Celebrating the road kill without the kill

June 12, 1992|By New York Times News Service

ARCADIA, La. -- Unless Rodney Cook comes to his senses or local businessmen succeed in keeping his dream alive, this could be the last year Arcadia will host its annual Possum Festival.

Like the Clute Mosquito Festival in Texas, Hillbilly Days in Pikeville, Ky., Swine Time in Climax, Ga., and other small-town festivals throughout the South, the Possum Festival started small, 10 years ago.

"I got to looking at all the furballs in the road," said Mr. Cook, who is 55, referring to the familiar roadside aftermath of one-car, one-possum collisions. ". . . So I just decided we needed to help possums, so I formed Possums Unlimited, or PU for short."

Things began slowly with a handful of members, $2.89 lifetime memberships in PU, and an inaugural banquet in downtown Arcadia. Mr. Cook said he sold only 10 tickets but 200 or 300 people showed up.

Since then, the Possum Festival, scheduled for June 27 this year, has become a major annual event attracting up to 4,000 people.

There are T-shirts -- Batpossum, Ninja Possum, "Run over to the Possum Festival" -- and annual posters, this year featuring a possum in a '57 Chevrolet tooling down the road leaving squashed people lying behind. Charities get the proceeds, about $120,000 in nine years, Mr. Cook said.

But, as Mr. Cook has learned, putting on an annual festival is no small job. He said he had lost money putting the event on, and he's ready to bow out.

Many here wonder if Mr. Cook can be replaced.

He plans to continue with Possums Unlimited, but even that involvement may have peaked now that he's found the answer to the ultimate question in possumdom: why so many commit highway hari-kari.

"We've found out the reason they're in the highway is incoming car tires sound like a crate of apples overturning," he said. "They do like fruit."

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