Since coming to Greeneville in late 1982, I’ve seen, heard or otherwise encountered things that generated questions still unanswered for me.
Writing this column in The Greeneville Sun, though, gives me an opportunity to put those things out before the Sun’s readers. Somebody out there may know some answers.
None of the things I’m writing about here have inherent importance. They are just little things that nag at my mind and make me curious, like that question that already has come up here as to why Crowfoot Alley is called Crowfoot Alley.
Here are three more of my unanswered questions:
Question 1): Who was it who regularly put clothes on that dead tree that once stood along Highway 11E around Telford? And why was it done?
The dead tree was mostly just a remnant of one, a dead trunk with a remaining arm-like limb or two sticking out near the top. That tree, now long gone, was almost always wearing clothing somebody put on it. Around Christmas it would be dressed as Santa, or maybe as a leprechaun around St. Patrick’s Day or a pilgrim as Thanksgiving got near. Maybe in the spring it might have on a prom dress.
I’m not totally sure anymore exactly where that tree stood, given how many years ago it was there. I think it was a little over the line into Washington County.
The best guess I can give as to why somebody went to the trouble of dressing up that tree is that it was just a fun little gift to the community, a way of noting the seasons, the holidays and so on and making people smile.
The tree disappeared at some point. Maybe it just fell down on its own, or maybe whoever was dressing it took a saw to it because they were tired of having to come up with costumes for the doggone thing. Maybe the person who dressed the tree moved away or passed away. Maybe a car ran off the road and knocked it down. Or perhaps some irritable grump out there found it unsightly or annoying for whatever reason, and took a chainsaw to it.
Personally, I liked that tree. It wasn’t something you’d encounter everywhere, and some of the costumes were clever and funny. I’m sure there are plenty of other people who remember it. But does anybody know anything about it?
Question 2): What was the origin of “Fantasyland,” and who operated it?
After Rhonda and I moved to Greene County with our infant son, Matt (now far from being an infant as he edges ever closer to 40), we drove around the Greene County countryside sometimes just to see what was out there and to familiarize ourselves with our new home county and its scenery.
I remember, in what probably was sometime in 1983, turning down a rural road somewhere around Greystone (Or was it Horse Creek? I’m not sure.), and spotting what looked like an old gas station building, or maybe the front building for one of those old-style “motor lodges.” Above the door was a sign that said “Fantasyland.”
What in the world is this place? I thought.
It didn’t look like some kind of dive or joint or place best avoided, nor did it look like a diner or any other particular thing I could put my finger on.
I pulled into the lot and we got out of the car. Fantasyland’s door was ajar. We made a cautious entrance and discovered something interesting, at least to me.
Somebody had created a bunch of dioramas, miniature scenes made up of toy figures, toy buildings, miniature greenery, tiny cars and trucks and trains and wagons and improvised stuff made of random found objects. Kind of like the Small World attraction at Disney World, but without a Disney budget, technology or team of professional creators.
Actually it was better than Small World in one way: that mind-numbing, ear-worming “It’s a Small World After All” song was not playing over and over and over and over … if you’ve been to Disney World, you know what I mean. How those young folks who work at that particular attraction keep their sanity after hearing that song all day is beyond me.
I believe there was a jar inside the Fantasyland door where visitors could drop in a dollar or a few coins. A lady emerged from the back and served as our one-woman welcome committee and guide. She was the person who had put this together, just as an attraction, a way to meet new people and perhaps make a few dollars from that donation/admission jar by the door. I’m sure she said her name, but if so, that file in my mental computer was overwritten years ago with less interesting data.
We looked around, chatted with our hostess/guide a little, and went on our way. But I’ve never forgotten that little repurposed building or the unusual use to which it had been put.
For years thereafter I always was able to identify the place when I was in that area, even after it ceased to be Fantasyland. Recently I went looking for it and couldn’t find the building. I think it no longer is there.
Rhonda doesn’t remember Fantasyland at all, but I do, because it was so unusual.
Does anybody else remember Fantasyland or know who created it, or even exactly where it was? Any old photos in somebody’s scrapbook?
Question 3): This last one isn’t about a physical thing or place, but about what seems to be an alternate version of, or addendum to, the familiar Greene County bridge burners story.
Several times over the years people have mentioned to me something about a person or persons being hanged from a Greene County railroad bridge or trestle in the Civil War era. I’ve heard it mentioned in connection with the story of the Unionist bridge-burning incident at Lick Creek.
But while the Lick Creek bridge burning did result in some hangings, those hangings took place in Greeneville, near the depot, and in Knoxville. And nobody was hanged from a railroad bridge.
Was there another hanging or set of hangings, maybe lynchings done outside the law, that are remembered as part of our folklore but not in our written histories, and maybe being conflated with the documented bridge burner hangings?
This might be a Tim Massey question. I certainly don’t know the answer. The only bridge burner hangings I am aware of related to Greene County were the well-known ones carried out by Confederate authorities, and those hangings did not use burned railroad bridges as gallows.
If anybody can shed light on any of the questions above, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.