Living Dead Tree

No one sets out to grow a Living Dead tree. At least I didn’t.

I’d just meant to go to Evans City.


It wasn’t until college that I found George Romero movies.

It’s weird when you find things buried right underneath your feet.

You see, I’d heard of Night of the Living Dead, because everyone had. I guess I knew it was black and white and who has time for that.

But one afternoon, in October I’m sure, I was looking through Comcast on-demand, in the free offerings of course, because I was in college at the time. And there was the colorful Tom Savini remake, with Candyman star and legend Tony Todd filling the shoes that the immortal Duane Jones left for the role of Ben.

Ben was nearly a survivor. He fought the dead through the night, only to be shot down by the careless living, and I hope I’m not spoiling anything here.

And maybe it was because I had seen Candyman first. Candyman was a tortured slave that will come for revenge if you say his name a
trinity of times. He was a killer with a pretty heavy motive.

But like Candyman’s jagged arm implant, I was hooked.

I tracked down the rest of the Dead movies. Probably first the most recent Dawn of the Dead remake, and honestly I’m not proud of details like that. But then I went for the originals. And learned, like I said, Night of the Living Dead, was waiting buried right under my feet. George Romero was a fellow grad of Carnegie Mellon.

And then I found he shot half the films in Evans City, which was just of Interstate 79, halfway between Pittsburgh and home.

Everything was lining up, I guess I’d say for this narrative at least.

Although it wouldn’t be for seven years after that I would actually go
to Evans City. I had thought about it a couple times. I had considered
going to the Halloween screening of Night of the Living Dead in the
graveyard there. But never did.


Knowing that there will be people at my destination somehow always makes it less appealing to me.

So in the nights prior I watched the Crazies and Night of the Living
Dead to note the landmarks, and that Saturday, just after the leaves
had turned, we went.

Only to find strange omens along the way.

On Route 58, just miles from home, we were behind the  Monstemasher, a monster truck from Fredonia, Pa., a coincidence that Anna found much less ominous than I.

And as we got closer, we passed Cheeseman’s Fright Farm, and we pressed through the boroughs of Harmony and Zelienople, which seemed jammed together like siamese twins beyond the point of being able to tell one from the other. But I chose that path because the internet had told me that a portion of the Crazies had been filmed in Harmony. And we passed anti-Obama signs that littered the countryside to a degree as though they thought they might actually count as votes. The signs read No Hope with the Obama Os for their Os.

I don’t know, I thought it was ominous.

I always feel a low-grade anxiety seep in when we get close to a destination. I always assume we’re lost.

We passed the Evans City High School and I thought we had missed the turn. I didn’t think we were supposed to go into town.

But then Anna saw it. Pioneer Road.

We climbed up to Franklin Road and climbed until we saw the Evan City Cemetery sign.

It’s a steep path to the top. I couldn’t imagine driving it in winter.

The slope was familiar from the film. It was the same that Barbara and Johnny had driven up in the opening. But it had grown up so much. You could see for miles when it was filmed in 1967, but in 2012 it was crowded with trees.

Its weird the nostalgia that kicks in at a place like this. I’d seen
the movie dozens of times now, to the point that it seemed like
somewhere I had been before. Like an alma mater.

And at the top of the hill, was the chapel, the most recognizable
element from the film.


There were already a couple other people there, circling the
dilapidated and boarded over structure. So we drove around the
grounds.

I could have done more research and picked out some grave stones, but I was drawn to the chapel. I’d read about it. How they’re trying to
save it. Romero even pitching in his own cash.

When we came around the other people were still checking it out, but I wanted to too. So we parked and walked up to its side.

It seemed everything that was falling off it, any conceivable hole was boarded over.


We circled to the front of it, and in one place where its pieces were
crumbling, you could see brick beneath.

We of course needed photos with it and took turns standing at the
boarded over front door as the other clicked with the camera.

In trips before, I’m thinking of Centralia specifically, the photos
and the memories of the place were enough. We found enough mystery and graffiti and eery abandonment to satisfy me. But this time, as I was shooting pictures of Anna, I felt like it wasn’t enough.

I was standing below an oak, which was just tiny in the film, and
under my feet and beside them, were its acorns.

I figured they, the nuts, might help, so I slipped a couple in my pocket.

We traveled the hill back into town, to Main Street Evans City where
the government declared Marshall Law in the Crazies. We went to the
Evans City post office and to the volunteer fire department and saw the rouge over everything that has become familiar of the Rust belt

Then we headed home.

I’ts hard to say when you know that the events of a day will set in as memories.

The drive was only about an hour or so home, but in thinking about the day and how it was a good day, I wished I’d be able to point to that day from time to time and remind myself, maybe even others, about it.

And then I thought about the acorns in my pocket.

And how permanent they could be.

For some reason I thought it would be easy to grow them. But I looked it up. It’s a bit complicated. But I did it anyway. I soaked them for a bit in water, then dried them, wrapped them up and threw them in the fridge so they can have their own winter.

Some time in December I’ll take them out and plant them in a pot.

I wander if I could trim the tree like bonsai and keep it a manageable size for its life; or if it needs to go in the ground. I don’t know if I have enough yard. Or if I should.

I don’t know if it’d be right to bring a Living Dead tree here.

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