This could be the last year for Purcellville residents to admire one of the town’s most iconic Christmas sights.
The nearly 100-foot-tall evergreen tree in former mayor Eric Zimmerman’s front yard on Main Street has been a literal light of hope during the Christmas season for the past three decades. Since he bought the then-6-foot-tall tree in 1984, Zimmerman has decorated it with initially hundreds, now thousands of lights at the start of the Advent season and left them up until mid-January for residents and passersby to enjoy. Now towering over power lines and cars as they make their way through downtown Purcellville, a blight has struck the tree. “Chances are it’s going to ultimately die,” Zimmerman said.
This may be the last few weeks residents ever get to see the 34-year-old tree lit up in all its glory, seeing that an arborist gave Zimmerman the official word that its time left standing is limited. Zimmerman said that he may need to cut it down before a gust of wind does the job with disastrous effects. “It’s going to be sad when it comes down,” he said.
Leading up to this point, however, Zimmerman has been affectionately known by his neighbors as the “Clark Griswold of West Main Street,” taking every measure he could in the past 30 years to wrap lights around the tree.
It was just a few years ago that he even set a new personal record for the most lights he’s ever used on it—2,220.
Lighting the tree has at times been just as difficult as Chevy Chase made it look on the big screen. When Zimmerman opted for LED lights one year, he learned that squirrels found the soy-based stringing appetizing.
He’s also enlisted the help of former Town Councilman Paul Arbogast’s bucket truck to get lights around the top of the evergreen.
The tree also has a mystical story that still gives Zimmerman chills.
In January 1991, when the Gulf War was nearing an end, Zimmerman decided to keep the lights on until a church friend who was serving overseas returned home. That lasted until the springtime, when Zimmerman heard that his friend, Bob, would be home soon.
A day before Zimmerman was set to shut the lights off, he noticed that they had gone out all on their own for no apparent reason. He later found out that Bob had returned from the war a day early.
“It makes you scratch your head,” he said. “All I know is Bob came home.”
With onlookers still gazing up at the tree in awe and cars slowing to get a better look at the cinematic lighting display, Zimmerman said that he’s saddened by the slow death of his tree—the same tree that grew up alongside his children in the ‘90s and 2000s.
“It was just part of the town,” he said. “I’m going to miss it.”