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The Tree Sitters Of 1930

By - Roger Jewell



Mark Twain said the worst thing that can happen to a great story is the unexpected arrival of an eyewitness. I discovered a great story recently about a large number of young men in 1930. Considering the number of years that have passed since 1930, I don't think any eyewitnesses will be arriving anytime soon to spoil the tale. History has always been a partisan sport. Nobody talks about this particular tale anymore. This local history has been forgotten a very long time ago. The names of the folks in this story might be recalled today as good men in the community or complete jerks. But, what these ol' boys accomplished or tried to accomplish have blanketed away by the passage of time and from 1930 to 2024 is a heck of a very long time. So there we go.


On July 18th of 1930, the Greenville News published a photograph of 14 year old Jack Richards of Kansas City on the front page. The picture appeared under a headline which read, "Sits In Tree For 156 Hours".


Young Richards, on purpose, intended to sit on a tree limb from mid July to the end of September 1930. He ended that attempt after only 156 hours. ONLY 156 hours? Well, while it was way short of his goal, it was reported as a national United States Of America by gosh national record because nobody else had sat on a tree limb for that long and was bold enough to tell anybody about it.


Word spread like wildfire in a popcorn factory and other attempts were reported. In Fort Worth, Texas Oscar Fox crashed from his tree perch when he fell asleep and fell out of the tree with two broken ribs. Joseph Donnelly of Samford, Conn., prevented the same fate of Fox by handcuffing himself to a tree but his problem was the fact that the tree was not in his own yard. Cops uncuffed Donnelly and removed his from his neighbor's tree. There were no trees in Donnelly's yard so he gave up the effort.


Three days after the newspaper article and photo hit the streets boys climbed trees around Greenville, South Carolina with the intentions of setting the national record. It started locally when two boys climbed a tree and told their parents they could expect them home in about a week or so. These two boys were Bill Bailey, age 10 of Blue Ridge Drive and Clifford Norton, age 11 of North Franklin Road in the Sans Souci community. They tied themselves to a tree to keep from falling out during their sleep periods. By July 25th the number of boys sitting in trees around Greenville grew to 32. That list included the following: Clifton Naughton (Blue Ridge Drive) Billy Bailey (Blue Ridge Drive), Hoyle Snoddy (Easley Bridge Road), I.M. Bussey Jr., (Laurens Road), Louis Fisher (Laurens Road), Lee Reynolds (Mulberry Street), Billy Garraux (Mulberry Street), Earl Durham (West Greenville), Mirram Gibson (Martin Street), Frances Brown (Martin Street0, Johnny Green (East Parker Road), Eugene Bradshaw (Woodside Avenue), Harold Chaney (Woodside Avenue), William Charles (Ebaugh Avenue), William Barnes (Ebaugh Avenue), Jack Haskins (Overbrook), Bill Williams (Overbrook), Richard Trexel (Overbrook), James Smith (College Street), Joe Wood (Main Street), Johnny Wood (Main Street), John Viser (East Earle Street), Millford Coleman (Norwood Street), Haskell Gosnell (Fall Street), James Jewell (Fall Street), George Ledbetter (Summit Drive), George Chicken Holder (McBeth Street) Douglas King (Easley Bridge Road).


The first two boys, Bill Bailey and Clifford Norton volunteered their opinions to the newspaper and said tree sitting is an art and anyone sitting in a tree house should not be included. They also expressed the opinion that businesses should not bring food to tree sitters and food should be provided by the boys' individual families.


On July 29th three sisters in Anderson heard about the tree sitters of Greenville and decided to do something different. So, they decided to climb to the top of their father's garage and spend the night despite the efforts of their mother who tried to explain the dangers of burglars, mosquitoes, polecats and such. The sisters spent a restful night on that roof and enjoyed it so much that they said they would do it again some night.


Back in Greenville, with so many boys sitting in trees the Greenville Chief of Police figured he had to do something. Chief J.E Smith felt that the spirit of tree sitting was deep seated in private enterprise and the City of Greenville should not be made party to any sustained perching attempts. Smith ordered his sergeants on July 24th "You will inntrust all officers to see that no one be allowed to sit in trees that are on city soil. This will be strictly enforced."


By July 30th only three of the original Greenville tree sitters were still sitting in their respective trees. Lee Reynolds was still in his tree shed on Mulberry Street. Norman Bussey was still in his tree behind the nurses' residence building at City Hospital on Laurens Road and John Wood was still sitting in an oak behind Hartzog's Drug Store on Main Street. Not even a Greenville visit by baseball legend Ty Cobb or July thunderstorms could bring the three tree sitters down from their perches.


The two original sitters in Sans Souci, Clifton Naughton and Billy Bailey left their trees after 215 hours.


On July 31st Bussey braved a lightning bolt which shook his tree shack while John Wood said he was staying in his tree until after the autumn leaves start to fall. Wood changed his clothes while sitting in the tree exchanging his tree duds for a swimming suit. On August 18th Wood said he felt as if he had gained about fifteen pounds during his month's tree sit due to good food being delivered to him from Hartzog's Drug Store and the Greenvillian Coffee Shop.


On August 21st Wood (age 11) was reportedly passing his tree sitting time by reading books and magazines and playing his harmonica. Wood's tree limb perch was a wood platform while Reynolds (age 15) sat in a comfortable treehouse.


By August 31st Wood, Reynolds and Bussey were starting to get nervous due to commands coming from school authorities as school was set to re-start after Labor Day in September.


On September 4th Wood spent his 42nd night still perched in the top of a slender tree, swaying in the wind. Lee Reynolds led the competition in his treehouse with 1,080 hours while Wood had 1,032 hours and Bussey trailed in third with 936 hours. On September 10th Reynolds ended his tree sit and came down to earth to attend classes at Greenville High School. This left Wood and Bussey still in their respective trees. Wood continued to sit in his tree while reading school books.


On September 26th Bussey came down from his tree near the City Hospital after sitting in his tree for 1,471 hours. After coming down he enjoyed a luxury bath and a warm meal and made tracks over to John Wood's tree. At 9 pm Wood, with the championship in hand, came down from his tree with the endurance record of 1,545 hours. Wood's championship reward was a cigar box containing donations at Hartzog Drug Store and a free trip to Washington D.C which was given to him by his older brother.



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