College Traditions: Toomer’s Corner
The intersection of Magnolia Avenue and College street in Auburn, which marks the transition from downtown Auburn to the university campus, is known as Toomer’s Corner. It is named for businessman and State Senator Sheldon Toomer who founded the Bank of Auburn on the corner of Magnolia Avenue and College street in 1907. Toomer’s Drugs is a small business on the corner that has been an Auburn landmark for over 130 years.
Toomer’s Trees and the Rolling Tradition
Hanging over the corner were two massive southern live oak trees, and anytime anything good happened concerning Auburn, toilet paper could usually be found hanging from the trees. Also known as “rolling the corner”, this tradition is thought to have originated in the 1950s to celebrate away victories; however, in recent years it has become a way to celebrate anything good that happens concerning Auburn. On January 10, 2011 when Auburn University won the BCS National Championship game, a celebration was held at the corner which involved the traditional papering. The trees were removed on April 23, 2013 due to poisoning in 2010. A temporary structure will be erected by the city and university until the new gateway to Samford Park opens in 2014.
Toomer’s Trees poisoned
On January 27, 2011, a man going by the name of Al and claiming to be from Dadeville, a town 30 minutes from Auburn, called into Paul Finebaum’s sports talk radio show. “Al” admitted to poisoning the trees with a herbicide called Spike 80DF (Tebuthiuron) the weekend following the 2010 Iron Bowl, an away game the Tigers played on Friday, November 26, 2010, in Tuscaloosa; Auburn came back from a 24–0 second-quarter deficit to win 28–27. He said he did this in retaliation for photos that he claimed to have seen in the Birmingham News that depicted Auburn fans rolling Toomer’s Corner after announcement of former University of Alabama head-coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s death in 1983 as well as of an Auburn #2 (number of 2010 Auburn quarterback Cam Newton) Under Armour t-shirt taped to Bryant’s statue earlier in the 2010 season. He ended his call by saying, “Roll damn Tide!” An exhaustive search of newspapers found no evidence of Toomer’s being rolled upon Bryant’s death.
The caller’s claims prompted Auburn to take soil samples. On February 16, 2011, Auburn officials announced that the live oak trees at Toomer’s Corner had been poisoned with a large quantity of Spike 80DF, a herbicide governed by Alabama state agricultural laws and the Environmental Protection Agency; Spike 80DF is not used by Auburn University. Tests of soil samples showed the lowest levels of Spike 80DF to be 0.78ppm, which experts say is enough to be a “very lethal dose.” The highest levels of concentration were measured to be 51ppm. Gary Keever, an Auburn University professor of horticulture and a member of Auburn’s Tree Preservation Committee has said “[Spike 80DF] is extremely active and persistent [and] it’s likely to be in the soil for 3 to 5 years.”
Auburn University and city police both launched investigations into the matter. Finebaum later reported that Federal authorities are also involved and are worried the poison could be in the groundwater supply. Both Auburn University President Jay Gogue and University of Alabama Athletic Director Mal Moore have condemned this act.
Police traced the call to the home of Harvey Updyke Jr. of Dadeville. Updyke, a retired Texas state trooper, was taken into custody at 1:26 am CST on February 17, 2011 and charged with one count of criminal mischief, a class C felony in Alabama. On March 22, 2013, he received a 3 year split sentence, which includes 6 months incarceration and jail credit for time already served. Upon release, Updyke was sentenced to 5 years supervised probation with a 7 pm curfew. He is also prohibited from attending any collegiate sports event and banned from Auburn University property. The efforts made by the University to save the trees proved to be unsuccessful. “It came to a point where we realized it wasn’t going to work, and the amount of poison in the ground was such that the trees were not going to survive,” said Mike Clardy, Director of Communications For Auburn University. The oak trees at Toomer’s Corner were removed on April 23, 2013. On November 8, 2013, Circuit Judge Jacob A. Walker III ruled that Updyke (who had moved to Louisiana) owes Auburn University $796,731.98 in restitution, to be paid in installments of $500 per month. Auburn University had sought more than $1 million in damages, the greater part of which was based on a soil-analysis estimate of $521,396.74 by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. Updyke was released to 5 years’ supervised probation after having served 104 days of incarceration.