Strange happenings at Lake Junaluska
Lake Junaluska is loved for a century of sanctuary, worship, and spiritual revelation. But that’s not all the assembly has contributed to history.
There was the talking mule who offended a bishop and the bullfrog named for a long-winded preacher . And the man who dove from an airplane into the lake, nearly killing himself. Years later, the lake surface stirred under a pilot’s wings again when a visitor landed his plane in the water.
Finally, the mystery remains more than a half century later: Why did thousands of frogs emerge from the lake one evening and try to cross the road?
The carnage, according to newspaper reports, was horrific.
On Aug. 13, 1921, stuntman B.R. “Fearless Scotty” China dove into Lake Junaluska from an airplane before attendees of the Layman’s Conference. Newspaper clippings reflect promotions of the week before:
“Will he land safely?” a Hendersonville newspaper clipping asked of the pilot, Roscoe Turner. “After flirting with death and blowing kisses at an unknown fate, Lieut. Turner will alight from the cockpit of his plane while “Fearless” Scotty is coming ashore from the waters of the lake, and they will clasp hands and say, “All is well until the next time.”
Later reports state “Fearless Scotty” did complete the dive from the “aeroplane,” but was pulled from the water badly bruised and barely conscious. Turner had failed to fly as low as intended and rather than disappoint viewers, the stuntman plunged into the waters anyway. He did recover, and the audience was not disappointed.
Ten years later, another airplane stunt of sorts caught the attention of Lake Junaluska when Joe Baylor, a pilot in the U.S. Army Aviation Corps, “dropped in” for a visit with his parents – by landing his hydroplane in the lake.
Francis for Frances
Campaigns for queen often featured the unusual, from the floats on which candidates presented themselves on the lake with themes from television shows to food and chivalry. But in 1950, Jim Hart recruited “Francis the talking mule” to campaign for Frances Cobb. The mule was tied along Lakeshore Drive and rigged to a speaker tied into the soda shop, where Hart worked. Passersby would be regaled with the message, “Vote for Francis Cobb.” Though the stunt did not amuse all church leaders, Frances was crowned Junaluska Queen. Hart would later go into the ministry with the lady Frances as his wife.
Not all animals have been welcomed at the lake. Stuart Auditorium’s enclosure and concrete flooring in 1951 was reported compelled in part by dogs and their fleas. Before the enclosure, according to Bill Lowry’s account of Mason Crum’s stories, dogs would leave their fleas, which would live in the sawdust floor. The enclosure also helped decrease distractions caused by birds and dogs.
Bullfrogs and the great migration
Crum, a Duke professor and longtime summer resident of Lake Junaluska, taught his family to appreciate the sights and sounds of nature, including the bullfrogs whose deep chorus would resound near sunset. In a memoir attached to the reprinting of Crum’s book, “A History of Lake Junaluska,” his son-in-law described one evening when the frogs were particularly loud during the evening preaching.
“Following the service Dr. W.H. Allen, the Lake Superintendent, brought a visitor over to the drug store and complained about the noise of the frogs. ‘Those frogs have to go,’ he said. ‘We can’t hear the speaker.’ Dr. Crum spoke up and said, ‘I’d rather hear the frogs.’ It was only then that Dr. Crum learned that the visitor with Dr. Allen was the evening preacher.
“It is reported that the Crum children had names for every frog, and most of the frogs were named for bishops,” the account added.
Frogs cross the road
Some frogs did not live so long as the Crum family pets. The rainy evening of Sept. 24, 1955, “thousands upon thousands of little bullfrogs left the shallow waters of Lake Junaluska and covered the highway from Richland Creek Bridge to the West Entrance Gate of the Assembly,” The Mountaineer reported. “At one point where the highway is near to the shore of the Lake, the pavement was about an inch deep in the mashed frogs that had been killed by heavy traffic.
“… The highway at first glance looked like it was covered with leaves. From the overhead bridge to Camp Adventure to the Richland Creek bridge, the highway had a grey appearance as the entire surface was covered with dead frogs.” While the road from the West Gate of the assembly was also covered in frogs, the fatality rate was much lower, given the lighter traffic.
The air, according to the reporter, smelled like mashed fish.
The bull that charged the train
Not all strange animal tales at Junaluska are humorous. On May 9, 1917, a bull rammed a freight train coming through the “white cut,” named for the clay on its banks, just before the Lake Junaluska depot. The bull had escaped from its pasture and upon spotting the train, lowered its head and charged. Herbert Gibson, whose father was the station agent at the lake, wrote an account based on interviews with witnesses:
“The cow-catcher on the first locomotive failed to toss the bull aside. The bull was cut in two, and the bull’s front quarters, hide, horns, etc. wrapped around the wheels, derailing the engines, which left the track and went down the steep embankment on the left side, facing east.
The train had been pulled by two locomotives. Loyd Enloe, 21, fireman on the first locomotive, was scalded to death from steam escaping a broken line. The two engineers and the second fireman escaped serious injury, though one fireman had to be pulled from an avalanche of spilled coal.