A Stuffed Animal Tree Grows In Brooklyn
Some people get part-time jobs when they retire. Others move to Florida. However, Eugene Fellner collects stuffed animals – only they are hanging from a cherry tree in front of his East 70th Street home, between avenues N and T, in Bergen Beach.
Fellner never planned on starting his own “East 70th Street Zoo.”
“It just kind of happened one day when a neighbor called me and said there was a stuffed tiger around the corner,” said Fellner. “I picked it up right there, brought it home, and placed it in the tree. It was a long time before the second animal went up. People would walk by and admire the tiger. Sometimes it would scare them, and they would jump if it caught them off guard.”
That was back in July 2007. Today, Fellner has 646 furry friends hanging from his cherry tree. He added five more on the day the Canarsie Courier stopped by. The latest additions were Popeye and Mario of Super Mario Brothers.
“People would come by and drop off their old stuffed animals,” he said. “By 2011, I reached 100. One friend, Danny, is responsible for 200 of the cuddly toys. He cleans people’s basements out – that’s where he gets so many stuffed animals.”
Fellner uses the ladder on his friend’s van to secure them to his tree with rope – as high as 14 feet off the ground.
“I’m starting to run out of room. I need to go higher. Luckily, I have a friend who is a lumberjack; he used to climb trees. He’s helped me get some of the animals to higher places that I can’t reach,” Fellner said.
Neighbors have gotten into the action too offering to stitch and mend some of the tattered plush toys. Fellner enjoys adorning his prized characters with scarves, shoes, t-shirts, and baby gloves…and people drop those off too.
Fellner has only lost a few of the animals over the years when tree branches snapped off, but the stuffed toys fared well during Hurricane Sandy. If the stuffed critters get dirty and matted, Fellner just cleans them off with soap and water.
When Fellner is not tending to “the world’s most famous tree” as the sign hanging on his tree boasts, he is an avid Yankees fan – he can name all of the teams that won the World Series since 1903. “My favorite time of the year is around mid-April. My (white) cherry tree is in bloom; it’s not cold out, and baseball season is starting.”