Washington Square Moon Tree

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

[Philadelphia Moon Tree] [Philadelphia Moon Tree Plaque] [Philadelphia Moon Tree]

Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) planted 6 May 1975 in Washington Square, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This was the first official Moon Tree planted to celebrate the nation's bicentennial, Stuart Roosa took part. The tree was about 3 1/2 feet tall and was planted inside a 4 1/2 foot high iron fence. It was planted in the northeast corner of Washington Square Park, diagonally across from Independence hall. In front of it was a bronze plaque embedded in a large rock (above). Sadly, the tree died circa 2008. The first picture above shows the Moon Tree when it was healthy, circa 2000. The top right picture shows the tree in 2011, shortly before it was removed. The very bottom images show the stump and area after the tree was cut down.

The ceremony (see images below) featured Glenn Kovar of the U.S. Forest Service as master of ceremonies. Speeches were made by Stuart Roosa; Director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Ernesta Ballard; U.S. Forest Service Chief John McGuire; and Robert C. McConnell, Director of the Fairmont Park Commission. Approximately 250 people were in attendance, primarily school children, joined by Woodsy Owl and various members of the Forest Service and gardening and environmental groups.

The planting was done by Stuart Roosa, John McGuire, Ernesta Ballard, and a person described by George Vitas of the U.S. Forest Service in his report as the "acting Mayor of Philadelphia". This may be S. Robert Jacobs, Special Assistant to the Mayor, who is listed as a possible speaker. It appears Mayor Frank Rizzo was not present, although initial planning had him there. Looking over the various plans and programs for the events, it appears the plans changed multiple times before the event, it in not always clear who participated. George Vitas' report, on May 22, after the event, and the photographs, are reliable guides to some of the participants and their roles. After the planting there was a luncheon at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Headquarters.

A clone grown from a cutting of the tree was planted in this spot in a planting ceremony on 24 September
2011 (National Public Lands Day). For more information, see the CBS News story. The wood from the old
tree was planned to be used to make signs and plaques in Washington Square Park. Unfortunately, the clone
died in 2019 and was removed.

Atlas Obscura story and picture of the new Moon Tree

Marker is located just inside the park from the corner of Walnut Street & S. 6th Street.
39° 56.853' N, 75° 9.087' W

[brochure for Philadelphia tree planting] [Philadelphia Moon Tree]
Moon Tree planting announcement (courtesy Jane Alling, McLean Library)

Pictures from the ceremony on May 6, 1975
Clockwise from top left: Stuart Roosa, Forest Service Chief John McGuire,
and Director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Ernesta Ballard;
George Vitas, U.S. Forest Service, John McGuire, and Stuart Roosa;
Master of Ceremonies Glenn Kovar, U.S.F.S. Chief of Special Projects;
and George Vitas standing next to the newly planted Moon Sycamore.

[Picture from Philadelphia tree planting] [Picture from Philadelphia tree planting]
[Picture from Philadelphia tree planting] [Picture from Philadelphia tree planting]

[Press release for Philadelphia tree planting] [Bicentennial Report - Philadelphia tree planting]

Press release for the 6 May 1975 Moon Tree planting and section from "The Bicentennial of the United States of America - A Final Report to the People", Volume 5.

[Press release for Philadelphia tree planting] [McGuire signing program]
Part of the audience for the Philadelphia Moon Tree Ceremony and John McGuire signing a program.

[Philadelphia tree planting program cover] [Philadelphia tree planting program interior]
The cover and inside pages of the tree planting program. The front cover features the obverse and reverse medallions used to enclose the seed cannister.

[brochure for Philadelphia tree planting] [brochure for Philadelphia tree planting]
Newspaper clippings of the original planting. The first image shows Stuart Roosa and Woodsy Owl at the Moon Tree planting on May 6, 1975. The caption under the second image reads, "Cub Scout David Burnett, 8, of West Chester, studies the plaque marking the site of the first "moon tree" (background) planted during the national Bicentennial. In ceremonies yesterday at Washington Square, astronaut Stuart Roosa, who carried the seed for this and other trees on a trip to the moon, assisted in planting the tree to mark the contributions forests have made to our way of life. During the Bicentennial year, each state will have its own "moon tree" planted in similar ceremonies."
(Reprinted by permission from The Philadelphia Daily News, May 7, 1975)

A first-hand description of the Philadelphia Moon Tree Ceremony written by Howard Burnett

[Philadelphia Moon Tree] [Philadelphia Moon Tree Plaque]
Moon Tree in 2011 after it was cut down.

First two images courtesy of Christopher Palmer
Third image at top of page courtesy of Alex Lauderdale
Next tree image courtesy of Lucy Black
Ceremony images courtesy Lisa Perez and "Peeling back the bark"
Large linked ceremony images, press release, planting program,
and documents courtesy Forest History Society, Durham, NC
News clippings courtesy of David Burnett and the Philadelphia Daily News
Images at bottom courtesy Erica Botkin
Special thanks to Jane Alling, McLean Library

 Houston, We Have Moon Trees
 History of Washington Square
 Washington Square Moon Tree - Waymarking Geocache Site

 Description of the Philadelphia Moon Tree Ceremony
 Documents from the Ceremony - Forest History Society
 Stuart Roosa and the Moon Tree Seeds
 History of the Sycamore Moon Trees
 Moon Tree Home Page

Dr. David R. Williams, dave.williams@nasa.gov
NSSDCA, Mail Code 690.1
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD 20771

NASA Official: Dave Williams, david.r.williams@nasa.gov
Last Updated: 14 June 2024, DRW