LONG BEACH, Miss. (WJTV) – Fifty-three years ago last week, Hurricane Camille made landfall along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
One of Camille’s survivors has survived over 500 years of storms. I visited the Gulf Park campus of the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in Long Beach. The campus is where the Friendship Oak is growing. The tree survived Camille in a couple of ways.
Gulf Park is just west of Gulfport, between Gulfport and Pass Christian. Gulf Park School was a girl’s school. It started in 1921. The campus of the old Gulf Park School is shaded by Southern live oak trees.
One of the trees on the campus is one of the famous survivors of Hurricane Camille. The tree was well-known before the storm because of its size. It’s over 50-feet tall, which isn’t huge. But its branches spread over 150-feet, branch tip to branch tip.
The huge live oak was named the Friendship Oak way back. Students at Gulf Park School perpetuated its legend with a plaque they placed beneath it in 1969. “Anyone who enters the shadow of the oak will remain friends throughout their lives, no matter where fate takes them.”
Oddly, it was later the same year they placed the plaque that it was feared the tree had been lost when Hurricane Camille hit the area on August 17th, 1969. The tree was not only blasted with winds well over 100 mph, but its roots were soaked in salt water. All of the leaves turned brown and, for a while, it looked like it was dead.
To save its legacy, acorns were collected, saplings were sprouted from them and passed out along the coast. Some of those saplings even made it as far as Lake Lorman in Madison County. They are in Bill Jones’ yard brought here by the first owner of the property.
“This tree, this tree and one of them up here that was hit by lightning. It’s my understanding these are, I guess you’d call them, children of the original oak down on the Coast,” said Jones.
The offspring trees are over fifty years old now. Between the two of them in his back yard, they give plenty of shade. And plenty to talk about to anyone who asks about them.
The original tree also survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005. However, since then, it has lost the branches off of its east face. It’s still a mighty oak. As strong as the friendships solidified by no telling how many people who have walked together beneath its branches over the decades.
Although The Friendship Oak did survive Camille, Gulf Park School did not. Damage from Camille and other economic issues innate by the storm forced the school to close in 1971. USM took it over in 1972.