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A Place in Florida

WAUSAU: Why It Built a Statue of the

Lowly Possum in the Middle of Town

By Gene Ingle

© Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved

There’s a place in Florida that built a 12-foot-high monument in the middle of town to exalt the lowly possum.

Now, why would anyone want to do that?

Well, first off, heroes are hard to come by in this place in Florida – the Panhandle town of Wausau, home of fewer than 500 persons in the middle of Washington County about 10 miles south of Chipley.

Why not the possum, an unlikely hero to say the least? Nobody else puts the possum on a pedestal. Why not Wausau?

Secondly, back in 1982, Wausau got tired of being left out of the Florida lists of fun, fairs and festivals. Every place in Florida needs a festival. And not one place in Florida has a Possum Festival. Why not Wausau?

If you’ve never been to Washington County, you probably will think I’m making this up. If you have been to Washington County, you’ll understand – and know this is a true story.

Wausau, it turned out, had some pretty powerful possum politicians in the early ‘80s. Here are a few things they accomplished:

  • They persuaded the Florida Legislature to proclaim the first Saturday in August as Possum Day in Florida. That led to the building of the monument along State Highway 77 in Wausau.
  • They even got the United States Congress to promote the possum. Congress joined the fun by providing the funds for Wausau’s Possum Palace so Wausau could have a place to hold its annual Fun Day and Possum Festival. Featuring a queen contest and possum auction, among other things, the festival attracts thousands of people each year, and they love it.

Time out for some educating of Northerners here. The South’s possum is the same lowly animal you call opossum, (Why use seven letters when six will do?) It’s a smallish marsupial that lives in trees and shows its ugly body only at night. That’s why, when you’re in the right place in Florida, you can hear possum hunters’ dogs baying and barking. Treed by dogs, the possum ‘freezes’, so it’s not difficult to catch (or shoot) one.

An inscription on the monument in the middle of Wausau cites the possum’s role in providing ‘both fur and food’ throughout the centuries. It goes on to say:

‘Their presence here has provided a source of nutritious and flavorful food in normal times and has been an important aid to human survival in times of distress and critical need.’

Laugh if you like. The people of Wausau will laugh with you – while downing baked possum and sweet potatoes.

 

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