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Liberty Tree Guitar 011

Liberty Tree Guitar

Twang of freedom rings locally (Liberty Tree guitar featured at Mojo’s Music)

NORMA MENDOZA, Of the Intelligencer March 29, 2002

A piece of America’s last living Liberty Tree has taken up residence in Edwardsville in Mojo’s Music store in the form of a guitar. Owner Bob Moggio just couldn’t resist the beautiful guitar made with wood from the tulip poplar that stood as Maryland’s Liberty Tree for 224 years. He saw it on display by Taylor Guitars at the National Association of Music Merchants in Los Angeles in January.

It arrived at Mojo’s Music Tuesday via UPS, prompting Moggio to remove the American flag he hung in the store window on Sept. 12 and use it as a fitting backdrop for the Liberty Tree Guitar. Both hold a place of prominence behind the counter inside the store.

Taylor Guitars calls it the most significant instrument it has ever created, the wood itself inspiring actual reverence.

The Liberty Tree stood on the campus of St. John’s College in Annapolis until 1999 when it was so severely damaged by Hurricane Floyd that four arborists who were called for consultation declared it couldn’t be saved. It was “not just any tree,” mourned one writer who attended the solemn ceremony before the tree was cut down.

The ceremony was attended by hundreds who were treated to speeches by the governor of Maryland and other dignitaries. They heard a St. John’s professor sing the “Star Spangled Banner,” which was written by a former St. John’s student, Francis Scott Key, nearly 200 years before. A bell tolled 13 times for the 13 original colonies.

But the crowd was silent as the chain saws whirred into the beloved tree, some of them choking back tears. As the tree fell, people carried away small branches and clusters of leaves as souvenirs.

Some of the wood was saved, but the trunk was hauled off to a landfill and two recycling centers. It was only because a landscaper in Annapolis “rescued” the wood that was destined for the landfill that Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars was able to obtain it.

The tree was already more than 175 years old that September in 1775 when Maryland colonists gathered under it to protest taxes imposed by the British royal government. It was the story of the wood as much as the beauty of it that made Moggio want the Liberty Tree Guitar.

“It’s from the last of the Liberty Trees,” he said. “It almost gives you goose bumps.”

Bob Taylor felt the same way about the wood. When he found it was available, he bought enough of it in June 2000 to make 400 guitars. Moggio’s is No. 73.

Taylor wanted to make something that would live for another 200 years or so and tell the story of the Liberty Trees’ role in the founding of the nation. The Liberty Tree Guitars were 18 months in the wood-processing, designing and building.

To Taylor, it isn’t about selling guitars, but about the tree and what it means to him and what it should mean to all Americans. The story is told in Wood & Steel, a publication of Taylor Guitars.

The nation’s first Liberty Tree was a stately elm, the largest of a group that stood in Boston on the corner of what is now Essex and Washington streets. The tree sheltered countless rallies, meetings and celebrations held by the Sons of Liberty. It was the tree where the colonists gathered to protest of the Stamp Act of 1765, decrying the British imposed “taxation without representation.”

The rampage that ensued came to be known as the Stamp Act Riots when Bostonians trashed property, circulated petitions against the British and tarred and feathered anyone they thought loyal to the British throne.

The last act of violence by British soldiers prior to their evacuation of Boston was the chopping down of the Boston Liberty Tree. Each colony grew to have its own Liberty Tree or Pole, sites of many rallies by American revolutionaries.

Most were destroyed by the British and the others were killed by disease or storms, but the Maryland Liberty Tree somehow survived not only storms, but a gunpowder explosion inside its trunk, attempts to burn it down and lightning strikes. It was estimated to be about 400 years old at its death in 1999.

Colonists in Annapolis met under the Liberty Tree to foment their own version of the Boston Tea Party. Upon learning that Andrew Stewart, owner of the ship Peggy Stewart, had sailed into Annapolis harbor with the ship full of more than 2,300 pounds of tea, the angry mob marched from the Liberty Tree to his house, giving him an ultimatum: burn the ship and the tea or be hanged.

Stewart set the ship on fire by his own hand.

Only the sparkle of the abalone shell trim around the sinuous outline of the Liberty Tree Guitar recalls that fiery episode. The acoustic instrument is a beautiful work of guitar craftsmanship, befitting the history of the wood.

The pale top is made of Sitka spruce and the sides and back of the chocolate and vanilla colored tulip poplar wood. The burl-like wood on the sides is carefully matched as is the wood on the back of Moggio’s guitar.

A laser-etched scroll of the Declaration of Independence is inlaid in very pale burly maple that reaches down the finger board onto the top of the guitar. Old Glory’s stars and stripes are inlaid in a bloodwood and dyed maple swirl around one side of the rosette while on the other side, 13 stars representing the original colonies complete the rosette circle around the sound hole. A replica in dyed maple of the first post-Revolution American flag is inlaid on the peg head.

Moggio takes the guitar down and strums a few bars, the dulcet notes ringing mellow and true.

“It’s like the chimes of freedom ringing true from this guitar,” he said, as several customers in the store nodded in agreement. Moggio said he welcomes people who want to take a look at the historic masterpiece.

He said Taylor Guitars plans to present one of the 400 limited edition Liberty Tree Guitars to President George Bush at the White House in a few weeks. Meanwhile, back in Maryland, plant physicists are expecting to have saplings grown from cuttings of the Liberty Tree ready to transplant in the other 49 states, with the first 13 going to the original colonies.

©Edwardsville Intelligencer 2002

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