After serving in the Korean War, Frank Ciliberti settled in Tarrytown, where he volunteered as an EMS worker and produced 12 patents through the Mallory Battery Company. One of his patented batteries is now on the moon.
When Frank passed away in 2007 his brother, James, put up a memorial tree in Pierson Park. But the tree, it turned out, was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Namely, it got in the way of a construction fence that was put up by the developers of the Hudson Harbor condominiums, according to Village Administrator Michael Blau. The village replanted the tree at the end of the traffic circle on West Main Street, where it has thrived.
But the village is now mulling moving the tree once again - a move that Ciliberti said could destroy the memorial.
"It really hurts me because the tree wasn't supposed to be moved again," Ciliberti said. "It's a young tree, it's just taking root, and you can't just move it around or it's going to die."
Ciliberti claimed that Hudson Harbor residents had complained about the tree blocking their views of the river - an issue that he called "ridiculous" and not worth taking down a veteran's memorial.
"If my brother was alive he would not object to the tree being moved for the good of the public, but this is a very small population that wants to sit on their deck and sip cocktails," he said.
Paul Janos, a sales coordinator at Hudson Harbor, confirmed that a number of residents had complained about their views being obstructed by trees in and around Pierson Park, but declined to comment further on the issue.
Ciliberti further asserted that the people who have lodged complaints are hypocrites, as their condos partially block the view of the river.
"The general public can walk down to the river and look down the Hudson and see the Tappan Zee Bridge and the Palisades, but they can't see to the north because of these condos," he said.
Blau, the village administrator, said that the complaints were not the only reason the village is considering moving the tree.
"The Board [of Trustees] is concerned that the tree may be too close to the curb line and may be impacted, in the long term, by salt from snow removal operations and insufficient water, since the roots will be extending under the asphalt roadway," he wrote in a Dec. 29 letter to Ciliberti.
Blau also said that he had offered to dedicate a new tree in Pierson Park to Ciliberti's brother. When that offer was rejected, Blau then offered to move the existing tree "to a preferred location" in the park. But Ciliberti wouldn't budge.
"The snow is not an issue; they're just making it up," Ciliberti said.
Blau said the Board would make a final decision about the tree in the spring.
Ciliberti's story is just an example of a larger issue the village has had with other memorial trees. The village removed 14 trees from Pierson Park as part of the construction of the RiverWalk, Blau said, and initially neglected to notify the families of the people who were commemorated.
"We should have notified those people who had donated trees; the village doesn't deny that fact," Blau said, "but we did notify everybody else, and we told them all that once we plant new trees as part of the Pierson Park redesign we're going to let them select trees" to serve as memorials.
Emilia Kelly, a longtime village resident whose husband, William, served in the Korean War and has his own memorial tree in the park, said that she had heard of at least two cases in which people came to visit a loved one's tree, only to find that it was gone.
In one case, an elderly village resident chose a spot close to the road for a memorial to her son. The woman, whom Kelly would not identify, is bound to a wheelchair and wanted to be able to see the tree from her car, Kelly said. But one day the tree was gone. The woman later learned that the tree was "in a bucket behind the village garage," Kelly said.
"[The village] did everything wrong; they didn't notify us, and they've been completely unreasonable," she added. "We paid for those trees, and they're all in memory of somebody."
Kelly said she paid about $350 for a tree and a plaque; Ciliberti said he paid almost $500.
Kelly further alleged that the village had removed the plaques from all of the trees in the park because of the ongoing construction, and had since misplaced them. But Blau said he didn't know why she would make such claims.
"We didn't lose any plaques; they're all here, in a box in my office," he said.
Blau said that more trees will be removed as the village moves forward with the Pierson Park overhaul, adding that the village has offered to plant new trees in the park for anyone whose tree was removed.