BACKSTORY (September 1957–Present): Alongside the banks of the Rivers of America is a large section of a petrified tree that weighs five tons and measures 7.5' in diameter. The original tree from the Pike Petrified Forest in Colorado was estimated to have been 200' tall. It was part of a sub-tropical forest some 55-70 million years ago. Scientists believe it to be of the Redwood Sequoia species. Presented to Lillian Disney by Walt as a gag gift for their 31st anniversary present...and then promptly given to Disneyland! The Pike Petrified Forest, known somewhat as a tourist trap, was owned at different times between the 1920’s and the 1960’s by the the Hendersons, Millers, and Bakers. The visitor center for the Pike Petrified Forest is still used as the visitor center for Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. From the Jack Baker era, there exists a letter from Walt to Baker stating that the stump was to be delivered directly to Disneyland, and is dated July 19, 1956. Based upon the registry and the letter, the trip to the Fossil Beds was probably more intentional than coincidental and occurred on July 11, 1956. The letter would also call to question whether the stump was ever delivered to their home at Holmby Hills (a rumor that has persisted for years). The photos of Jack Baker, the letter & registry, and the moving of the stump came from a website that is no longer online. I cannot verify whether or not these photos are actually of Walt and the stump that is now at Disneyland or not. I’ll let you the reader decide. The two photos of Jack Baker were obviously from a later time period.
Daveland Blog Reader Suzanne G. left this comment on my blog:
I have accurate and verified information regarding this tree stump. I recently participated in a paleontological field course for teachers and paleo outreach educators at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado. The head paleontologist, Dr. Herb Meyers, related a very interesting story while giving us a walking tour and history of the Florissant grounds. Here's Dr Meyers account:
"One of the other stories I like to tell is that one of the former landowners here [at Florissant], Toby Reynolds, worked here in 1956. July 11th of 1956 when they were closing there was this big car that came into the parking lot with a man and his wife. The guy came up and pounded on the door and wanted to take a tour. Toby, who was 12 years old at the time, said 'well it's getting dark you know I can't show you a lot.' He brought the guy out, showed him the tree out here. The guy pointed to another stump that used to be right there and said 'I'd like to buy that.' Toby said 'well I think we can do that but let me introduce you to the manager here. What's your name?' The guy said 'well I'm Walt Disney from Los Angeles.' So there actually was a sale and it took place and that other stump that used to be right here is in Frontierland by the Riverboat that is there in Disneyland."
So there you have it. The petrified stump was purchased from Pike Petrified Forest which is now part of Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado. The information on the Disneyland signage is not entirely accurate. Most fossils in the monument are from the late Eocene (34.07 million years ago). This includes the redwoods which are estimated to have been 500 to 700 years old at the time they were buried by a volcanic mudflow from the Guffey volcanic complex located 15 - 20 miles away from Florissant. See http://www.nps.gov/flfo/index.htm for more information on the petrified forest and other fossils of Florissant.