The 1998 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

How Forest City Tree Helped Make It “Fit To Be Tied

1998 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree (Photo by Bart Barlow)

After a worldwide search in early 1998, culminating in a helicopter search conducted by Rockefeller Center Gardens Manager David Murbach, a 30″ diameter, 75′ tall Norway Spruce was located in Richfield, OH, the first to originate in America’s heartland.

Ethel and Adolph Szitar's 60+ year old Norway Spruce tree in their front yard in Richfield, Ohio with a 30" diameter trunk and height of 75'. It was only 4' tall when purchased as a live Christmas tree in 1938.

Purchased in 1938 by Ethel and Adolph Szitar as their family Christmas tree, the 4′ tall tree was then planted outside their home, where they watched it grow for 60 years.

We were called upon to recommend treatments to make the large Norway Spruce (Picea abies) selected as the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree as healthy, vigorous, and flexible as possible prior to its removal in early November.

Soil injection application of natural root bio-stimulants, including beneficial bacteria and mycorrhizal fungal spores, plus humates, kelp extracts and vitamin B.

We advised and provided a root therapy treatment consisting of fertilizer, mycorrhizae inoculants, and bio-stimulants. In addition, three (3) times during the season we applied 1000 gallons of water to the root system. The building up of the root system allowed for maximum absorption of water from the soil.

Detail pruning of the tree's periphery was performed from an aerial lift bucket truck to achieve the symmetrical perfection demanded by the millions of holiday visitors who come to see the tree.

In early June of ’98, our crew pruned the tree for shaping purposes as directed by the Rockefeller Center representatives. An aerial lift bucket truck was used to perform the cosmetic pruning around the periphery of the tree’s branches. Dead limbs were pruned from the interior, at the base of the tree.

Symmetrical perfection is demanded of a tree that is annually witnessed by millions of holiday visitors. Our pruning helped enhance this quality.

Our root therapy treatments helped prevent desiccation following its removal, and during the process of transporting it from Richfield, OH to Rockefeller Center in New York City, and throughout the course of the holiday season.

Ninety percent of the trees that have gone up at Rockefeller Center have been Norway spruces, in part because their branches are limber enough to withstand being trussed for transport. The “corseting” of the tree is an essential component of delivering the tree in perfect condition, intact and unblemished.

For a process called "corsetting," a New Jersey landscape contractor was brought in to individually wrap 3/4ths of the bottom branches in burlap & twine, and then pull the branches up and secure them to the trunk.

Torsilieri, Inc. of New Jersey individually wrapped 3/4 of the bottom branches in burlap, then two-ply twine, then pulled up and secured them to the trunk. They devised a unique hinge system for bending large branches, some 4-6″ in diameter, in a manner which allows a dense and massive tree like this 7-ton, 40-foot wide, Norway Spruce to be taken from the field. Approximately 200 branches were treated in this manner.

Our root therapy treatments helped prepare the tree so it could withstand the “corsetting” with minimal impact.

A unique hinge system was used for bending approximately 200 large branches, some 4-6" in diameter, to allow a dense and massive tree like this to be "bundled-up" and transported.

Torsilieri’s crew which came to tie-up and remove the tree commented that the tree was “the most flexible and easiest tree to tie-up that they’d ever worked with.”


Cutting down a large tree like this becomes "relatively simple" once the tree is "corsetted" and attached to a large construction crane. It took no more than a couple of minutes to cut down the tree.

The tree was cut down in mid-November, 1998 and transported by truck to the Cleveland Hopkins Airport.

Once cut, the tree was lifted and loaded onto a large flat-bed tractor-trailer truck and transported approximately thirty (30) miles west to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

After a brief send-off ceremony featuring the Kent State University Marching Band

The Kent State University Marching Band performed on the tarmac of the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport at the official send-off ceremony before the tree began its journey to New York City.

and Cleveland’s Mayor, the tree was loaded on the world’s largest cargo plane, a Russian Antonov AN-124 with a 124-foot long cargo hold, and flown to Kennedy Airport, the first tree to be flown to New York, rather than transported by truck.

The truck and tree were loaded on the world's largest cargo plane, a Russian Antonov AN-124 with a 124-foot long cargo hold, and flown to JFK Airport.

Our root therapy treatments helped the tree avoid desiccation and withstand the transport process to Rockefeller Center with minimal impact.

The same tree which brought so much joy to the Szitar family when it was their family Christmas tree back in 1938, sixty years later brought that same joy to the people who visited Rockefeller Center. Root therapy and pruning treatments helped prepare this tree for its transformation to “America’s Christmas Tree,”, viewed by millions in person and many more millions through national television coverage.

In December ‘98, the tree made its official “debut” on NBC during a nationally-telecast lighting ceremony. Adorned with over 26,000 multi-colored lights strung over five miles of wire, the tree was viewed in person by approximately 2,500,000 spectators during the holiday season.

In February 2000, the Forest City Tree Protection Co., Inc. was presented with the National Arborist Associations Excellence in Arboriculture Judges Award for their efforts in preparing the 1998 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.

We believe, the limited role we played, in some small measure contributed to the grace and beauty of this magnificent Norway spruce tree.

The tree is a gift to the world.  I see it as a message of goodwill and peace on Earth.” – – David Murbach, Head Gardener, Rockefeller Center

1998 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree at night. (Photo by Bart Barlow)

1998 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree during the day (Photo by Richard Rood)


3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    leah wall said,

    thanks for sharing this story – really interesting!

  2. 2

    Sue said,

    This brought back such good memories. Several of us drove to NY to be part of the festivities. We had black sweatshirts with a Xmas tree made and stood outside the Today Show. It was great fun. Thanks for sending this.

  3. 3

    […] 1931, and while most of the trees used for this event have been from Connecticut and New York, a 75-foot Norway Spruce from Richfield, Ohio, was lit at the Center on December 2, 1998, ushering in the Christmas season and making Ohio an […]

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