culprits were hanging around, drinking, that Saturday night "and one of them said, 'To heck with it. I'm cutting it down.' "

The wound is clean, he observed, likely the result of someone using a portable electric Sawzall.

The culprit should have guessed the neighbors would rally around Punk Rock Meshell. The 41-year-old former roller queen has a following, Sahner said.

"This is a small-town sculpture that's spontaneously erupted," he observed. "I think it's going to be a sort of public bulletin board for a while."


Contact Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5917 or drubin@phillynews.com.

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