Larger-Than-Life Town Name Fades from View In the 1930s, Murrysville, Pennsylvania, used 850 trees to spell out the town's name on the side of a hill. Now the trees have grown too big and the hill has been scarred by development. Robert Siegel talks with Glenn Skena of Murrysville about the fading glory of the giant Murrysville tree sign.
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Larger-Than-Life Town Name Fades from View

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Larger-Than-Life Town Name Fades from View

Larger-Than-Life Town Name Fades from View

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We read today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about an unusual sign and the literally uphill fight to save it. In 1933, Boy Scouts in Murrysville, Pennsylvania--that's about 20 miles east of Pittsburgh--planted 850 trees on a hillside in a pattern that spelled M-U-R-R-Y-S-V-I-L-L-E. The Post-Gazette has a file photo of what it looked like. In 1947, it earned fame in "Ripley's Believe It or Not," which reckoned that it was the world's largest arboreal sign. The Post-Gazette also has a current picture from roughly the same vantage point on Route 22, and what you see now is mostly a lot of trees. The ones that spell out Murrysville are much too high, and in what should be the empty spaces between them, there's a lot of extraneous growth making the letters even harder to discern. Well, Glenn Skena is one of a group of Murrysville citizens who are trying to figure out how to save the sign.

Mr. Skena, what happened to those perfectly legible 11 letters that those trees used to spell out?

Mr. GLENN SKENA (Corresponding Secretary, SLAM): Well, the trees were planted, like you say, with Boy Scouts back in the early '30s. And then as the trees got bigger over the years, they needed to be pruned, trimmed, whatever. But now the trees have just gotten so big that they've grown into each other. We have over the years, almost every year, gone up there with weed-whackers and so on and removed the undergrowth to make it more vivid, but the last few we didn't get up there at all. And it's gotten worse.

SIEGEL: Well, when people move into Murrysville nowadays, is it evident to them that there's a sign there, or would you have to point it out to them, to say, `Those used to be trees that spelt out Murrysville'?

Mr. SKENA: Well, when you would drive down 22, if you happened to be sitting at the traffic light down here or something and you looked over on the hill, you'd see it. But if you were just driving down along, it's not too easy to--where you know it's there. But once you point it out to people, I think people--they look at it, they realize it's there. It's definitely distinct.

SIEGEL: Your group is called the Sportsmen's and Landowners Alliance of Murrysville.

Mr. SKENA: Yeah, we refer to it--it's known in the area here as SLAM, S-L-A-M.



SIEGEL: And you and your fellow sportsmen and landowners are trying to look out for this sign.

Mr. SKENA: Correct.

SIEGEL: When would you say was the heyday of the Murrysville sign?

Mr. SKENA: Probably--when you go back to the earlier years, it was probably at its best, although after it was replanted back in the '60s here by the Boy Scouts, which I was one of them at the time, it didn't look too bad at all in the early '70s.

SIEGEL: But when you were a Boy Scout, when you were a kid, you were up there maintaining this thing.

Mr. SKENA: Yes.

SIEGEL: What about today's Boy Scouts?

Mr. SKENA: They just don't seem to have the interest, and they have other activities going on. And I would say in the last five, seven years we've not really talked to anybody, any Boy Scout troops, about helping us with it because our own people were doing it. It's probably something that we probably should pursue because it definitely needs some work, needs some attention.

SIEGEL: And if Murrysville were to lose the world's largest arboreal sign, it would still, I assume, have some distinction. Wouldn't it still have something that would, you know...

Mr. SKENA: Well, yeah, it would be a shame to lose it. It's not only, like they say, the largest tree sign, but the Y in Murrysville, as it spells out Murrysville--the Y points to the world's first gas well, which was back in, I think, 1878. And it was drilled right there at the bottom of the hill. It was Haymaker well, Haymaker gas field.

SIEGEL: Scene of a famous fire, I gather, in that well.

Mr. SKENA: Yes. And then it caught fire. It burned for, like, 16 or 18 months, something like that, before it was extinguished. So it has more significance to it than just a largest tree sign.

SIEGEL: I can see that.

It's Glenn Skena, who is corresponding secretary of SLAM, the Sportsmen's and Landowners Alliance of Murrysville, Pennsylvania, home of what was once called the world's largest arboreal sign.

Mr. Skena, thank you very much.

Mr. SKENA: You're welcome.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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