The Story of Helen Keller's Linden Tree

By Pettit, Stefanie | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), October 15, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Story of Helen Keller's Linden Tree


Pettit, Stefanie, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


This is the tree that Helen Keller planted in Manito Park. Probably.

Ever since I began writing this Landmarks feature in 2007, I've occasionally written about things from the natural world. A few times I've written about old trees - some at Finch Arboretum and one ancient ponderosa pine in the Deep Creek area. When I wrote about those trees I began hearing talk about a tree that was planted at Manito by Helen Keller, the blind and deaf woman from Alabama who became an author, political activist and lecturer.

When I began to look into it, I kept hitting dead ends. I've talked with local experts including past and present supervisors at Manito, the Spokane Parks Department's urban forester, WSU Extension people and Master Gardeners. I've done archival and online research. Couldn't find anything.

But recently I was having a conversation on another topic with local historians Tony and Suzanne Bamonte, who have written a book on Manito Park and are working on an updated version, and I asked them. And there I found some success.

They don't have direct documentation, but they have enough anecdotal evidence that I believe is worth putting in print. So with the understanding that this is what we believe took place, here's the story.

It starts with Keller, who was born in Alabama in 1880 and, as is well known, developed an illness when she was about 18 months old that left her blind and deaf. The story of how devoted teacher Anne Sullivan worked to educate her was portrayed on stage and in film in "The Miracle Worker." She went on to earn a bachelor's degree and spent a lifetime working for women's suffrage and labor rights and was a celebrated author and lecturer. She also happened to love trees.

In her book "The Story of My Life" she spoke fondly about them, especially an old oak she played by as a child. And she mentioned one other: "I had another tree friend, gentle and more approachable than the great oak - a linden that grew in the dooryard at Red Farm (where she was a guest of the owners). One afternoon, during a terrible thunderstorm, I felt a tremendous crash against the side of the house and knew, even before they told me, that the linden had fallen. We went out to see the hero that had withstood so many tempests, and it wrung my heart to see him prostrate who had mightily striven and was now mightily fallen."

In 1916 in Spokane, James Patrick McGoldrick II was born, the oldest grandson of Spokane pioneer lumberman J.P. McGoldrick. He would go on to become an avid pilot; founder of Northwest Electronics Inc. …

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