‘We are not going to be moved or shaken.’ Community plans to replace Christmas tree burned in Washington Park

‘We are not going to be moved or shaken.’ Community plans to replace Christmas tree burned in Washington Park
Scorched grass remains where a decorated Christmas tree recently stood in Washington Park at 55th and King Drive. Photo credit Aisha I. Jefferson/ WBBM Newsradio

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- For the second year in a row, someone has torched a Christmas tree set up in Washington Park on the South Side but the community plans to replace it.

“We’re feeling that this is an attack against our community,” said Washington Park Chamber of Commerce CEO Donna Hampton-Smith. “And we also feel that we are not going to be moved or shaken by it.”

The Chamber of Commerce held a festive lighting ceremony for the 40-foot artificial tree at South King Drive and Garfield Boulevard on Saturday night. Around 5 a.m. Sunday, police were called after someone spotted the tree engulfed in flames.

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Surveillance video from a nearby business shows someone walking by the tree and, minutes later, there is smoke and flames, Hampton-Smith said, adding that investigators found a gas canister near the scene.

“They need to be caught, whoever it is,” she said. “And if that person is mentally ill, let’s get them some help. And if it’s criminal activity, let’s lock them up.”

The group is working on getting a replacement tree and hope to have it up this weekend, along with extra security. The chamber is also considering moving the tree to a new location along Garfield Boulevard, but a definitive plan has not been set.

It’s the second year in a row someone has set the tree on fire. In 2019, a driver knocked the tree down and sped off. But Hampton-Smith said the incidents won’t stop the chamber from bringing holiday cheer to the community.

“We know that we’re doing a great thing for our community and we also know that the families, the businesses and all of our community partners appreciate it just by the overwhelming phone calls that I’ve received to inspire, encourage and motivate to keep going,” Hampton-Smith said.

The tree stands for more than just Christmas, she said.

“It symbolizes bright hope and families coming together during this time to celebrate, to greet one another,” she said. “It’s about celebrating and knowing that we as a community are deserving of whatever there is being offered in the Loop, downtown, suburbs.

“We had a beautiful, bright Christmas tree.”

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire & Chicago Sun-Times 2021. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)