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Bike forgotten in forest, not memorial to boy who went to war

A meme shared on Facebook in South Africa shows an old bicycle trapped in the trunk of a tree, with a moving story that’s been repeatedly debunked since 2009.

It reads: “Lest we forget. A boy went to war in 1914 and left his bike chained to a tree. He never came home and the family left his bike there as a memorial to the fallen soldier. Vashon Island, in Puget Sound, Washington State.”

In 2009 the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber, a newspaper based in the US state of Washington, reported that “tales abound” about how the bike ended up stuck in the tree.

So what’s the real story?

Boy forgot bike in woods

The newspaper says “one longtime Island family has laid a solid claim to the bicycle in a tree”. Apparently Don Puz claimed he left his bicycle in the woods in 1954, forgot about it and never went back looking for it.

Puz’s mother confirmed her son’s story: “Don left his bike behind, walking home with the other boys.”

After the bike was discovered in the tree, many years later, mother and son went to look and Don said he recognised the bike immediately. 

How did it end up in the trunk?

But the story isn’t that simple. In 2012 fact-checking site Snopes observed that Don Puz had “said nothing about having left [the bike] chained to a tree”. 

Given both that the bike is embedded in the trunk and the way trees grow, “it’s quite unlikely the bicycle ended up in its current position through the tree’s naturally enveloping it and growing around it, as many viewers assume”, Snopes said.

One or more people almost certainly moved the bike after Don abandoned it in 1954.

Prof Elizabeth van Volkenburgh of the University of Washington’s biology department told the Seattle Times in 2014 that it “probably wasn’t a case of a young fir sapling growing under the bike and swallowing it”.

“That bicycle would have been too heavy for a young tree,” she said. 

It was more likely that when the tree was older, “somebody hung that bicycle on the tree, and as it increased in girth, the cambium (the cells right under the bark) wound tissues around the bicycle”. – Taryn Willows


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