September 22, 2015 / 7:54 PM / in 2 years

Beloved oak tree at Helen Keller's childhood home in Alabama cut down

The Helen Keller oak tree in Ivy Green, Alabama is seen in handout picture courtesy of Laura Connelly taken July 15, 2015.Laura Connelly/Handout via Reuters

(Reuters) - Workers on Tuesday were cutting down a popular 200-year-old oak tree at the Alabama childhood home of Helen Keller, the deaf and blind writer who as a young girl was famously rescued from its branches by her teacher Anne Sullivan.

The water oak, which was in poor health, was deemed too damaged to save after it lost large branches during a July tornado, said Lynne Weaver, a docent at Ivy Green, the Keller estate in Tuscumbia.

Weaver said the tree was a favorite of school children who toured the house and grounds because of the rescue story often featured in Keller biographies written for young audiences.

“We’re very disappointed," she said.

Keller lost her sight and hearing to illness as a 19-month-old child but triumphed over her disabilities to become a role model and advocate for others with similar limitations. She died in 1968 at age 87.

Keller’s achievements were made possible in part by Sullivan, whose determination to educate Keller was chronicled in Keller’s autobiography and the 1962 film, "The Miracle Worker."

In one of the stories often told of their relationship, Keller and Sullivan decided to climb a tree after morning lessons and a walk on a summer day. Sullivan left Keller in the tree, telling her to stay put, while the teacher went into the house to make a picnic lunch.

When a fast-moving storm approached, Sullivan returned to lead the frightened girl safely to the ground.

Weaver said no decision had been made about what would become of the removed tree's wood. The museum has received requests for souvenir pieces of the tree and offers to have some of the wood carved into a memento for the museum, she said.

Reporting by Barbara Liston in Orlando, Fla.; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney

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