Over the 2019 summer, tragedy struck Swarthmore’s campus as it never has before. Going to school at an arboretum, each and every Swarthmore student feels intrinsically connected with the trees and plants around them, which made the summer storm all the more tragic. Over thirteen of the campus’ favorite trees were blown down in one night, and none were grieved more than the Swing Tree, one of the most iconic of all the Swarthmore landmarks.
That is, if it was blown down at all.
Recently administration has begun work on the anxiously anticipated dining hall that will be completed in four or more years. This plan has been moving forward slowly and it is planned to be built next to Sharples, but in the area closer to the train tracks. Next to Sharples and close to the train tracks. Until recently, there was something there, wasn’t there? … THE SWING TREE WAS THERE!
Wait, hold on, that’s impossible. There’s no way the school, which spends more money on the arboretum than its students, would cut down one of its most beloved trees. But isn’t this timing a little too convenient? Just as the dining project is being planned, the area it’s going to be in is cleared of an object that would otherwise have delayed the project due to protests. Tens of students would have climbed the tree to stop it from being chopped down if it was under threat. If the Swing Tree were still standing today, there would be no person who would support its being cut down in favor of a new dining hall — its importance to campus was undeniable, and the hole it left in our hearts is grand. But admin is heartless.
This isn’t the first time trees have disappeared like this. The purple tree, a tree painted purple due to a mold infection, similarly disappeared over the 2018 summer without any fanfare other than a nice email. A storm made the perfect cover. Admin must have known that the Swing Tree was going to be a problem and had the foresight to take it out discreetly and with little backlash.
Then, although sinister beyond belief, it must be believed that the Swing Tree was chopped down in cold blood by admin to make room for the new building. As I always say, jet fuel can’t melt steel beams. More like high winds can’t destroy big trees. This is outlandish behavior and I believe that as students we should speak up about the future of our trees on campus and make sure none get cut down … I mean blown down.
I sent an email to President Valerie Smith’s secretary multiple times asking for comments but received no email response from them. So I went deeper. I secretly got in touch with a different contact of mine who works for Valerie Smith, to whom I will refer as JB90 for the sake of anonymity. JB90 told me to “follow the dining hall” and so I did. I managed to infiltrate a recent town hall meeting about the construction and I planned on asking, “Was the Swing Tree chopped down?”, but there were too many strangers in the room, too many potential enemies. I did, however, learn another fact that cast this whole story in a different light.
The new dining hall plan has also been drawn up with a geothermal power plant in its basement to make more reliable power for the campus, which we can all agree is needed. The geothermal plant would be in the basement of the dining hall, where the roots of the Swing Tree once were. Wait, so you’re telling me the Swing Tree has been growing through geothermal energy for the past few years? No wonder it grew so strong and was so desirable as the one tree chosen to have a swing put on it. Well, you can put the facts together yourself, but if it’s true, then the school saw the Swing Tree as a threat to its energy independence.
With this new knowledge I got in contact with JB90 again and asked him about it. I met him in the dark of night next to the dumpster outside Willets. He told me he couldn’t help me anymore and redirected me to the Cunningham House, giving me a card with a single name scratched on it: Suzy McArthur. Now, I knew Suzy from a first-year seminar I took on food, so I scheduled a meeting, walked in, and grabbed a seat. I said to her, “I know about the Swing Tree.” She looked at me, pulled out and lit a cigar, and poured two glasses of whiskey. “What do you want to know?” she said. I asked her to tell me about the geothermal power said to be located under the Swing Tree. “Oh, you don’t know about the cult.” My eyes widened. She told me that an extreme Quaker sect of the founders of this school apparently built a pagan monument in the roots beneath the Swing Tree, which itself lies on what supernatural scholars call a ley line, where powers beyond our control are arranged. Hence the geothermal power.
Suzy told me that this was knowledge passed down from Arboretum head to Arboretum head. She finally told me with reluctance that in recent years Swarthmore had ignored the rumors of the cult and infuriated its mysterious members. With the Swing Tree gone, the cult had apparently moved on to find a different tree, but it may return in the future to declare war on the school. But that’s just speculation.
I took a sip of the whiskey, a 1957 Glenlivet 12 — a good vintage. I was unsure of how to respond. Was admin unintentionally helping the students by cutting the tree down? What is the cult trying to accomplish, and are they even Quaker? What does the dining hall have to do with all of this? I took another sip. I looked across the smoke-filled room to McArthur and in her eyes I saw what I had to do. I finished the drink, swept on my coat, and made to leave, casting a “thanks” over my shoulder. I had to find the source of this. I needed to search the very bowels of the school to get some dirt. I needed to go to the Friends Historical Library.
To be continued…