Located where downtown and the campus meet, Toomer's Corner is a busy location and is considered the front gate to Auburn University. For generations it has been a gathering place for celebrations and other events.
As the news of the poisoning spready on Wednesday evening, literally thousands of people visited Toomer's Corner to check on the stately oak trees that are estimated to be around 130 years old.
Local horticulturists told Inside the Auburn Tigers and Auburn University confirmed that the trees at Toomer's Corner have been poisoned with a lethal amount of the herbicide Spike 80DF and have very little chance of survival.
The lowest amount detected was 0.78 parts per million, described by horticulture experts as a "very lethal dose." The highest amount detected was 51 parts per million, or 65 times the lowest dose. Experts believe a normal application by itself would have been enough to kill the trees.
Spike 80DF, which is regulated by state agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency, is used mostly in pasture and farmland to control growth around fence rows and anywhere you would not be growing crops. It is designed to eliminate trees and shrubs to keeps areas clear, according to someone familiar with the product, which is not sold to the general public.
The herbicide has a half-life of 12-15 months meaning that it has just run half of its course during that time. It will still be active following that time period because it's one of the most active herbicides on the market according to a local horticulturist. Because of that it will likely mean a widespread excavation will occur to try to remove all remnants of the product in the soil in and around Toomer's.
While the herbicide is a definite threat to the oak trees it should not be considered a threat to people in and around Toomer's Corner.
With the Auburn police investigating they got help from what could be the prime suspect in the case as a caller to a syndicated radio show based in Birmingham admitted on the air on January 27th that he was the one responsible for the action. A man calling himself Al from Dadeville said that he was upset about something that happened after the death of Bear Bryant in 1982 and after this year's 28-27 Auburn win in Tuscaloosa and responded by poisoning trees where Auburn fans celebrate football victories.
A suspect named Harvey A. Updyke, 62 years old from Dadeville, has been arrested and charged with criminal mischief in the case.
"This year I was at the Iron Bowl," Al told the radio host. "I saw where they put a "Scam" Newton jersey on Bryant's statue. Let me tell you what I did. The weekend after the Iron Bowl I went to Auburn, Alabama because I live 30 miles away. I poisoned the two Toomer's trees. I put Spike 80DF in them. They're not dead yet, but they definitely will die."
Even though there isn't much hope to save the historical trees, Auburn President Dr. Jay Gogue said the university will do everything it can to make that happen. He also encouraged Auburn fans and alumni to let the police handle things and not to try to get a measure of revenge.
"We will take every step we can to save the Toomer's oaks, which have been the home of countless celebrations and a symbol of the Auburn spirit for generations of Auburn students, fans, alumni and the community," said Gogue. "It is understandable to feel outrage in reaction to a malicious act of vandalism.
"However, we should live up to the example we set in becoming national champions and the beliefs expressed in our Auburn Creed. Individuals act alone, not on behalf of anyone or any place, and all universities are vulnerable to and condemn such reprehensible acts."
The photo shows Auburn fans celebrating at Toomer's Corner during the 2004 football season.
The poisoning caused outrage among Auburn students and alumni on Wednesday as the word spread quickly of the attack on the oak trees. By Wednesday evening a large crowd had gathered at Toomer's Corner, the main gate to the university where generations of Auburn students have celebrated graduations and other special occasions.
Horticulturists told Inside the Auburn Tigers there is a good chance that recent heavy rains spread the poison to other parts of Samford Park that runs parallel to College Street so there will likely be major excavation work needed to remove the toxins from the soil.