YARMOUTH, Maine — In life, New England’s champion elm tree, nicknamed Herbie, stretched more than 100 feet skyward, towering over its neighbors and becoming a local landmark.
Nearly 10 months after being dismantled by chain saw, the majestic tree has been reincarnated by artisans into a variety of items including a stunning electric guitar. The custom guitar, along with baseball bats, upscale furniture and other keepsakes, will be auctioned off Saturday to benefit the Yarmouth tree trust.
“It’s mindboggling how much has been done with it,” said Jan Ames Santerre, senior planner with the Maine Forest Service, one of the sponsors in The Herbie Project.
One of the tallest American elms in the country, the 110-foot-tree survived 14 bouts of Dutch elm disease, thanks to the town’s longtime tree warden, Frank Knight, who’s now 102.
But Herbie had to be cut down in January after succumbing to the fungal disease.
Seeking a silver lining, the town divvied up the 15-ton trunk and massive limbs among various artisans, who found unique ways to give Herbie new life.
Those include a mantle clock, lamps, walking sticks, a music stand, baseball bats, tables, benches, bowls, platters, a desk, step stools, bottle stops and jewelry boxes. A few whimsical items include a bench that incorporates pitch forks and another with pick axes for legs.
But perhaps the most striking of all is the guitar that looks almost too nice to play, created by Andrew Olson, who makes guitars and mandolins in Freeport.
“When I first heard the story that the tree was coming down, just being a guitar builder and wood maker, I wanted to get my hands on some of that wood,” Olson said.
His finished product is a solid body guitar with Herbie’s wood in the body and the neck, along with an ebony fingerboard, suitable for rock and blues. Bidding starts at $3,500.
Olson said he hopes the buyer isn’t afraid to play it.
“As far as I’m concerned, every musical instrument should be played. I like the idea of it being a piece of art that’s being used to create music at the same time,” he said.
Another unusual piece is an intricately carved portrait of Knight.
Knight, Yarmouth’s volunteer tree warden, realized he couldn’t save the town’s elms as they succumbed to Dutch elm disease. So he focused his efforts on Herbie.
Over five decades, Knight oversaw selective pruning of Herbie’s diseased limbs, and applications of insecticides and fungicides. The pair became well known, both in Yarmouth and beyond. Eventually, however, the tree succumbed to Dutch elm disease and was cut down on Jan. 19.
Herbie was 217 years old, meaning it was a seedling in 1793, the year President George Washington began his second term and Eli Whitney created his cotton gin.
Knight already has a couple of keepsakes from Herbie. A night stand that’s 100 percent Herbie is in the dining room of his house. He also has a walking stick made from Herbie.
Joined Thursday by his friend Deb Hopkins, the town’s current tree warden, Knight said he still marvels at all the interest generated by Herbie, described by Knight as an “old friend.” He said many people told him they shed tears over his loss, but Knight said he’s doing just fine.
“Sad about Herbie? No, there’s a time for everything. There’s no question about it,” he said. “It’s way beyond my time now. Nothing is forever. Nothing is forever.”