Bay Crane Hoists 7-Ton Tree in Rockefeller Center

Fri December 20, 2002 - Northeast Edition

NEW YORK (AP) The 76-ft. Norway spruce that once irked Mary Rizzo when it blocked the walkway to her house looked just perfect to her after it was erected to serve as Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree.

The 7-ton, 43-ft. wide tree was taken from Carmine and Mary Rizzo’s property in Bloomsbury, NJ. In a first for a tradition that dates back to 1931, the tree was chosen based on a photograph sent in by the owners.

“We were here last year and looked at the tree and said, ’Gee, our tree is as nice as that,’” said Mary Rizzo, 65.

“It was time to give it up because it was getting too big and too near the house,” said Carmine Rizzo, 72. “Here, it’s nice. I look at the people looking at it and I’m really tickled pink.”

The mammoth tree, approximately 75 years old, was cut down from the Rizzos’ property, then placed on a 115-ft. trailer for its trip into Manhattan.

Once it arrived on Rockefeller Plaza, the tree was harnessed to Bay Crane’s Grove 100 GMT, where it hung horizontally while workers unwrapped its bound boughs and drove a spike into its trunk. Bay Crane, of New York City, has been erecting the Rockefeller Christmas tree since 1992.

Then it was lifted onto its perch overlooking the ice skating rink and Prometheus statue.

“I think it’s a good tree. A couple years ago, they had a skinny tree. But this one doesn’t have a lot of bare spaces,” said Megan Walsh, 16, of Brooklyn, who comes to Rockefeller Center every year to watch her father, an ironworker, help hoist the tree into place.

“This gets you in the mood for the holidays,” she said. “This is the start of the Christmas season for me.”

Her father, Kevin Walsh, was giving bystanders small pieces of the tree’s branches as they fell off.

One was clutched by Connie Massey from Jacksonville, IL. She and her husband come to New York on business each year around the holidays, and she insists they walk by the Rockefeller Center tree every night after leaving the office.

“We’ve seen it in all its stages, but not like this,” Massey said. “It’s just a big ’wow!’ How can you miss something like this?”

Workers erected a scaffold that enabled a team of 25 electricians to decorate the tree with 30,000 multi-colored lightbulbs strung on five miles of wire. Bay Crane placed the star atop the tree with a Demag AC 40/1.

The tradition began in 1931 when workers building Rockefeller Center placed a small unadorned evergreen on the muddy construction site.

Except for 1932, a tree has been erected in the plaza every year since. The first formal tree lighting ceremony was held in 1933.

Last year’s tree, 81-ft. high, was found in Wayne, NJ, during a helicopter search conducted by Rockefeller Center Gardens Manager David Murbach.

This year’s search was much easier.

Murbach, who is in his 19th year of picking the tree, said he gets dozens of photos each year from people who think they have a great candidate “but we never get a tree photo anywhere close to what we need.”

But when the photo of the Rizzos’ tree fell out of the envelope, “I went right to the house and before I even knocked on the door I knew it was the tree,” Murbach said. “It was right in front of the house and it was perfect.”