Guide to the Tree Circus Collection (Unprocessed) – History Notes

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Axel Erlandson (1884-1964) was born in Sweden, immigrating with his parents to America in 1886. In the 1920s, he began experimenting with the training of tree trunks to grow in ornamental shapes and patterns. Axel’s wife, Leona, and daughter, Wilma, spent a vacation in Santa Cruz in 1945, visiting the Mystery Spot. After they returned home and told him about the successful tourist attraction, he purchased land that same year in Scotts Valley. He dug up his trees, moved them from Turlock, and transplanted them at the new site on Scotts Valley Drive. He also began training new trees, and in 1947 the site, later called “The Tree Circus,” opened to the public. Despite national publicity, the attraction did not draw many visitors. Erlandson sold the property in 1963, a year before his death. Subsequent owners were not successful, and the trees were neglected. In 1983 Michael Bonfante, a businessman from Gilroy, purchased the trees. In 1985 the trees made the fifty-mile trip to their new home in Gilroy to become one of the featured attractions at the Bonfante Gardens Theme Park. This collection represents Axel Erlandson’s personal work on the training of trees and the creation The Tree Circus road side attraction.