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Frank Knight was a professional logger but earned his true legacy spending decades protecting New England's tallest elm tree. But as all things must, the 217-year-old tree nicknamed "Herbie" eventually succumbed to Dutch elm disease. And over the weekend, 103-year-old Knight died as well.
But as a final tribute to this unique relationship between man and nature, Knight will be buried in a special casket carved from the 110-foot-tall tree that first sprouted in 1793.
"To have them together like that is a wonderful thing. I feel like Frank took good care of Herbie. Now Herbie will take good care of Frank," Deb Hopkins, a close friend of Knight's, told the Associated Press.
Back in 1956, Knight became the unofficial "tree warden" in Yarmouth, located about 10 miles north of Portland, Maine. At the time, Dutch elm disease was wreaking havoc on the local elm tree population. Even after Herbie became infected, Knight had local workers selectively prune the tree's diseased limbs. Over the years, the tree reportedly survived 14 cases of Dutch elm disease thanks to Knight and the workers.
But in January 2010, the 110-foot-tall tree, whose canopy could reportedly be seen for miles, finally collapsed. "His time has come," Knight told The Associated Press at the time. "And mine is about due, too."
"Frank cared for Herbie for 52 years, and now Herbie will care for Frank forever," his son, Dick Knight, told the Boston Herald.
Over the years, Knight worked to protect other local trees as well, though his works will forever be tied to the relationship he had with Herbie. After the tree fell, its wood was used to make several items, including an electric guitar. Knight did not know that some of Herbie's wood was being set aside for his coffin, designed by local custom furniture maker Chris Becksvoort.
Over the years, Knight and Herbie became something of a legend, with people traveling from around the world to take their picture with the famous tree.
"It wasn't just the tree. It wasn't just Frank. It's almost like a little love story," said Jan Ames Santerre, urban forestry program coordinator for the Maine Forest Service. "He saw that tree and he knew he wanted to save it."
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