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Highland Park mystified by 'ritualistic' offering of food surrounding a tree

Linda Vicaro
Plates of food, from chicken and mashed potatoes to sandwiches and sauteed vegetables, surround a tree in Highland Park.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013, 11:50 p.m.

Highland Park holds a mystery.

Neighborhood residents have wondered for years about plates of food that appear periodically in a circular pattern around a tree near a trail that begins at Mellon and Bunkerhill streets.

No one has seen who puts out the meals. They seem to appear overnight. City officials who maintain the East End park are as puzzled as the residents.

“I have no idea what the reasoning behind it might be,” said Linda Vicaro, 32, who has noticed the plates at least a half-dozen times while walking in the park over the past few years. “At first, you see all these plates and you say, ‘Oh, some jerk left all this trash here after picnicking in the park.'

“It appears very ritualistic. It's always the same way.”

Residents said each foam plate — as many as 20 of them — typically holds something different, such as chicken and mashed potatoes, rice, sandwiches and sauted vegetables.

Vicaro said she posted an email on a community message board and received numerous responses from people who have seen the plates. Nobody could offer an explanation.

“We thought maybe it was because of the solstice or some other mythological meaning, but we could never really come up with anything,” said Don Carlson, 63. “It's not all that offensive except for the litter thing.”

Residents said the plates eventually blow away or get chopped up when city workers cut the grass.

Nathaniel Hanson, spokesman for Councilman Patrick Dowd of Highland Park, said his office has received queries from neighbors but cannot offer an explanation.

City Operations Director Duane Ashley, who oversees city parks, said park supervisors were unaware of the situation when he asked them about it on Thursday.

“That looks like some ritualistic stuff,” he said after viewing a photograph of the plates.

Vicaro said the plates are more of a curiosity than a neighborhood worry.

“A full plate of food does seem like some kind of offering,” she said. “Being in a circle. Full plates of food. Maybe it's to the tree gods.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or

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