By Danny “The Vagabond” Crownover
Snakes, literally a thousand of them were found on Christmas Day, 1947, ‘hung’ on two thorn trees on Clayton Road.
Large crowds gathered around the two trees to see the dead snakes, most of which were about a foot long and the same dull grey color as the branches. All the reptiles were impaled on thorns right behind the head.
Spectators estimated up to 1,000 snakes were on the trees near Black Creek. No other thorn trees were in the immediate area.
Explanations of the phenomena were many. County agent T. L. Sanderson was skeptical. He said the snakes were supposed to be hibernating at that time of year and it was unusual for any snakes to be out.
Other theories had it that high creek water around the trees might have washed a nest of the snakes through the creek, causing them to be stuck on the thorns. Another version had it that someone played a prank by sticking the creatures in the thorns.
Whether the snakes were placed by nature or prankster, all that was left later that morning were tree trunks. Souvenir hunters broke off branches with the snakes and took them home. Any explanation as to what happened?
The Vagabond has no clue of how the snakes appeared in the wintertime, but a short story written by Mary Lister Harrison and archived at the Etowah Historical Society did catch some attentions. Evidently, Ms. Lister was aware of what had happened. Her interesting back-in-time story is as follows:
“It was Christmas morning, and Uncle Bill was late in coming to work and in claiming his “Chrimus Gif,” which was an unheard of thing. My little girl came to look from the living room windows down the road that wound along the mountain side, toward the city below.
“Here he comes now!” There was relief in her voice, not only for old Bill’s safety, but his help was needed on this special day.
“Chrismus’ gif, Miss Maye! Chrismus gif, Mr. Mark!” The old custom of calling “Chrismus gif” rang out as the old man entered the room.
“A merry Christmas, Uncle Bill!, we chorused, and here are your gifts under the tree! His face wreathed in smiles, Uncle Bill voiced his thanks.
I am sorry to be late, but I jest want to tell you all I jest seen a Chrismus tree down beside the creek, that beats anything I ever has laid eyes on! Snekes! A bunch o’ trees jest hung with snekes! “Bout like this tree is hung with these silvery things!” Uncle Bill pointed to the tinsel that glittered on the branches of the pine.
“Uncle Bill, you right sure you have not been taking on a little liquid spirits this morning? A fellow is pretty far gone when he sees snakes!”
“Uncle Bill grinned. He knows that we know he is deeply religious and never “indulges,” but it was evident he was excited over what he had seen. Then the story came out. A story which left us as astonished as was the old man.
“Gadsden, Alabama, a busy industrial city, lies at the southern-most tip of Lookout Mountain. Across the plateau of this famous range runs Black Creek. Above the city, on the mountain top it plunges a hundred feet into a rocky gorge, to swirl for a mile or more to reach the plain below. Through a narrow channel it crosses the city, joining the big, muddy Coosa some miles below.
“It was within two blocks of a heavy traffic lane but a section with few houses close by, along a small ditch-like stream a few feet from Black Creek, into which it fed, that two boys came upon the snake-hung trees, and spread the news that brought hundreds of people to view the sight. Seeing a crowd gathering, duty-bent police in a squad car, joined the astonished assembly.
“There were five locust trees, Uncle Bill related, about fifteen or twenty feet high, thick with thorns from top to bottom. Upon the thorns of the trees, from the top to within about five feet of the bottom, hung the snakes. Hundreds and hundreds of snakes!
“Uncle Bill guessed them to be about a foot long, grey in color, with light-colored bellies. Each snake, without exception, impaled upon a thorn, pierced through, just back of the head.
“A fearsome sight!” said the old man, shaking his white head, and remarking: “No one, man nor boy, in that crowd, know what kind them snekes wuz. I’m an ole man-seen all kinds, I thought, ‘till this day.’ Snekes has been causin’ trouble of fust one kind and another, since way back yon’er in de garden o’ Eden.’ Meybe they ain’t pizen, Mr. Mark, but snekes is snekes! Yo’ jest remember that!”
“Could these birds have been in flight across this section, and left the gruesome snake-hung trees as mute evidence of their passing? This is very possible. No bird of this section thus hangs its prey. If birds were the guilty parties, they had to be migratory, for none lingered in the vicinity where hundreds of people flocked to see the unusual spectacle.
“Papers in many sections carried news of the snake-hung trees. No one, so far, has come through with a solution more reasonable than that suggested by the patrolman – work of migratory “Butcher Birds”.
“Uncle Bill, still no little awed, only shakes his head. Yes, he also saw the frog, and to him the so called “asp” was just a “critter. He had me to “look it up in the big book”: “Asp is a word loosely applied to several venomous serpents”…………”
Did’n I tell yo’ so, Mr. Mark, them asps jest natuhaly does not belong to this country. I knowed ‘twas a asp bit Queen Cleopatra! Pizen, it were, an’ she died!” It was not an asp in the “Christmas thorn tree”, and no doubt Uncle Bill is correct. He continues to mumble from time to time. “Snekes is snekes! Yo’ can’t trust none of ‘em!”