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A Keys Holiday Mystery: The Annual Decoration Of Fred The Tree

Mark Hedden
A team of "elves" decorates the Australian pine on a disconnected section of the old Seven Mile bridge in the Florida Keys every year.

About 10 years ago, two Keys residents named Tim and Loretta noticed an Australian pine growing on a section of the old Seven Mile Bridge. The original bridge was built by Henry Flagler's Overseas Railway in 1912.

The bridge eventually became part of the Overseas Highway but It hasn't been used for traffic since 1982. The tree was on a section that isn't connected to land any more and, unlike some of the other old bridges, isn't used as a fishing pier.

Tim and Loretta bought some solar yard lights at Home Depot, put them on the tree and drove by on the new bridge to take a look.

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"We thought it was going to be so wonderful, you know? But we couldn't really see the lights," Tim said. "It was such a sad excuse for a lighting of a tree."

people decorate an australian pine on a disconnected section of the old Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys
Kristen Livengood
for WLRN
Every year, a crew of anonymous "elves" decorate the Australian pine known as Fred the Tree on a section of the old Seven Mile Bridge.

So the next year they got a group of friends together, planned ahead and made it happen. And now Fred the Tree is a thing. With 300 feet of lights, lobster buoy ornaments, a star on a 12-foot pole and more.

They don't want to reveal how they make it happen — that's part of the magic, they say.

They didn't name the tree but they say it's an acronym — For Real Enjoyment Driving. The tree is between mile markers 41 and 42 if you're driving by.

Tim and Loretta don't run Fred's Facebook page— which has almost 12,000 followers — but they visit and post photos there.

They don't like to describe how they get out to the bridge section, which isn't connected to land and isn't open to the public.

"A lot of people ask us, how do I get up there? And basically we answer, you know, it's kind of magical," Tim said.

They enjoy the speculation. Like how they power the tree's lights.

"That's a very popular question: How long is the extension cord from Marathon?" Tim said.

Actually, it's a solar array that they have to protect with rat traps because rats have chewed through the wires in the past.

Loretta said she's seen people speculating that they reach the bridge via a tunnel.

"And we had a couple that we came across that thought that it was actually a sailboat mast — that a sailboat was out there for 30 days and they lit up their mast," she said.

She's also seen other people claim credit for the deed.

"We were at Sunset Grille and the bartender was actually bragging to this girl, you know, that they do it," she said. "And I was coming unglued."

But they didn't reveal themselves — or their methods.

"We just like people to imagine," Tim said.

"Yeah, we love that," Loretta said. "It's all good, good karma."

Fred the Tree has grown over the years and so has the display. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, a lit-up "Keys Strong" sign was added. Last year, they added a menorah — provided by a rabbi from Big Pine.

And a second, smaller tree has started growing nearby on the bridge. They light that one, too, and named it Randy, after a friend who died young of cancer.

And they have big plans for next year — but like their methods, they don't want to reveal the details.

"It's gonna just get better and brighter every year," Tim said.

a menorah is part of the annual display on the old Seven Mile Bridge in the keys
Kristen Livengood
for WLRN
Last year, a menorah was added to the holiday display on the old Seven Mile Bridge in the Keys.

Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
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