Man finally descends Seattle tree, ending 25-hour drama

Lisa Baumann
Associated Press

Seattle — Chef Michelle Matsko paused as she walked to work Wednesday, gazed up from beneath her red umbrella and marveled: After nearly a full day, a man was still perched near the top of an 80-foot-tall sequoia tree in the middle of a shopping district in downtown Seattle.

“I’m really impressed,” she said. “It’s been raining. He’s a trouper.”

The unidentified man finally climbed down safely just before noon, after transfixing the city and the Internet for 25 hours while police closed adjacent streets and tried to coax him down.

As onlookers cheered and chanted “Man In Tree” — in deference to the Twitter hashtag by which he became known — he sat down near the base of the conifer and appeared to be chomping on a piece of fruit. Officers initially kept their distance, but soon approached the man, got him on a gurney and took him for a medical evaluation.

Reasons for the drama remained unclear. At times, the man appeared agitated, gestured wildly, yelled and threw apples and branches at officers.

“Issue appears to be between the man and the tree,” the Seattle Police Department tweeted at one point.

The department’s tweet was just part of the online commotion the incident sparked, with new Twitter accounts dedicated to it and the hashtag ManInTree trending on Twitter and Facebook. A local TV station livestreamed video of the man online as he dozed, shouted and knocked around a stick.

Many passers-by, seeming bemused by the man’s antics, pulled out their cellphones Wednesday to snap pictures of his silhouette, accentuated by a long, bushy beard, against the gray morning sky.

Police have not said if the man is a member of the city’s ballooning homeless population. Mayor Ed Murray declared a state of emergency as deaths of homeless people mounted last fall, and the city has authorized new tent cities and safe parking lots for those living without shelter or in their vehicles.

Janice Wilson, who was in town from Crescent City, California, to help her son deal with his own mental health and legal troubles, said she was once homeless herself, 30 years ago. She repeatedly shouted up to the man: “We love you! Come down safely!”

“I heard people out here laughing,” she said. “If somebody’s in crisis to the point of putting himself at risk of suicide, what’s to laugh about? I just pray those branches don’t break.”

Seattle Department of Transportation officials said they will review the health of the tree, believed to have been transplanted there in the 1970s.