The mystery “miracle tree” of East 71st Street

It started out as a mystery: In the 1980s or early 1990s, a six-inch ivory statue of the Virgin Mary suddenly appeared from a tree on 71st Street between First and York Avenues—probably the middle one below, which is boxed off.

One account has it that the statue popped out after a truck knocked a limb down during a construction project. Another says that it materialized while workers were trimming branches.

Upon seeing the little statue, the workers refused to cut anymore. Within days, “the tree was enshrined by the faithful, who came to honor the Virgin and leave behind objects of devotion,” reports a New York Times FYI piece from 1998.

So was the statue’s appearance a miracle? Apparently not. A letter to the Times explained that the a nearby shop sold religious objects, and the owner would hang some from the tree.

A statue hung close to the trunk was soon entombed by growing bark—then uncovered years later. Today, the only objects of devotion left near the tree are empty bottles and food wrappers.

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2 Responses to “The mystery “miracle tree” of East 71st Street”

  1. fawmanuyawka Says:

    I used to eat at a hole-in-the-wall on either 70th or 71st called The Munchee Pizza Place in 1982. They served organic whole-grain-crust pies, which were actually quite good. The proprietress was very earthy, with long dark hair piled on top of her head and little makeup. I can almost swear it occupied this green-painted storefront. I do believe a bodega-type place was adjacent. Anyone know for sure?

  2. Rosemarie Says:

    I remember when this tree thing happened. I was in college and living about three block from the site. Though I’m Catholic I didn’t believe it was a miracle, but went down there a few days after the discovery to see what was going on. There was a crowd of people praying, touching, and marveling at the tree which, while missing the statue (it had been stolen overnight – only the base was left embedded in the wood) was draped with rosaries, scapulars, holy cards, an icon and surrounded with flowers. Quite a sight in the middle of the Upper East Side of Manhattan!

    I’m not sure you have the right tree in that picture, however. It doesn’t have another tree the same size to the right of it because the other trees on that side were all torn down during the new construction (unless this is a pre-1990 photo – but then where is the limb that they later knocked off which exposed the statue?). Best I can figure from Google Maps, the coordinates of the actual tree are 40.766695,-73.955368 . I haven’t been back there in years, but judging from Google Street view, it looks like the tree is still there though the cast iron fence they put around it (to keep believers from picking it clean of bark!) is apparently gone. Hope that helps.

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