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A Maine writer tells the remarkable story of Isaac Newton and the tree that changed science

Newton didn’t get conked on the head by an apple—but there’s so much more to his history

CUMBERLAND, Maine — Anna Crowley Redding, a Maine author of books for young readers, knows exactly when inspiration struck and gave her the idea for her most recent work.

It happened when she learned a remarkable fact about the tree Isaac Newton was sitting under when he saw an apple fall, the apple that got him thinking about gravity and the laws of physics in ways that transformed our understanding of the cosmos. It turns out that nearly four centuries after Newton sat under it, that tree is still alive—and still producing fruit. Now THAT is a story, Redding immediately thought.

She tells the tale in her new book for children, “The Gravity Tree: The True Story of the Tree That Inspired the World.” This is history they didn’t tell you about in school.

For instance, did you know that offspring from the Gravity Tree can be found on every continent except Antarctica? There are even trees producing apples in New England that are descendants of the Gravity Tree. And did you know that Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, who stood on Newton’s shoulders as they came up with brilliant insights of their own about the forces that govern the universe, both visited the Gravity Tree? Or that a sliver of the Gravity Tree has floated in the zero-gravity conditions aboard the International Space Station?

It’s all so mindboggling that Redding, a former investigative reporter, was beyond skeptical when she first heard about the tree’s history. “I was convinced it wasn’t true,” she told me as we talked at Sweetser’s Orchards in Cumberland. What is false is the widely held belief that a falling apple conked Newton on the head. In fact, it fell nearby. No physicists were harmed in the making of this world-changing breakthrough.

Having completed the book, Redding has one bit of unfinished business. She has yet to see the Gravity Tree for herself. “No, but it’s on my list,” she says eagerly. “I think it would be so cool. And I really want to go when it’s producing fruit in the late summer so I can actually eat an apple from the tree.”

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