Tree owner, Clara Byler Weir has lived through some hard times during her life. In 1964, her husband, Mr. McLeod left her when their three sons were 9 (twins) & 11. She remarried in 1977 to Gene Byler. In 1994, one of her twin sons, Kerry, moved back home for her to care for him through a chronic illness.
One morning in 1996, as his disease progressed, out of desperation to hold onto her sanity, Clara nailed her coffee cup to her tree in the front yard. What followed was unexpected; people started donating mugs to nail to the tree. She also threw shoes into the top of the tree and would shop at yard sales for more shoes for the tree. This whimsical act provided an outlet for her stress and sadness and had a surprising affect of generating smiles to those who passed by the tree. It brought smiles to everyone and people wanted to be a part of the tree’s transformation. More mugs were donated with 368 mugs by 1997 and it grew into “The Mug Tree” as a local landmark.
After her son died in 1997 at the age of 41, they moved to live with her son’s twin brother, Perry in Cassville, Missouri where they had two Mug Trees with over 372 mugs. They moved back to Arkansas in 2000 to their current Batesville address and she began another Mug Tree to honor her late son and bring awareness to AIDS. In 2001, she had 400 mugs. As of March 2009, she has 805 mugs on the tree and they have spread to the porch. She only provided the first mug and the rest have been donated through the years.
In May 2007, KATV 7 News did a piece on the “Mug Tree” when she had 506 mugs on the oak tree. Just prior to that piece, a folk grass duo called “Still on the Hill” by Kelly Mulhollan and Donna Stjerna from the Fayetteville area discovered Clara and her story from Colleen Jackson at Lyon College in Batesville when they were doing a performance in mid-April 2007. They went by to see Clara and The Mug Tree and decided to add her story to their collection of stories of people of the Ozarks for a history project. They began to write a song about her and the tree as they sipped ice tea on her porch. The project by the folk grass duo is funded by the Department of Arkansas Heritage and includes a cd and booklet with stories and lyrics called “Ozark, A Celebration in Song”. In addition, there will be a film of live performances produced by Jones Television of Donna’s songs about the characters they met on their travels, including the Mug Tree.
The Mug Tree brings smiles to the passer-bys, young and old; black, white or brown; rich or poor; and speaks a message of love and awareness of AIDS. It is certainly a good candidate for a famous and historic tree. In addition, the Mug Tree has another claim to fame with its own song and part in a documentary film.
Registration: June 11, 2009
Species: Oak Spruce