Friends and family of George H. Eastman braved the cold, gathering around the Winnie-the-Pooh tree by the Science Center Sunday afternoon to celebrate Eastman’s 81st birthday.
Eastman, a Cambridge resident and an alumnus of the Graduate School of Education, has been the unofficial caretaker of Pooh’s house since 1995. That year, he took it upon himself to build a red door for the tree, which had previously lacked an entrance.
“This has been an important part of his life, and many people know about the tree and Pooh’s door,” said Eastman’s partner Marilyn Gallant, who organized the event. “There’s a lot of chatter about it on the Internet and it just seemed like a different way to spend his birthday.”
Eastman’s fascination with Winnie-the-Pooh began when he read the books to his children when they were young.
“Before I can remember, we would bike by here on the way to church every Sunday, and we would always stop by and leave a little gift for Pooh and see what other people had left,” said his daughter Serena C. Eastman.
For George Eastman, who holds a degree in philosophy from the School of Education, the story of Winnie-the-Pooh is more than just a children’s story—it is a tale that holds a great deal of philosophical significance.
“Each of the characters represents
something unique about being human,” Eastman said. “Winnie represents a human being who is willing not to pretend to know everything.”
Pooh’s tree became Eastman’s pet project in 1995, when he took the initiative to repaint the faded “Pooh” sign on the tree and attach a door where there had previously been only a hole. After that, Eastman became the unofficial gatekeeper for the tree and his whole family became attached to the project.
Deborah M. Allen, Eastman’s ex-wife, said that their family used to gather the money that accumulated by the tree and donate it to their church.
“We’re talking pennies, but we felt very proprietary about the place because George made this door for it,” said Allen.
Throughout the years the Winnie-the-Pooh tree has gone through many transformations. Houses for Rabbit and Piglet were added were added, then removed. The tree itself was chopped down this past summer.
All the while, Eastman has continued to watch over Pooh’s home.
“Sometimes people would come and break the door. My dad has made probably four or five or six doors over the years,” Serena Eastman said.
For the Eastman family, Pooh’s tree has served as an uplifting force in their lives.
“It’s just such a positive thing when the world is so negative,” Gallant said.
—Staff writer Megan B. Prasad can be reached at email@example.com.