Activity: The Suicide Oak
Difficulty Rating: Natural/Unnatural
A couple of my entries have been set in and around City Park, and if I had enough room I could do many more. As a park it’s vast and varied and as a historical site it’s mysterious and torrid. The suicide oak is one grim and grizzly patch in the park’s prismatic quilt. That is not a sentence I ever expected to write.
The suicide oak is so named because during the early 1800’s it was a popular place to go if you wanted to poison or hang yourself. There were apparently 16 documented suicides under its branches, all male, proving that men’s mental health is a serious, long standing problem (and not a byproduct of feminism.) I have not been able to find the names or stories of the men who perished there. They could be mythological or maybe didn’t leave any descendants to remember their names, or maybe there was a different perception of suicide at the time that lead families to conceal the fate of their sons.
The tree itself stands a little removed from the main bustle of the park, near the south-west corner in an open field. It was damaged during hurricane Katrina and consequently lost a couple of branches, including a long, thick horizontal one that would’ve been suitable for slinging a noose over. If you approach it from the right angle the tree appears to have a big, scary, ragged mouth twisted into an anguished cry. That’s how we managed to identify it in the forest of twisted, magical-looking oaks. Perhaps the ominous energy of that particular tree, it’s obliging branch and grim lineage made it such a popular final destination.
American Husband and I visited the tree on a warm autumn day. We had a tranquil stroll through the park before arriving at that haunting spot. It gave me a macabre, chilly feeling at odds with the beautiful weather, which I’m sure came from my own head rather than any ghosty ghouls. It also felt weird that a place so easy to walk past and overlook had such a violent past.
Here’s American Husband honoring the tree’s memory.