They realized something wasn’t right as soon as they cut down that tree trunk. Unlike most chestnut tree trunks, this piece was light and hollow on the inside. And once the trunk was on the ground, they realized that in the middle was a black hole. But they weren’t expecting to find what they did, which was a canine growling at them. And while they were shocked by this discovery, there was an intriguing story behind it all.
The loggers of the Georgia Kraft Co., were experiencing a regular workday. The company is located in Jasper, Georgia, and as a paper mill machinery business, part of its work involves acquiring wood for paper pulp. So, one day in the year 1980, the loggers went out to a nearby forest to cut some trees. Little did they know that there was a secret hidden inside a tree that they were about to uncover.
Given that they grow faster than oak trees, American chestnut trees have always been of great commercial valuable. In fact, surviving specimens remain throughout eastern North American regions like Nova Scotia, New Hampshire, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, despite a fungal infection that nearly made this species of trees extinct in the early 20th century. Chestnut trees have a number of interesting characteristics, one of which resulted in this phenomenon, which stunned loggers.
The loggers began to chop down all of the chestnut trees that they had selected to be cut. It was a grueling task, which would take all day. Then they prepared to cut down this chestnut tree. But they realized that it was hollow the moment their axes hit the trunk. But that didn’t matter. As long as the wood came from a chestnut tree it would produce pulp that was high in quality. So, they continued to chop, not realizing what was within.
Once the tree trunk came down, the loggers prepared to start cutting it into logs that they could place on their truck. But then they saw something that caught their eye. Inside the hollowed-out trunk was something that was preventing the light from passing through. The loggers took a closer look and then they jumped back in shock and fear. Inside the trunk was a beast who was looking straight at them.
The mysterious creature was surprisingly, a dog. The loggers could tell because it had sharp canine teeth, a long snout, and paws that were near the trunk’s top. But there was something really strange about this dog. It looked as if it was frozen. The loggers didn’t understand how the dog wound up inside the tree trunk, or why it appeared the way that it did. But they had a job to complete, so they had to make a decision about what to do with this fast.
The loggers knew they’d lose money by not cutting up the tree trunk, but they decided that this interesting discovery was too incredible to chop down. So, they decided to set it aside in the hopes that they could find someone they could give it to who could investigate the origin of the dog inside the trunk. Fortunately, the trunk eventually found its way to the right place.
A year after the loggers discovered the dog inside the chestnut tree trunk, the Southern Forest World opened in 1981. The museum dedicated itself to the Southeastern United States’ industry of forestry, which included wood production in colonial America to modern tree farming techniques. The loggers from the Georgia Kraft Co., knew that this was the right home for the tree trunk.
Southern Forest World received the tree trunk before it opened its doors. The staff knew it would be a popular exhibit despite the fact that its connection to the forestry industry was only due to the fact that a bunch of loggers had discovered it. But they wanted to learn more about the dog within the trunk, and that’s when the truth behind the mysterious chestnut tree was discovered.
Southern Forest World sought out the help of biology experts to study the dog inside the trunk. The dog seemed to be mummified, but no one could figure out how that would have happened naturally without the help of human hands and the methods used back in ancient Egypt. But, biological anthropologist Kristina Killgrove from the University of West Florida discovered that this is exactly what had occurred to the dog.
Killgrove analyzes tissue decay and explains how the putrefying process begins when microbes begin to eat the tissue shortly after death. “They grow, they reproduce, and they start taking over the body,” she explained. But a property within the chestnut tree prevented nature from taking its course. Chestnut trees contain tannin, an organic substance that acts as a desiccant and absorbs moisture. It was the lack of moisture that prevented microbes from beginning the decaying process. But what about scavengers living outside the tree?
When microbes begin to consume a deceased body, natural predators are lured by the smell and arrive to turn the body into a meal. But the chestnut tree prevented this from happening to the dog. In fact, it blew the air up through the hollow trunk like a chimney, which prevented other animals from smelling it. “Anything that would eat dead flesh would never know he was in the tree,” explained Bertha Sue Dixon, Southern Forest World’s director. But one question about this mystery remained.
The question remained, how did the dog wind up inside the trunk of this tree? According to Dixon, “He’s a hunting dog, so we assumed that he was chasing something in the tree.” According to experts, the dog, who was 4 years old at the time, was probably chasing a raccoon or a squirrel around 1960. He may have followed his prey into the tree, but got stuck 28 feet in, where it likely died of starvation. But now he’s preserved forever, and he’s very popular.
The mummified dog has been extremely popular in the Southern Forest World. In fact, the attraction can be found prominently displayed in the central rotunda of the building. It’s also surrounded by a variety of tree specimens like cypress, oak, and pine trees. He’s such a star that his image is on promotional materials and even postcards. But ironically, it would be decades before the dog would get a name.
The hound was called the “Mummified Dog” up until 2002. That’s when the museum had a naming contest and some of the runner-up names included “Chipper,” and “Dogwood.” But the museum picked “Stuckie” as the winner. The person who came up with the dog’s name said that the dog’s trunk coffin was like “pecan logs,” which are sold in Stuckey’s convenience stores. Of course, to avoid trademark infringement, the museum had to change the spelling a bit. If you’re interested, you can go to the Southern Forest World in Waycross, Georgia and pay Stuckie the Mummified Dog a visit.