WASHINGTON PARK — The Washington Park Christmas tree is supposed to be a source of neighborhood pride, organized by business leaders who felt South Siders deserved their own holiday displays instead of going Downtown.
But someone set the tree on fire between Saturday night and Sunday morning, just hours after it was lit up. It’s the third year in a row the tree has been vandalized, frustrating organizers trying to uplift their community.
The tree at Garfield Boulevard and Martin Luther King Drive is part of a holiday display arranged by the Washington Park Chamber of Commerce. Someone tore the banner and set the tree on fire, said CEO Donna Hampton-Smith said.
Earlier in the day, volunteers with My Block, My Hood, My City strung up Christmas lights along a 12-mile stretch of King Drive before finishing their day at the Washington Park tree lighting.
But by Sunday morning, one side of the tree was charred. Hampton-Smith called it “yet another tragic situation.”
“This should not be happening and I can only pray for the person who is doing it,” Hampton-Smith said. “My question to the perpetrators is this: Why us? Why our community? What has our community done to you? We are trying to build on positivity and you’re trying to break us, but it will not happen.”
The My Block, My Hood, My City event also had a setback when four volunteers hanging up lights were robbed. Organizers said the volunteers were not injured in the robbery and were in good spirits.
“It’s unfortunate that an event that was supposed to bring the community together resulted in the burning of a beautiful tree,” My Block, My Hood, My City founder Jahmal Cole said in a statement. “While it is a setback it’s not going to stop us from beautifying the community through holiday season.”
The Washington Park tree is a relatively new tradition, but someone has targeted the tree every year, including twice last season.
In 2019, a driver mowed down the entire display days before Christmas. The culprit wasn’t identified and the tree couldn’t be replaced. In Dec. 2020, someone ripped down the banner at the base of the tree. The neighborhood group quickly repaired it and put it back in place. Then after Christmas that year, someone set the tree on fire.
Hampton-Smith did not immediately say whether the group plans to replace the tree, but thanked neighbors and sponsors who have supported their efforts.
“Stay hopeful, Washington Park, and let’s continue to win,” she said.
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