One of the most striking features of New York City’s 9/11 Memorial is the hundreds of swamp white oaks trees that symbolize birth and renewal. The memorial’s planners wanted to find a way to place plaques honoring those who lost their lives in the tragedy on the trees, and finally found a solution with Michigan woman Ann Mayle’s A Family Tree “tree-lets”. The smart brass tags are held by a spring-loaded cuff and expand as each tree grows, ensuring that there is no damage to the living monuments.
Mayle was asked become a part of the memorial by Ronaldo Vega, the director of National September 11 Memorial & Museum design, after a Web search. The “Tree Hugger” is composed of a 9-inch coil that is able to stretch to 30 inches, preventing the cord from cutting into the bark of the tree. Each small oval plaque is imprinted with a name as well as series of letters and numbers so that memorial staff can keep track of tributes.
Mayle, who was fortunate to not have lost anyone in the tragedy, sees her role in the project as an honor. “I am going to be involved in something bigger than I could imagine,” she remarked. “I’m part of history. These tree tags will be part of history long after I’m gone. They have 4 million visitors a year. My little Michigan-based product is there with world-class architects and marble flown in from Italy.” Using that same bronze as the fountains and parapets, the tags will be fitted around the swamp white oaks at Ground Zero. “We’re very, very happy with the product,” Vega told the Detroit Free Press. “We know they’re all in, and we’re still going to plant 191 trees when we finish the plaza. That’s a call we make to Annie. It’s long-term relationship.”
Inspired to create the tags as a way to commemorate the loss of teenage friends who perished in a car accident back in 1974, Mayle began producing the first plaques after reading of a fatal crash near her home in the 1990s. To date, Mayle has sold over 10,000 tree tags. Each costs about $49.95, but she declined to comment on her commission for the World Trade Center memorial. A Family Tree has already made brass tags that mark the base of the 225 trees planted near the reflecting pools of the memorial site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and a portion of the tags planned have also been placed on trees at Ground Zero.