The bark of the Mother of the Forest was displayed at London’s Crystal Palace in 1859. (Philip Henry Delamotte)

How the ‘Mother of the Forest’ was sacrificed for amusement

The bark of one of California’s biggest sequoias was once displayed in the shape of a tree for the amusement of Londoners.

Fortune seekers lured to California by the Gold Rush discovered another opportunity in the grandeur of the Sierra’s ancient redwoods. In 1854, they peeled 90 tons of the shaggy bark from a 2,500-year-old specimen known as “Mother of the Forest” and shipped it off to New York. A few years later, the bark made its way to London, where it was reassembled in its original shape and displayed at the Crystal Palace exhibition hall for nearly a decade.

Back in California, the Mother of the Forest slowly died. A British travel writer compared the flayed tree to Saint Sebastian, the Christian martyr tied to a post and shot with arrows. In time, the butchering of the world’s mightiest trees for mere amusement fell increasingly into disrepute, helping to stir the consciousness that propelled the American conservation movement.

● ●

Atlas Obscura: “When Giant Sequoias Were Sacrificed for Traveling Sideshows.”

This article is from the California Sun, a newsletter that delivers must-read stories to your inbox each morning .  Sign up here.

Get your daily dose of the Golden State.