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Ropes, muscle, shouts: State Christmas tree arrives in Pa. Capitol

For six weeks, the tree will serve as the main attraction inside the Capitol rotunda.

State workers use ropes to leverage an 18-foot Christmas tree into place in the Pa. Capitol rotunda Wednesday.
State workers use ropes to leverage an 18-foot Christmas tree into place in the Pa. Capitol rotunda Wednesday.Read moreLiz Navratil

HARRISBURG — With a few quick whirrs of a power tool, the revolving Capitol doors are unscrewed and workers quickly set them aside.

Swiftly, as if it's been ingrained in their muscle memory, they install temporary platforms to protect the historic, wooden door frame that surrounds the entrance to the Capitol.

Outside, encased in a net on the back of a pickup truck, is the 18-foot-tall Douglas fir that for six weeks will serve as the main attraction inside the state's extravagant Capitol rotunda. Plucked out of the Crystal Spring Tree Farm in Carbon County, the Douglas fir has been a popular choice in recent years because of its height. Occasionally, something else is chosen. One year, it was a Concolor fir that emits a citrus smell.

Inside the rotunda, state workers and families with small children are lining up, waiting for the show to begin.

There's a lull. And then a man appears in the doorway.

"It's coming," a little boy whispers.

Thirteen men flank the tree, pulling it trunk-first through the doorway and over wooden panels put in place to protect the (also historic) Moravian mosaic tile floor. Another follows behind, attending to the top of the tree. They stop when they get close to the center of the 12-foot, square platform that holds the tree stand.

The netting comes off. A few branches get trimmed.

They tie thick ropes to the tree, for lifting it upright. They also add green twine, which they'll affix to various parts of the stone balcony. The ropes will later come off. The twine will stay. They don't want the tree to topple over once it's in place.

"Let's go," someone later says.

A signal comes, and the workers line up. At least nine people grab part of a rope that runs up the main Capitol stairs. Other, smaller teams are scattered across the balcony, holding four more ropes. Another crew remains on the ground, surrounding the tree. Some will pull it. Others will push it.

Someone yells, "Go!"

Simultaneously, they pull.

The tree sways dramatically to one side.

"Whoa!" the crowd cries.

A quick adjustment. It stands up straight, almost perfectly symmetrical.

The hardest part is over. There's time to take a breath.

Later, the workers will put up scaffolding, which they'll use to adorn the tree with ornaments made by senior citizens and small children. Two weeks from now, the governor will light the tree during a formal gathering.

And there, in a short spurt of glory, the tree will remain until the first week of January. After hours, when few people are around, workers will trim off some branches. They'll remove the doors to the Capitol, and out the tree will go. The same way it came in.

Then, one final trip: Off for recycling.