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Tree Stripped of Bark in Upper West Side 'Murder Scene,' Residents Say

By Emily Frost | March 31, 2015 10:53am
 A resident will try to revive the tree by grafting its bark, he said. 
Tree Stripped of Bark on Upper West Side
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UPPER WEST SIDE — An attacker hacked off bark from a beloved neighborhood tree at the corner of West End Avenue and West 103rd Street, leaving the towering ginko "irreparably harmed."

Early last week, neighbors told the West Side Rag that a thick ring of bark had been removed from the tree —  carnage that locals said resembled a "murder scene."

Residents have since left poems, flowers and candles by the tree, as well as posted announcements speculating on who may have committed the crime, which Parks Department officials said is considered a misdemeanor. 

An agency spokesman said staffers fear the bark removal has "irreparably harmed" the ginko, noting Monday that the Parks Department eventually plans to plant a new tree at the corner.

"I almost cried when I saw this whole thing," said resident Costello Caldwell, owner of Costello's City Gardens, who built a roughly 3-foot-tall wooden planter around the tree to protect its roots and soil from dog urine. 

Caldwell said without that layer of bark, the tree's nutrient-delivery system becomes interrupted and it could die.

Still, Caldwell hasn't given up, and he's planning a grafting operation to try to save the tree, he said Monday. 

First, he plans to remove a small strip of bark from the upper part of the tree and apply it to the section that was stripped off, using beeswax to make it stick. Next, he'll cover it with a wet towel and protect it with a plastic bag, he said.  

"You don't want it to stay in shock," Caldwell said of the urgency of the grafting procedure.

Locals have reacted with both sadness and disgust that someone would hurt such a prominent neighborhood fixture.

"It's like a murder scene," Caldwell said, looking down at the scraps of bark scattered on the ground and the police tape neighbors put up that's now blocking off the tree pit. 

"The person [who did it] clearly has an ax — it's like there's an ax murderer in the neighborhood," said Constantina, a neighbor who did not give her last name. 

"Are the people going to be next?"

She said she called 311 to report the incident but was frustrated by how long it took to get a representative from the city to the site. 

"It's just horrible," added neighbor Barbara Blumberg.

Capt. Marlon Larin, commanding officer of the 24th Precinct, said police have no leads.

Police have investigated car break-ins and graffiti in that area, but this kind of damage is "atypical," he said.

"It's hard to say what would have prompted this," Larin said. "It seems to be a random act of mischief."

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story referred to the tree as a Linden. It is actually a Ginko, according to the Parks Department.

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