Logging is a fairly routine job, and forestry workers know what to expect on a typical workday. Loggers spend their day bringing down heavy trees safely and bringing them to the processing plants to be made into lumber or pulp and paper. But for a team from the Georgia Craft Co back in 1980, their average workday would turn out to be anything but ordinary when they cut down an unusually light and hollow tree.
Georgia Craft Co is a paper mill machinery business located in Jasper, Georgia. Part of their work involves acquiring wood for paper pulp, so they headed out one day in 1980 to cut some trees in a nearby forest. They were not expecting the surprise that they would find inside one of the trees.
The American chestnut tree grows very quickly, almost four times faster than oak, which makes it highly valuable for loggers. In the early 20th century, a fungal blight wiped out nearly all of the American chestnut trees, with only a few specimens remaining in pockets of Nova Scotia, New Hampshire, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. For years, chestnut, with its bold grained blondish wood, was favored by builders as it was easy to work with and extremely rot-resistant.
Chestnut trees have a number of interesting characteristics, and one of those resulted in a phenomenon that would stun the loggers from the Georgia Craft Co. Having marked the trees they planned to fell, the loggers began to work. They expected to spend the whole day chopping down chestnut trees, but when the first axe struck a particular tree, the workers quickly realized it was hollow.
Though a hollow tree is not ideal for sawing into lumber, the loggers knew that the hollow chestnut tree would still produce very high-quality pulp. So they continued to chop, not realizing what was hidden inside. With the tree finally down, the loggers prepared to chop it into logs short enough to place on their truck, but something caught their eye.
The supposedly hollowed-out trunk was stuffed with something that was preventing the light from passing through. When the loggers moved in to get a closer look, they jumped back from shock and fear. Inside the hollow trunk was a strange snarling, and it was looking right at them.
The mysterious creature had sharp canine teeth and a long snout. Its front paws were near the top of the tree trunk. It looked like a dog, or rather, like a frozen, misshapen dog. The loggers had no idea how it had come to be inside the tree trunk or why it looked so odd. But as they had a job to do, they had to quickly decide what to do next.
Knowing that not cutting up the valuable log would be a waste of money, the loggers still decided that the discovery was worth preserving. So they set it aside in the hopes of investigating the origin of the dog in the trunk. Eventually, the tree made its way to the right place.
About a year after the discovery, a museum dedicated to the forestry industry of the southeastern US opened. Southern Forest World, located about 300 miles away in Waycross, Georgia, opened its doors in 1981. The Georgia Craft Co knew that this was the right home for their strange discovery.
Southern Forest World perceived the tree trunk before its grand opening, and the staff expected it to be a popular exhibit. But they also wanted to solve the mystery of the dog within the log. So they enlisted a team of experts and were able to discover the truth about the mysterious chestnut tree.
First, they studied the dog, seeking to determine how it could have possibly become naturally mummified, which it seemed to be. Finally, Christina Kilgrove, a biological anthropologist from the University of West Florida, had a fitting solution.
Part of her work involves analyzing tissue decay and how microbes are involved in the decomposition process. Usually, they will begin to eat the tissue shortly after death. They will grow, reproduce, and take over the body until it’s petrified. But something within the chestnut tree prevents this from happening.
The tannin, which makes the tree rot-resistant, absorbs moisture and prevents microbes from beginning the decaying process. The tree also prevented animals from smelling the dead dog, as the trunk acted like a chimney and blew the scent high into the air. Any scavengers nearby would never have known the dog was in the tree at all. So that cleared up how the dog had been mummified.
But for Bertha Sue Dixon, the director of Southern Forest World, another question remained: how did the dog wind up inside the trunk in the first place? He seemed to have been a hunting dog, so experts believe that the dog, who would have been around four years old, chased a raccoon or squirrel into the tree sometime around 1960. He managed to climb about 28 feet before getting stuck, where they assumed it died of starvation.
The mummified dog prominently displayed in the central rotunda is one of the most popular attractions at Southern Forest World. It has been featured on promotional materials and postcards for years. But it would take decades for the famous dog to get a name. Until 2002, he was simply called “Mummified Dog.” Then the museum held a naming contest, and some rather fitting names were proposed, such as Chipper and Dogwood. The museum team chose the name “Stuckey.”
If you ever happen to be in southern Georgia, head to Waycross to have a look at Stuckey, the mummified dog stuck in the chestnut log.