Friday, October 26, 2012

THE HANGING TREE OF GEM CITY


            The name is forgotten, maybe because those who remember simply want to forget.
            But the memory lingers like a child’s nightmare, the repressed one deep in the seat of the subconscious, this one deep in the woods outside Toronto, taking one deep in time, back to Camp Crumb, where time seems to cease.
            The tale of the Hanging Tree has been passed on from generation to generation until now it looms high with other urban legends.  Is it truly legend, a myth worthy of the lunatic with the prosthetic hook, or just another haunted forest yarn to scare schoolboys on pitch dark, campfire nights?
            As the legend goes, a distraught man hanged himself near the cliffs at Camp Crumb sometime during the 1930s.  Camp Crumb is situated a quarter-mile up Sloane’s Run along the northeastern base of Wallace Hill.  During the latter decade of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th, it was a popular site for picnics and other outdoor excursions.  Hundreds of initials tattooed into the bald gray beech trees still attest to this day how popular Camp Crumb once was. 
            These ancient gray trees cast gentle shadows of upon a terrace tasseled with ferns rimming bench-sized sandstones velveted with moss and lichens, a site during the day Zen-like, an ambience tranquil enough to meditate.  But after the sun goes down…“That’s where a man hanged himself,” s said Dick Walker, who has lived all his 54 years in Toronto. 
"My mother and some old-timers told me how the man hanged himself with a chain at Camp Crum and 
that he remained missing for two weeks until his dog drug his hand home.  When the search party 
arrived at Camp Crum all they found was the man’s head swinging from a chain wrapped around a 
limb of a beach tree near a cliff.”
His late mother told Walker the hanged man’s name, but he can only remember the gruesome details 
and that the man worked for Mike Henry probably during the 1930s at the White Front Café.
“I heard too many people talk about the Hanging Tree to pass it off as some campfire tale,” Walker 
said.  “Besides, something is weird up there at night. Just makes your skin crawl.  Me and five other 
guys tried camping out there overnight when we were young, but it’s just too spooky.  Plenty of other 
guys have tried sleeping out up Camp Crum and nobody can claim he made it to daylight.”
“I remember one night like it was yesterday, said Pat Daughtery about an adventure he shared with 
Walker at Camp Crumb.  “There were six of us laughing up a storm, telling stories and suddenly we 
heard a chain clanging high in the beech trees.  We took off so fast we forgot to pick up our beer.”
“We called it the Hanging Tree,” said Joe Nemitt Sr. recalling boyhood excursions to the tragic site.  
We got scared quickly and didn’t stick around long.”
Some old-timers believe this lightning-charred beech tree is the notorious Hanging Tree of Camp Crum.    Others claim  the victim boosted himself upon "Scaffold Rock" before completing the deed.  
“I wouldn’t camp out there with 50 guys and two kegs and a bucket of holy water,” added Daughtery, 
“and I bet no one else would last there more than a couple of hours.”

EDITOR'S NOTE:  I, too, tried camping out at Camp Crumb.  I did not last two hours.