Did You Know: Chandler Tumbleweed Tree Is One Of A Kind

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, December 11, 2015 - 5:07pm
Updated: Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - 8:32am

(Photo courtesy of Chandler Museum)
Tumbleweed Christmas Tree in Chandler with the Suhwam Hotel in the background, circa 1957.

Unique and interesting. That’s how people who come to see it and describe it, and it can only be found right here in the Valley.

At first glance it looks like a plain old Christmas tree in the middle of town. But look close enough and you’ll find that it’s not a tree at all. The city of Chandler Christmas tree is a pile of tumbleweeds. Did You Know…the Tumbleweed Christmas tree has been part of the city tradition since 1957, and it’s been reported to be a one-of-a-kind in the country?

“There is a picture of our tree in last year’s National Geographic, the December issue, I believe. So yeah, it’s the only in the country that I know of, because I’m sure they would have covered everybody,” said Russell Lassuy. Lassuy is with the Chandler Parks. He’s been helping put the tree together for approximately 15 seasons.

“La Junta, Colorado expressed some interest in building one last year. And we sent them some information, but I don’t know if they did or not. And the City of Mesa expressed some interest in building a tumbleweed snowman. So, this is the only one I’m aware of.”

The tree, which is estimated to be 30 feet tall, is in the downtown area. The tumbleweed Christmas tree idea was developed by Earl Barnum, a Chandler snowbird. In the 1950s electric company Arizona Public Service installed new poles in the area, and the town could no longer hang lights. So, Barnum and others suggested hanging a holiday banner at the entrance of town and putting up a tumbleweed tree. Hundreds of the branch-like plants were collected and smashed together against a telephone pole. Strings of incandescent lights were used to mold the cone shape. Residents didn’t take a liking to the tree until a newspaper printed a photo of it and described its uniqueness.

“This is the 59th tree that has been built. It’s gotten to be a big deal. It’s one of the signature events for Chandler.”

Today, the tree has been modernized.

":It’s a Christmas tree that has a bunch of tumbleweeds tied to a frame and we smash them to shape them into a cone, and we put some flame retardant on it, and then we paint it with white paint. And while we’re painting it with white paint, we fling glitter at it so that it kind of sparkles.”

Then it’s covered with LED lights. It’s a project that starts in October with the collection of tumbleweeds.

“We always wind up going hunting for them. That’s getting harder and harder to do all the time."

That’s because Lassuy said the city is growing, which means fewer open fields to find tumbleweeds.

But he said as long as the 10,000 thousand people continue to come for the tree lighting each year, there will always be a tumbleweed hunting season.

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