Thank God, no human or tree was critically hurt in Thursday’s McCorkle Place firebombing.
This Daily Tar Heel story about the events struck me not only for what it reveals about Physics and Astronomy Professor Dan Reichart’s heroism, but also (in one snippet from the article) for how it reminded me of Chapel Hill’s cultural wealth. According to an eyewitness, the suspect in last Thursday’s firebombing on McCorkle Place (who was later taken to the hospital for a mental evaluation) yelled “the tree of knowledge is on fire” around the time of the events. The burning arbor in question, of course, was Davie Poplar.
Anyone who’s ever walked an admissions tour at UNC knows about Davie Poplar, and for some good reasons. The tulip poplar is estimated to be over 300 years old, it’s named after one of the University’s founders and it’s connected to a story about how the University will fall if it does (as well as support cables to help ensure that legend is never tested).
Prune away that history, and peel back the bark of its name, “Davie Poplar,” and all that’s left is a beautiful old tree. What’s really special about Davie Poplar, in other words, is that we all know about it.
The tree’s name and associated trivia together form one piece of a rich culture through which almost any given Chapel Hill community member can connect with any other. This local culture is a wonderfully practical thing for easing social relations.