Auburn fans roll trees for the final time

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerApril 20, 2013 

Auburn, Ala. -- On a breezy Saturday afternoon on which Auburn was guaranteed a win, the Tigers celebrated a victory by papering the bony limbs of the oak trees at Toomer's Corner one final time.

It was the beginning of a new era in Auburn football and the end of a tradition for students and fans who have rolled those 130-year-old trees after victories for more than four decades.

The rally at College and Magnolia followed an A-Day Game that attracted a record 83,401 fans to Jordan-Hare Stadium to watch the debut of Coach Gus Malzahn. The Orange defeated the Blue 35-14 and before the family squabble was done, most of the crowd headed for Toomer's Corner.

Auburn planned a scripted program that was to reach its crescendo with the last rolling of the trees. But anxious fans didn't wait for their cue. Hours before the 5 p.m. program, a sea of white toilet paper already covered the trees.

The stately oaks have provided cover for the archway leading onto campus for more than a century. Even before the victory celebrations, Samford Park was a place where students congregated.

That ritual was threatened two years ago when Harvey Updyke Jr., an Alabama fan, poisoned the trees with Spike 80DF -- a proven tree killer. He later confessed to his deed live on Paul Finebaum's national radio show.

Updyke, 64, was recently given a sentence that requires him to serve at least six months in jail after he pleaded guilty to criminal damage of an agricultural facility.

Since his prank, the trees have slowly deteriorated, and on Tuesday at 7 a.m. CDT -- with streets closed -- they will be taken down, a slice at a time. Within a month, pieces of the oak trees will be turned into keepsake items and souvenirs, with proceeds from the sales going to student scholarships.

The ceremony Saturday included appearances by a host of Auburn officials -- from President Jay Gogue to Aubie, the costumed mascot.

Gogue reminded fans that school spirit isn't changing.

"Ever to conquer, never to yield," he said.

Auburn Mayor Bill Ham said the papering of Toomer's Corner began when people gathered around a telegraph machine at the corner drug store to get news of a victory.

"When the store's employees would receive news of a victory, they would throw the ticker tape on the power lines at this intersection," Ham said.

Bill Stone, president of the Auburn Alumni Association, unveiled plans for the site once the venerable oaks are gone.

"One thing for certain," he said. "Live trees will be planted on the corner."

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