Jesse Owens' Tree from Hitler in Cleveland

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  • Flickr — ClevelandSGS

NPR has a fascinating story about Jesse Owens, a tree, and Hitler — one that some Clevelanders may know, but one many others probably have no clue about.

When Owens made his famous trip to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, he brought back four gold medals. But that wasn't all. The German Olympic Committee also gave an oak sapling to each gold-medal winner, so Owens brought back four saplings, a gift from Hitler.

One of them was planted at Rhodes High School, which is where Owens trained, and has grown there next to the school for 75 years.

"To the regular student body, it's just a tree. Just a tree," he [Rhodes track coach Tyrone Owens] says. "We try to push it through athletics. It's a very important piece of history that sits here in Cleveland, Ohio."

Two of the other saplings were lost or destroyed; the last one, Owens said in a documentary, he planted at Ohio State. OSU was both unaware of this and confused when they looked at the spot where Owens claimed he planted the oak. However, an oak near the spot has long been rumored to be the lost Owens oak, and the university has found that it and the Cleveland oak are the same age and species. Further testing against other Olympic trees from that year could prove the claim one way or the other.

Click on over for the full radio report from NPR, including details on how only 4 of the 24 oak saplings brought back by American gold medalists that year are still alive.

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