After about 24 hours of rebuffing police negotiators, a man who climbed the tree outside the downtown Seattle Macy’s is back on the ground.

Share story

A man who climbed a towering sequoia tree outside the downtown Seattle Macy’s made his way down just before noon Wednesday amid cheers from a gathered crowd and the relief of police who spent nearly 25 hours trying to coax him back to terra firma.

The unidentified man, 28, spent a few minutes calmly sitting at the foot of the tree, munching on a piece of fruit before Fire Department medics loaded him onto a gurney and took him to Harborview Medical Center for an evaluation.

The man had been perched near the top of the sequoia since Tuesday morning, largely ignoring police negotiators, creating what one officer called “a spectacle, honestly” and inspiring his own Twitter hashtag: “Man In Tree.”

He spent the chilly overnight hours bedded down in a nest fashioned from branches torn from the denuded treetop.

A man climbed an 80-foot tree outside the downtown Seattle Macy’s Tuesday morning and stayed there overnight. He climbed down Wednesday afternoon. (Erika Schultz & Ellen Banner / The Seattle Times)

Related story: #ManInTree: Why it went viral  

From the archive: Seattle's big sequoia has struggled to stay alive — long before a man began plucking branches from its crown.

Editorial: Compassion, not wisecracks, for the man in the tree 

Detective Patrick Michaud, Seattle police spokesman, said officers did not consider climbing the tree or taking any other action beyond trying to reason with the man to come down.

“When you try to force somebody out of a situation like that, you risk knocking someone out of the tree,” Michaud said.

Officer safety was also a concern.

“The man mentioned he had a knife,” said Michaud, adding that the man was also making threats, though it wasn’t clear toward whom the threats were directed.

Throughout the bizarre standoff, the man yelled curses in sporadic outbursts, even shouting to police, “How much taxpayer money are you wasting? It’s not an emergency!” He also pelted firefighters with an apple and tossed seed cones at police negotiators as they balanced on an extended ladder from a firetruck trying to speak with the man.

The man does not face charges at this time, Michaud said. “We’re more concerned about getting him the help he needs.”

It is not known whether the man has a history of physical or mental-health issues. Officers are “not in a position to diagnose someone,” Michaud said.

A mental-health counselor was not on the scene, but Michaud said, “We work on getting him to one.”

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Onlookers expressed relief the man was safe and the disruption, which blocked some downtown streets, had ended.

“Now I can rest easy. I was thinking about him all night, worried about him and his experience up there,” said Theda Houck, who was running errands downtown. “I don’t have any idea what drove him up in the tree, but I hope he gets the help he needs … he had to be in a pretty bad place to pull a stunt like that.”

John Lemke, a shuttle-bus driver, said he was happy the man was OK, and pleased to have the routes he usually drives undisturbed.

“It caused a lot of inconvenience, it cost a lot of money, and he damaged a tree nurtured since the ’70s — Seattle’s Christmas tree. That’s the real crime,” he said.

For decades, the towering sequoia across from Macy’s was decorated with lights every December, earning the nickname of Seattle’s Christmas tree.

Lemke said officials did the best they could to manage a difficult situation.

“They were at a stalemate. No matter what they did, they’d be criticized. I think they handled it the only way they could — without injuries,” he said.

The tree, though, did not emerge unscathed.

The Seattle Department of Transportation, which employs the city’s arborist, will use an aerial lift to inspect the tree and examine its health, spokesman Norm Mah said.

“We’re going to be removing some of the broken tree branches for public safety,” Mah said. “It will take some time looking at the tree to assess the condition based on what’s occurred over the last 24 hours.”

David Zuckerman, manager of horticulture at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, said the tree faces several challenges.

“It’s a huge tree to have in an urban environment. Essentially, it’s a giant plant in a pot, and there’s only so much rooting space,” he said. “The unfortunate situation that occurred yesterday and today didn’t help.”

Zuckerman said damage to the tree could create avenues for pathogens, decay and insects to more easily enter. The broken branches could change the tree’s mechanics, and make it move or break more easily on a windy day.

He said trees compartmentalize wounds, and the city’s arborists would likely want to prune damaged areas.

“With pruning, the tree has a better chance of walling off decay,” Zuckerman said.

Eric Greenberg, who has been lighting the tree during the holiday season most years since 1992, said he rushed downtown Wednesday to check on the sequoia.

“It was pretty sad watching the guy destroy our tree,” Greenberg said.

Although previous reports estimated the tree’s height at 80 feet, Greenberg believes it’s taller, having dangled a 100-foot extension cord to its base.

The man who climbed the tree seemed to have little fear of the height. At times, he moved around its crown seemingly at ease.

Doran Bastin, an amateur street photographer, said he recognized the man and had taken pictures of him at several locations around town, including in a treetop near Pike Place Market.

“After seeing him jumping from branch to branch, he knows what he’s doing,” Bastin said. “He’s an expert tree climber.”