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The Secret Animal Memorial Tree of Central Park

Animal Memorial Tree

There is a secret tree in New York’s Central Park that for the past 40 years has magically transformed into a living Animal Memorial. The tree is an 18-foot False Cypress, also known as a White Cedar, or an arbor vitae: Tree of Life. From Thanksgiving until Three King’s Day, it is covered with laminated messages and photographs of beloved animal companions. Messages and photographs of dogs and cats, yes, but also birds, horses, rabbits, fish, hamsters, squirrels, and turtles, mostly from New York but also other countries.

This tradition was started when casting director Jason Reddock was walking his Golden Retriever, Beau, in the Ramble in Central Park during the fall of 1986. Reddock noticed something hanging on a tree—the Cedar. As he approached the tree, he realized there were dog toys hanging from the branches! He and his friend Nicki Gallas, decided to add their own dogs’ photos past and present. The young tree was then named “The Pet Memorial Tree.” From that time on, people have added their own animal memorial ornaments.

The animal memorials are sometimes humorous notes, but most are touching and often heartbreaking.

To Pebbles and Chester, you were the perfect pair.  There was never one without the other. Both of you grew up together and went through everything together throughout the years and in the end, needed to be together in heaven. The homes are empty, and our hearts have a void. We love you and miss you.” And, for Wolfie the Chocolate Lab, “My happy boy, my sweetest blessing, my very best friend.” 

Reddock and Gallas carefully removed the ornaments each year and put them back up for 3 decades! They eventually passed the torch to fellow New Yorker, Marianne Larsen, who took over the care and installation of the annual memorial. The care includes cleaning and repairing before storing until next year. Since the pandemic, Larsen averages 200 new ornaments annually. She believes the count this year is about 750.

The animal memorial tree has meant that those who had been family members are not forgotten and are honored with this small, but strong little tree in the middle of New York City. Maybe the little illustrated card to a cat named Monkey says it best: “Monkey: Mommy misses you. Mommy loves you.” The memorial tree may be there only once a year, but the love is always present.

If you are looking for ways to memorialize your companion, consider taking one of my Animal Loss Healing Workshops. I help friends heal from the loss by creating a loving memorial. The process is magical, and the object of love endures.

For more on the Secret Animal Memorial Tree watch this short video from NBC News:

Photos in this article are ©Lori Rumpel

Did you know? I am also part of an incredible team who publish Animal Culture magazine.