Two Old Friends, A Man and a Tree

Old friends 101 year old Frank Knight and 240 year old elm tree "Herbie."

When you're 101 years old, losing friends happens more often than not, reports CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman.

"I've lost some good friends at my age and of course I feel bad," Frank Knight says. "I just thank the good Lord we had him so long."

Frank was devastated at the news that his good friend Herbie wouldn't make it. He's known him 50 years, and in that time, has grown closer to Herbie than most people ever get to even their closest trees.

The Herbie Project

That's right, Herbie is a tree. A 240-year-old elm tree in Yarmouth, Maine. Obviously, Herbie has seen better days. Yet Herbie is still, easily, the most beloved elm tree on the planet.

Hundreds came out to say goodbye.

What made Herbie sick, and famous - is that scourge of elm trees everywhere: Dutch Elm disease. The fungus swept across this country 70 years ago - eventually taking out just about every elm in its ravenous path.

The fact that Herbie survived all those years - all those seasons - isn't some fluke of nature - rather a direct result of five decades of tender loving care from a volunteer tree warden named Frank Knight.

"They all said you can't save it. But I'm so damned stubborn I said I'm going to try," Frank said.

So he sprayed and trimmed and coddled that tree so much his wife used to joke.

"She said, 'You know, if that tree's name was Susie I'd be pretty jealous - but she loved it as much as I did," Frank said.

Because of Frank, Herbie was able survive 14 bouts of deadly Dutch Elm. But by the time number 15 came along, Herbie had lost too many limbs - the disease had become too pervasive.

"I'm just grateful that one was allowed to grow so long and so big and so beautiful," Frank said as Herbie was cut down.

All that admiration - all that history - to let it just end with a thud seemed crazy to folks in Yarmouth.

Which is why, after Herbie fell last month, they cut up the pieces and distributed them to woodworkers across New England. Those people are now fashioning Herbie into everything from furniture to salad bowls.

The pieces will be sold at auction - the profits will go to plant thousands of new trees. Which should be tremendous consolation to Frank. You can only save a tree for so long - but a forest, you can save forever.

  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.