A Tennessee iguana story

The subject of this tale, as told by the mayor of a tiny town in eastern Tennessee, was a moonshiner, which has little bearing on the story itself.

I had a taxidermy job. And there was this fella from over the other side of Elizabethton, toward Bristol, had a zoo. And he came down there one day and he had this dead ostrich and these dead iguanas — lizards. He wanted me to mount them for him. Well, I took them in and I put the lizards in the freezer and I skinned out the ostrich. And he didn’t come back and give me a deposit or anything, so I didn’t do anything with them.

About a year later, I thought, I’ll get one of those iguanas out and mount it, and maybe he’ll come pick it up. So I got one of those iguana lizards out. I wasn’t there when he came — he came and picked it up and he didn’t pay for it. And that’s the last I heard of him.

So these other iguana lizards were in my freezer for three or four years there. One day I was cleaning the freezer out. I swear to this. You can look this up. I got those iguanas out and you could hold them and their tail would touch the floor — nice, big, pretty iguanas. And I got a couple of those out — I had a couple of them left, and I didn’t want them.

Well, I had a neighbor that lived next door to me down there. He went behind the house and over the railroad track to milk his cow every day. He was always going on about snakes. Snakes don’t bother me at all. But I thought it was funny, you know. I thought, I’m going to play a joke on him.

So I took those two iguanas and I laid them up on the railroad track, where he would cross and he would see them. And I was just waiting on him to come and tell me about these iguanas — the lizards that he saw up there.

I didn’t hear from him. I thought, something’s going on here. And I went down the road and stopped at Miss Renfro’s store, which is where you cut out, 67A down there, at the corner. There’s nothing there now but an empty building. I got gas, I went in to get me a Coke. She said, “Did you see what they found behind your house down there?” I said no. She said, “Well, it’s on the front page of the Johnson City Press.” I went over, picked up the newspaper, and there was Art [here he held his arms out as if displaying a couple trophy fish], standing there with these strange lizards that he went and turned in at the newspaper. And told them that he was walking down the railroad tracks with his dog, and that those lizards attacked him. This was the wording: “It took him several minutes to subdue them.”

And they said he had scratches on his arm! Really the scratches were, he had been into the moonshine still. But he told them that he killed those lizards down there. They took them to the university, ETSU, and some professor over there in the biology department assumed that they got on the train in South America and fell off the train. . . . It’s in the Johnson City news. If you go back into the archives, I guarantee you’ll find it.