The iconic Columbus Talking Tree from the F&R Lazarus & Company department store has–like Lazarus himself–risen from the grave. Well, sort of. But we can explain.
Like so many of us, Columbus artist Todd Reed remembers how the now-iconic Talking Tree that would appear every year around the holidays inside the old Lazarus store. A massive puppet, the tree would interact with visitors, and many can vividly recall their experiences with it.
“I remember going to the mall as a kid and being fascinated with the tree,” Reed said. “I loved Jim Henson and the Muppets, and remember thinking this was sort of like our own version in Columbus.”
Others comically recall the tree in a thread on the Columbus Subreddit titled “Holiday PTSD: The original Lazarus talking Christmas tree thingy.”
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Encounters include everything from fond nostalgia–with one user saying “I despise the mall and [visiting the tree was] the only time I wanted to go there”–to others recalling the more bizarre side of the holiday encounter.
“I remember one time we were there you could stick your hand in its mouth, it would lick you, and tell you what you tasted like,” they wrote. “I was probably 5 or so, and painfully shy. I couldn’t work up the courage to go up there. For a long time I regretted never knowing what flavor I was.”
The tree, in case you’re wondering, was made by Columbus artist Gordon Keith, who was well-known for also creating in-depth nativity scenes and other unique art. Keith, a WWII veteran, passed away in 2015, and Reed (himself a lauded special effects artist) ended up meeting his son, Gregory several years ago.
Reed always assumed the tree had been destroyed. But he was wrong.
“[Gregory and I] got to talking, and I start talking about the tree.” Reed recalled. “I was telling him how much I loved it, and he just said, ‘So, do you want to see it?’”
Needless to say, Reed accepted. The only part that remained was the face of the tree, as it was composed of sturdier material than the lighter trunk portion. But, as Reed said, there it was before him.
“This was like the Holy Grail,” Reed said with a laugh.
Gregory Keith passed away in 2021, and according to Reed, the rest of Gordon’s surviving artwork was transferred to a family friend. While the face portion of the tree was damaged in a flood, it was later given to Reed. With the help of a mold, he created a nearly exact replica of the Lazarus Talking Tree (its face, at least). And now he’s bringing it back to Columbus.
Reed has created a massive, immersive holiday walk-through “experience” that will be held at Buckeye Raceway beginning the week before Thanksgiving, running through the end of December.
It will be headlined by a recreated version of the Lazarus Talking Tree (which will, like its original counterpart, be able to interact with visiting kids), in addition to a host of other fittingly unique attractions.
The holiday experience, which visitors will walk through, will include:
-Free toys for tots
-Santa Claus and Krampus in person
-40 foot Christmas tree and Christmas Castle from Eastland mall
-Giant model Christmas train display
-10 foot animatronic abominable snowman
-Gingerbread man village and illuminated snowman village
-Elf toy factory
-8 foot-tall nutcracker army
-Christmas tree forest with over 100 Christmas trees,
-Giant snow globe and much more
Reed said the exhibition is currently in the works, and will operate as a first come, first served attraction, meaning tickets much be purchased at the door.
In case you’re coming just for a glimpse of the Lazarus tree, you can rest assured that the Columbus artist’s recreation is about as faithful as they come.
“That’s the only way to do it, baby,” Reed said with a laugh.
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