Little tree provides inspiration for south side commuters

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Scott Swan/Eyewitness News

Think about your daily commute. The roads you take. The miles you cover. Think about all the things you pass every day without every noticing. The daily drive can become monotonous. Uneventful. Even boring. But, on Southport Road above Interstate 65, a little tree is drawing plenty of interest.

"It's a beautiful thing," says longtime south side resident Jerry Cosby who remembers driving past the little tree years ago. "I see this tree sitting out there and I think what's that thing doing out there? It's a survivor."

"I first noticed the tree a few years ago when I'd be driving home from the store at night. It would always catch my attention because it resembled someone standing by the side of the road by the guardrail," says Bob Arnold. "Then I'd realize it's that evergreen tree again."

The five-foot shrub is growing where the pavement ends and the dirt begins and appears to be impaled by the metal guardrail.

"I mean, it's a little guy surviving in the cruel world out there," says Cosby. "This is hard concrete, with cars going 40-to-50 miles per hour, and that little tree is totally out of its element. It has no business being out here."

"I have been down on the south side for six years and it's been here as long as I remember," says Megan Stickney.

"Probably thousands of people drove by here and said, 'oh it's just a tree. But they didn't pay much attention to it. And, then somebody decorates it, and then it's like 'did I just see that. Did somebody just decorate that for Christmas,'" says Chris Newbold.

Someone continued decorating the tree all year long. The little tree was decorated for Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter and the 4th of July.

"A friend of mine suggested that we do it up for the Colts Super Bowl," remembers Bob Arnold. "So we made a plan to meet over there late at night in a covert operation with the decorations."

"It's a work of love and respect for the tree," says Jerry Cosby.

"Even for Memorial Day and 500, they had little tires and winners flags on it, that was pretty cute," said Chris Newbold.

Facebook love

The little tree on Southport Road not only grew into a roadside curiosity but also became a hit on Facebook.

"The official Facebook name is 'whoever decorated the little tree on Southport road,'" says Bob Arnold.

The tree's popularity soared with over 7,500 Facebook fans who posted pictures and comments about the tree.

"When I saw the little tree decorated at Christmas, I was reminded that there were still great people left in the world," wrote Karen Delfin Peacock.

"Tree looks good, made me :) this morning on my way to work, and for that, I thank you little tree;)" Allison Sandefur posted on Facebook.

There were several mysteries about the little tree. First and foremost, how did it get there?

"Who knows? An act of God, who knows?," said Jerry Cosby. "A seed fell off and the darn thing just decided to grow. Some suggest that's Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. Maybe he went through Indiana in December, who knows," Cosby joked.

The other mystery centers on who decorates the tree.

"We think there are trolls that live under the interstate that decorate it in the middle of the night!," posted Kim Bricker-Leonard on Facebook.

The little tree grows by itself next to a guardrail on busy Southport Road. But, no matter where it came from, the little tree found a way to grow in an unlikely place.

"Hundreds of cars go by every day and throw dirt on it and fumes and it just doesn't give up," says Carol Cosby. "When I first noticed it, it was barely up into the guardrail and I thought that's a weird place for a tree. I'll bet that won't survive. I don't think anybody is out there watering it or fertilizing it," Cosby added.

"Picture yourself with a puncture wound. This thing is going through your body and bless its little heart. It just continues to survive. It's a wonderful story, you know?," says Jerry Cosby. "The poor little thing stands out there 24-7. Summer, winter, spring fall. All by itself. Fighting that battle. It's got that piece of metal right through its gut. And, it stands there lonesome but proud."

"When it started getting up over the guardrail, I was always telling my kids man, you believe that tree? Look how big that tree's getting," says Chris Newbold. "Here's this little fir tree, pine tree of some sort that grows on the side of the road, up through a guard rail, against all odds. The strangest place you'd expect to see a tree."

Who removed the little tree?

The little tree stood as tall as it could for years, surviving the elements and construction season. But in July of 2010, the tree's Facebook fans learned horrible news. Someone cut it down.

"WHYYY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!," Sabrina Parks screamed on the tree's Facebook page.

Reading the posts, you could sense the sadness in every keystroke.

"BIG JERKS TOOK DOWN THE TREE!" posted Leigh Scheib.

"It truly is a sad day for all of us," posted Eric Shrontz. "The little tree by Southport and I-65 is gone and was taken from us in the middle of the night by some no good evildoer. I know that little tree brought a lot of happiness and joy to a lot of you. RIP little tree. You may be gone but you are never forgotten," added Shrontz.

"I am completely disappointed! Our while family enjoyed looking at this tree. "O Little Tree, O Little Tree, O how much we loved thee," posted Kathi Townsend Cash.

The little tree that withstood it all was gone.

"I didn't really want to believe it until I drove past it yesterday," said Megan Stickney. "It's very sad to think that somebody would want to destroy something that was there making people happy every day," added Stickney.

Bob Arnold carefully crossed the road to examine what was left of the tree.

"It looks like they took it out, right at the root ball," said Arnold. "It's a shame. It brought over 7,000 complete strangers together who otherwise would have never connected."

"They didn't go on the backside of the guard rail and cut the top off or cut it halfway off. They cut it all the way down. They took it completely away," said Chris Newbold.

"Why? It was totally harmless. It was an inspiration to a lot of people," said Jerry Cosby. "Thief in the night, sad, sad,"

A few old decorations were the only thing left.

That's all that's left the memories of the little tree," said Bob Arnold.

"Thief in the night, sad, sad," said Jerry Cosby.

"I guess we'll have to find something else to make us smile in the morning," said Chris Newbold.

Stepping up

No one knows what happened to the little tree on Southport Road. The Department of Public Works denies removing the tree. While the tree's fans mourned, something happened. One man stepped up and planted a new tree.

"This is my opportunity to show God's love in a practical way and give something back to the people on the south side," said Rocco Carlisle.

He attached a note to the guard rail.

"I put this up for anybody who thought about cutting it down. Please don't cut me down," said Carlisle who continued to read the note.

"I have big roots to fill. My cousin, who used to be here, made over 7,400 people smile when they didn't have much to smile about. That's a miracle from God. So, before you fire up the chainsaw remember I have over 7,000 friends watching me. Leave me alone and let me do my job."

So the next time you are in the middle of your commute, traveling the same roads and covering all those miles, be sure to glance at some of the things you pass. It is possible one of them is bringing a community together.