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Biltmore Estate gives special Christmas tree new life

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Sunday, November 18, 2012 - 12:01 am

The Christmas tree Joseph Gray bought his wife back in 1972 grew at the end of their driveway for 40 years, reminding them of the joy of the first holiday season they spent together in their home on Roan Mountain in Tennessee.

But trees, like people, get old. Gray lost his wife in 2010 and the tree that represented so many good memories was now 55-feet tall and struggling to stay alive. Gray, 81, wasn't ready to have the tree cut down, but he didn't know what to do with it.

In stepped the Biltmore House in Asheville with an elegant and fitting solution.

Every year, the popular holiday attraction needs a tall Norway Spruce for its front lawn display and tries to select a tree that, for one reason or another, will likely have to be removed. The tree farm Biltmore House uses for the Christmas trees inside the home knew about Gray's tree and suggested that it be considered to grace the attraction's front lawn, said LeeAnn Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the attraction.

After sending a team to look at it, the Biltmore House bought the tree from Gray, trucked it down the mountain and decorated it with 45,000 lights.

"It couldn't have turned out better, I don't think," said Gray, who also planned to drive down the mountain with a daughter and two grandchildren Saturday for his first trip to the Biltmore House and one last look at that special tree.

Joseph and Evelyn Gray were together almost 65 years, if you count the three years he courted her. They had four children. They spent the summers at Roan Mountain State Park. Joseph Gray worked there at the foot of 6,285-foot tall Roan Mountain about 30 miles southwest of Johnson City, Tenn. Once visitors stopped coming in the late fall, they headed to the house they had built just down the road.

Evelyn Gray loved Christmas. She would pull out her special decorations and lights as soon as her husband found the live tree he liked.

"She would work on it for a week, just to get it the way she wanted it," her husband said. "It was pretty when she got through with it. She had lights, everything on it."

Then Joseph Gray put the angel on top that would watch over everything up until the huge family gathering on Christmas Day. The tradition went on for decades, until Evelyn Gray just didn't feel well enough to decorate.

"She got to where she was sick and she could hardly fool with it. We bought one, all you had to do was bring it out," Joseph Gray said.

When Gray gets to the Biltmore House and sees his old Christmas tree once again decorated for the holidays, it will bring out a smile in him.

"I still like the live trees the best," he said. "It seems more like Christmas with the live tree."