Stuckie the Mummified Dog
It's not easy being an attraction devoted to trees. Compared to other museum themes, trees are, well, not that exciting, and you can't really jazz them up without being disrespectful.
So Southern Forest World caught a huge break with its star exhibit: Stuckie, a dog mummified inside a southern tree. It's a world-class oddity that has drawn many tourists who otherwise would not have visited a tree museum.
Stuckie has been at Forest World since it opened in May 1981, and occupies a place of honor within its central rotunda, surrounded by tributes to noteworthy southern woody perennials such as pine, oak, and cypress.
A sign explains that Stuckie was discovered in 1980 on a lumber truck after a chestnut oak had been cut into logs. Rather than send the dog to the pulp mill, the loggers donated it to Forest World. Stuckie's remarkable preservation -- mummified for an estimated 20 years when it was discovered -- is described matter-of-factly by an accompanying sign:
"A chimney effect occurred in the hollow tree, resulting in an upward draft of air. This caused the scent of the dead animal to be carried away, which otherwise would have attracted insects and other organisms that feed on dead animals. The hollow tree also provided relatively dry conditions, and the tannic acid of the oak helped harden the animal's skin."
"People always ask me, 'How did he get in there?'," said Brandy Stevenson, Forest World's manager. "And I always say, 'Well, he was a hound dog. Maybe he was after a coon.' And then they'll say, 'Poor old thing. I feel so sorry for him.'"
For decades Stuckie was called simply "Mummified Dog*." In 2002 Forest World ran a name-the-dog contest, and "Stuckey" won (Runners-up included "Dogwood" and "Chipper"). The winning contestant said that she related the dog in its log coffin to the "pecan logs" sold at Stuckey's convenience stores. Forest World changed the name to "Stuckie" to avoid trademark infringement.
(*The museum's literature sometimes calls Stuckie a "petrified" dog. Creationists have cited Stuckie as proof that fossilization is both recent and quick, but Stuckie is a mummy, not a fossil.)
If Stuckie is the mummy gatekeeper, then Southern Forest World is the pulpy pharaoh's tomb -- an unexpected jackpot of gummy lumber treasures that is more rewarding than you might expect. It works hard to relate modern non-natural life to the world of trees. "From the stumps of southern pines come products that serve the world," announces one display, while an accompanying mini-table of supermarket items suggests that without southern stumps we might have no Band-Aids, Gatorade bottles, or Huggies.
An exhibit on turpentine farming contrasts old-fashioned collection buckets, crusted with sap and dirt, with hygienic modern "aprons" for tapping tree resin. There's a miniature replica of a logging camp that you can animate with a push of a button, and a peephole in a huge stump that invites you to view the destructive work of pine beetles.
The "Trees in Space" exhibit is not about some fictional Pandora but about the wood derivatives that make fluxes and solvents. "Nitrocellulose from wood is a rocket propellant." A space suit, splayed as if tumbling untethered through an interstellar void, is in fact a "SCAPE" suit (Self-Contained Atmospheric Protective Ensemble) worn in the 1960s by NASA workers who fueled the Gemini rockets. Its protective plastics, adhesives, and disaster-resistant films all came from you-know-what.
On the way out the door is the Talking Tree, a Bicentennial pro-forest-industry exhibit formerly in the Smithsonian -- half McDonaldland, half H.R. Pufnstuf. Push its button and you'll hear a monologue that sounds straight out of 1976, with references to the Space Age and many woodsy puns ("You're in for a real tree-t!").
Outdoor exhibits include a giant hollow cypress stump that can hold as many as 17 people, a 1905 steam engine that hauled logs from the piney woods, and a butterfly garden that encourages picnicking under the trees.
"The managed forest part is really what we're all about," said Brandy. "If we don't have trees, we don't have oxygen." Or many other wonderful things, including mummified dogs. Southern Forest World is hardly a tree-hugger attraction, but it nonetheless leaves you with good feelings for our towering forest friends. And Stuckie is always on guard, waiting faithfully, his teeth bared for eternity in a welcoming grin.