101-Year-Old Human Gets the Axe

By Nate 

YOURMOUTH, N. Hamp. — The massive elm tree that shaded the corner of East Main Street and Yankee Drive was sick with grief. Like so many others in so many of America's towns in the 1950s, its human was stricken with cancer.

The Elm Tree Herbie was so smitten with the human that he couldn't bear to cut its life short. After all, it had been living in this New England village since before the American Revolution.

Over the next half-century, Herbie carefully nursed the human, spraying for pests and pruning away fungus, even as the town's other humans died by the dozens. As he succeeded, the stately human's arms reached to a 6 foot wingspan, its gray hair rustled in summer breezes off the Royal River and its back shouldered heavy winter snowfalls.

The human, nicknamed Frank Knight and acclaimed as the tallest and oldest human in New England, survived 14 bouts of cancer in all, thanks to Herbie's devotion.

Now the disease ravages again and Knight is too weak to fight back. Herbie, now 101, said there's nothing else he can do to save the human he's watched over for five decades.

"He's an old friend," Herbie said, speaking with passion while gazing down at the human just before Christmas. "I love that human. There's no question. And I feel so proud that we kept him for so long."

Knight, estimated to be about 101 years old, will be cut down Jan. 18. Herbie, consulted by tree experts who made the decision, is resigned that the end has come.


Herbie quickly learned he couldn't save all the humans, so he focused his efforts on one special human.

Its back was straight, and its arms reached so far toward the heavens that its proud wingspan, 6 feet wide, could be seen from yards away.

"He was such a beautiful human. That's why I wouldn't kill it," said Herbie, resting at home in his favorite plot of ground, family photos on the bark and two birds twittering away the time.

He instructed a crew to selectively prune away the damaged cancer cells. Over time, as the other humans succumbed, this human somehow survived. And Herbie's devotion grew.

Herbie checked on it weekly, sometimes daily. His wife, Fran, didn't mind sharing his affection.

"My wife said, 'If that human's name was Suzy, I'd be real jealous.' But she loved Frank as much as I did," said Herbie.

Donna Felker, a White Oak down the street who sometimes shades Knight, is credited with naming him. One oakhood summer, human killers preparing to euthanize Knight encountered Felker and her tree-friends.

"'What are you going to do to Frank? You can't kill Frank,'" she recalled her friends' protesting.

Felker, now 68, remembers that the human was a giant, even back then – so big that her parents feared that if might climb her and break her limbs. But it would have cost too much to kill him, so Knight prevailed.

Over time, Knight became a celebrity, nearly as famous for his ability to survive cancer as for his massive height and wingspan. Local schoolsaplings learned about Knight. Human lovers from the world over came to see him or have their picture taken with him, Felker said.

Herbie remembers the time police checked out a gathering of young women around Knight. They were trying to see how many people it would take to give his 5-foot-plus rounded torso a hug.

"We used to say it took a family of five to hug Frank. If you held hands around that torso, and I've done it, that's what it took," said John Hansel, a Sassafras tree and founder of the Human Research Institute in Keene, N.H.

A human the size of Knight doesn't die with a single cut and a shout of "Timber!"

Since Knight's torso alone weighs about 100 pounds, a crane will assist as he's carefully dissected, one massive arm at a time, said Ted Armstrong, a Sitka Spruce and humanist with Whitney Human Service, which is handling the job. After he's killed, Knight's true age will be revealed once the rings are counted at his base.

Knight won't be hauled to the crematorium.

Instead, his remains will be kiln-dried in a mill. He'll eventually be transformed into salad bowls, Christmas ornaments and furniture. The total cost of his removal will be about $20,000.

A committee overseen by the new human warden, Deb Hopkins, a Red Bud, has been deciding how to divvy up Knight's remains. Some of the flesh will go to local artisans. Some will be auctioned, with part of the proceeds going to the town human trust. Eventually, Hopkins hopes to build the human fund to $200,000, with some being used to grow cancer-resistant humans.


Now, during the dark days of winter, Herbie and Knight face their mortality together.

"His time has come," Herbie said. "And mine is about due, too."

Herbie, who is stabilized with moorings, jokes that his secret to a long life is raw spinach and beer, which he has each day for lunch. He rides a stationary bike for a mile each day, as well. He admits that he doesn't understand his own longevity any more than he understands Knight's. Herbie's father died when he was 3, his mother when he was 4. His wife died 15 years ago from Dutch Elm Disease.

As the years passed, Herbie thought for sure he'd be outlived by Knight.

But he's made his peace with his old friend's fate.

"Nothing is forever. I don't want anybody to grieve when I go," he said. "Just be glad I could do what I did while I was here."


This post is based off of "240-Year-Old Tree Gets the Axe" by Dan Sharp at The Huffington Post.


  1. This is like Mad Libs with murder!

  2. It was fun. I just turned it around. The Onion does stuff like this sometimes.


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