Hidden in the rear of James Rhodes High School towers an oak tree that has links to both Jesse Owens and Adolph Hitler. The great oak that stands next to the track at Rhodes was a gift given to Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The German people awarded all of the winners of gold medals potted oak saplings. Since Owens won four gold medals he was graced with three to four oaks (one oak may have been given to a relay teammate) to return home with. According to author Frank Tsacrios’ research for the Ohio State Lantern the following is what happened to the four Owens’ trees:
1. The first tree Owens proudly planted in the backyard of his mother’s home in Cleveland. He had purchased the house for her with the financial windfall that came with his Olympic performance. After his mother’s death in 1940, the house was sold and the tree forgotten. When history buffs sought it out in 1964, they found a tree on death row. The house had fallen into disrepair and needed to be torn down. The tree, planted close to the house and more than 30 feet tall, couldn’t be relocated. It died when the wrecking crane came.
2. The second tree was planted at East Tech High School in Cleveland, where Owens attended. That tree never grew to maturity.
3. The third tree was planted on the grounds of James Ford Rhodes High School in Cleveland, near the track where Owens practiced. It still lives.
4. The fourth tree was given to the winning 4 x 100-meter relay team. Owens, Ralph Metcalf, Frank Wykoff, and Foy Draper competed on the team.
Unfortunately the saplings inherited the name of “Hitler Trees” by the press. Anti-Nazi sentiment forced any athlete with one of these saplings to either destroy them or never bring attention to them. This is why so few of these oaks locations are known to anyone. SGS stumbled across this tree while touring the newly renovated James Rhodes High School. Hopefully with the school restoration a new sign commemorating this historical tree will be made so that Owens contribution to our city will be noted.
Also available here are rare scans unearthed by SGS that highlight some Jesse Owens history covered by local papers.
Sources used in this article:
Call and Post
August 18, 1936 Pg. 2
Cleveland Plain Dealer
December 26, 1936
June 17, 1933 Pg. 17
Ohio State Lantern
August 8, 1978 Pg. 5
Campus Trees Rooted in History
by: Frank Tsacrios