A costly practical joke: 'I buy used Christmas trees'

Posted: Thursday, January 04, 2001

The ghost of Christmas past haunts a Skagway man every year in the form of rotting firs and pines.

Robert Carlin Donahue laughs about it now but the dried-out trees reduced him to tears 25 years ago in Colorado. A friend pulled a practical joke by placing a classified ad in a Denver newspaper saying: "I buy used Christmas trees" and listing Donahue's name, phone number and address.

More than 1,000 trees showed up at his apartment complex over the next few weeks.

"Some people got really mad, yelling at me for not paying them," he said. "One guy had 150 to 200 trees that he dropped in the parking lot after storming away from my door."

Donahue also dealt with nasty phone calls and angry apartment managers. He was on "pines and needles" for weeks before changing his phone number, moving out of the apartment - minus his $100 deposit - and paying $220 to remove the trees.

Soon after he moved to Skagway in 1984, friends tried to revive his nightmare. They dropped about 15 Christmas trees in his yard and posted a sign saying, "I buy used Christmas trees." Donahue laughed, knowing the 800 residents of Skagway could never top the pile generated in a city the size of Denver.

Donahue, now Skagway's tourism director, still can't believe so many people took the newspaper ad seriously.

"Who on earth is going to buy used Christmas trees?" asked Donahue, who had the Denver paper drop the classified after only one day. "If I saw it in the paper, I'd know right away it was a joke.

"I still like Christmas trees but there's not a Christmas that goes by that I don't think about it."

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