Survival

This now iconic American elm tree has stood vigil in downtown Oklahoma City for a century. Foresters agree it was likely planted sometime around 1920.

The unassuming tree in a family’s backyard in 1947. The building directly behind now houses the Memorial Museum.
The unassuming tree in a family’s backyard in 1947. The building directly behind now houses the Memorial Museum.
Another view of the tree visible among others in a home’s backyard. The street to the left of the frame – northwest fifth – is now the Memorial’s Reflecting Pool.
Another view of the tree visible among others in a home’s backyard. The street to the left of the frame – northwest fifth – is now the Memorial’s Reflecting Pool.

In historical photos, the already mature tree is visible in the backyard of a family home. In time, that home gave way to commercial development. Serendipitously, it is the only tree to survive when a parking lot calls for the removal of all others.

The survivor tree survives the first of many challenges – a parking lot that required the destruction of all other trees in the area.
The survivor tree survives the first of many challenges – a parking lot that required the destruction of all other trees in the area.

Through the decades, the tree bore witness to the changing skyline, the growth of the city and the day-to-day lives of generations of people. It was largely ignored – just another tree dotting downtown – until April 19, 1995.

The Survivor Tree stands to the left in the foreground, the destroyed Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in the background.
The Survivor Tree stands to the left in the foreground, the destroyed Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in the background.

On that fateful day, it became much more than just another downtown tree. It endured one of the worst terrorist attacks ever to occur on American Soil. The tree was situated directly across the street from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, completely exposed to the full force of the 4,000-pound bomb that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more.

The damaged Survivor Tree among rubble and destruction shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing.
The damaged Survivor Tree among rubble and destruction shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing.

It easily could have fallen victim to the attack. And it nearly did – the tree was slated to be destroyed so shrapnel and evidence embedded in its trunk and branches could be recovered.

By like our city, like our resolve and like our unity, it survived. Ever since, it has been known as the Survivor Tree – an ever-present symbol of resilience. Learn more about how far the tree has come in The Survivor Tree – Today.

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