Brooklyn Heights

A graceful weeping willow falls in Brooklyn Heights

September 12, 2014 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This weeping willow grew for decades behind 75 Henry St. in Brooklyn Heights. Photo by Mary Frost
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A tall, graceful weeping willow tree growing on the Cadman Plaza West side of the co-ops at 75 Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights fell over suddenly last Wednesday and died.

A gardener called in to cut the tree up said that it was very old – up to 75 years – and showed signs of rot. According to online sources, 75 years would be quite old for a weeping willow, but not impossible.

It is more likely, however, that the tree was planted when the 75 Henry St. complex, called Whitman Close, was built in the late 60s, making the willow roughly 47 years old. Older residents confirm that the willow was put in before the landscapers planted the London plane trees that grace the property.

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If so, the tree was planted at the same time as the red brick print shop where Walt Whitman set the type for the first edition of “Leaves of Grass” was torn down. The print shop was removed to make room for Whitman Close, named in honor of the poet.

While the print shop is gone, old-timers say that its red bricks were saved, and can be seen embedded in the ground around the large circular planter near the A train stop on Cadman Plaza West.

In another bit of nostalgic serendipity, the tree fell one week after the movie theater at 70 Henry Street, across the street from Whitman Close, closed its doors for good. The property is in the midst of a sale, and will soon be redeveloped as co-ops. 

The willow likely sprouted around the time Giuseppe Zevola, grandfather of the current owner, bought the building housing the theater in 1968.

That was the year that neighborhood musician and filmmaker Harry Chapin was nominated for an Academy Award for his film “Legendary Champions,” a movie preserving the feats of old time boxing greats like Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier.

 Three years after that, Chapin wrote the six-minute single “Taxi,” about life’s missed opportunities, followed a couple of years later by “Cat’s in the Cradle,” a song warning parents to spend time with their kids while they can. Chapin was killed in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway in 1981, at the age of 38. The playground at the end of Middagh Street was named in his honor.

In the Victorian era, weeping willows were often carved onto gravestones. Throughout history, they’ve been seen as a symbol of life, death, remembrance and rebirth. (Or, if you’re a Harry Potter fan, a whomping frenzy best avoided.)

According to gardeners, a willow branch will often take root if stuck back into moist soil, beginning the cycle of life again.

We snatched up a little branch of the weeping willow, forgotten on the back of the workers’ truck. Maybe we’ll stick in in the ground and see what happens.

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