Deep in the woods outside the Old State Hospital Grounds in Traverse, Michigan, down a small steep path at the edge of a clearing, lie the bones of a sprawling old willow. The heart of the tree has long since rotted, but life still persists from the tips of its branches. The pale trunks are adorned in layer upon layer of lurid, neon paint left there by generations of local painters. The effect is a spectacle of twisting, iridescent growth along the length of the great fallen behemoth.
The Hippie Tree is named such because of its place in local folklore. The tree is said to be a nexus for the unquiet spirits of those that once inhabited the hospital—and, by extension, the madness that haunted them. Visionaries, mystics, and other spiritual folk (hippies, as they were dubbed by the locals) would come to meditate beneath the tree and would then paint the products of their subsequent enlightenment on the warped limbs surrounding them.
Rumors and legends swirl around the tree. It is said to be haunted by several spirits and reports of otherworldly encounters are not uncommon. A portal to hell is said to open beneath its tangled roots if one walks around the tree in a particular way, and all manner of unsavory deeds have been committed beneath its quiet council.
Nowadays the tree stands mostly as an amalgamation of the area’s culture through the art it bears. Upon seeing it, and feeling the brooding energy that inspired the insane masterpiece painted by a thousand hands, one must surely agree its story is far from over.
Know Before You Go
The tree is most easily accessed if one parks in the lot directly adjacent from the Greenspire School, the address of which is 1026 Red Dr, Traverse City, MI 49684. From the trailhead, take the first right and you will proceed up a large hill into a clearing. The next left will lead you down to the Hippie Tree. You should see some painted limbs from the outside. It is said that when visiting the tree if one leaves a contribution of their own to the collection they will be granted a fragment of the mad enlightenment for which the tree was named. One must therefore be certain that this is their desire, for such revelations rarely leave one unchanged.