On Thursday morning, Rockefeller Center workers revved up their chain saws and began cutting into the base of the 72-foot Norway spruce just after 9 a.m. in Newburgh, N.Y.
NEWBURGH, N.Y. — Shirley Figueroa was skeptical when the previous owner of the home she moved into almost two years ago said Rockefeller Center might be interested in using the 72-foot Norway spruce in the yard for its Christmas tree.
“I thought it was just a joke,” Figueroa said, one perpetrated by her spouse, Lissette Gutierrez.
At their previous home, Figueroa had tended to another evergreen, thinking it might one day be tall enough and full enough to become the Rockefeller Center tree. She had to leave it behind when they moved.
This year, she found out it was no joke. In fact, Rockefeller Center head gardener Erik Pauze had his eye on the tree on Route 32 since 2011.
On Thursday morning, with town residents and officials and local and New York City media watching, photographing and filming, Rockefeller Center workers revved up their chain saws and began cutting into the base of the spruce just after 9 a.m.
In four minutes, it was all over. The crowd cheered as a giant crane hoisted the tree across the yard to a flatbed, where it was laid down and fastened for its journey to Rockefeller Center.
One news crew employed a drone to get a bird’s-eye view of the proceedings.
It was an emotional moment for Gutierrez.
“I was a little more hesitant to let it go,” she said. It would leave a big, empty space in the yard. But Figueroa was an enthusiastic “yes,” and in the end, they agreed to let Rockefeller Center have the tree.
“I’m sad to see it go, but I’m happy that it’s going there,” Gutierrez said.
Both women are New York City natives — Figueroa from the Bronx, Gutierrez from Brooklyn — but Figueroa has been a more regular visitor to Rockefeller Center at Christmastime, going back to when she was 12 years old and in sixth grade.
“I still go down almost every year,” said Figueroa, 49. “I think I’ve only missed twice since I reached adulthood.”
Gutierrez has only seen a few of the past trees in person. This year, though, they’ll both be there, before and after it’s lit.
On Saturday, when a crew installs the tree in its location above the fountain in Rockefeller Center’s plaza, Figueroa and Gutierrez will have the privilege of wielding sledgehammers to help drive a spike into the tree’s base.
They’ll also be there when the tree is officially lit for the first time, on Nov. 28, the Wednesday after Thanksgiving, in a nationally televised, three-hour ceremony on NBC.
Figueroa on Thursday tried to imagine how that moment will feel.
“I’m going to be so emotional,” Figueroa said. “Never in a million years did I think this would really happen.”
Michael Randall is a reporter for the Middletown (N.Y.) Times Herald-Record.