Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Camden's 'Castro Tree' is stark reminder of mysterious Wilcox County disappearance

"Castro Tree" in downtown Camden, Ala.
One of the most mysterious places in all of Wilcox County is the lonely pecan tree behind the old newspaper office on Claiborne Street in downtown Camden.

Nicknamed the “Castro Tree,” many in the reading audience will know that this spooky tree is located in the Roses Express Store parking lot, where it has sat in silent watch over the comings and goings of downtown Camden for decades.

The nickname for this eerie tree was coined by the late Mark Curl, a former county commissioner who grew up working at the old newspaper office, which was once located in the small white building on Claiborne Street between Jackson’s Fried Chicken and Railroad Street. Today, the old newspaper building bears a sign for the Honey Comb braiding shop.

According to Curl, when he was a young man working at the newspaper in the late 70s and early 80s, he would often go out behind the newspaper building to take breaks beneath the old pecan tree. During this time, over a span of a few years, Curl would often be visited by a young man on a bicycle known only as “Castro.” This young man would visit Curl by the tree like clockwork, and Curl said he looked forward to seeing him.

One reason that Curl looked forward to talking with Castro was because Castro seemed to have an uncanny knowledge of the local criminal underworld. He often knew who was committing burglaries and other unsolved street crimes, and Curl said that when the newspaper followed up on his news tips, Castro proved to be “very accurate.”

Curl said that Castro’s visits came to an end when he visited him one Thursday beneath the pecan tree to say that he knew who killed a local man who’d been found murdered beside the interstate in Greenville. Curl said that they’d already put the paper out for that week, so he advised Castro to go to the police with his information, with the understanding that they would meet back up three or four days later to work up a story on the murder for the following week’s paper.

Castro left on his bicycle, peddling towards the police station, and that was the last that Curl ever saw of him. Weeks later, Curl asked the police if Castro ever showed up to talk with them about the murder, and officers told Curl that no one had come by with any information about the case. Curl found this hard to believe, and then the story took a sharp turn for the weird.

Not only did Castro not go to the police, officers had no idea who Curl was talking about. Curl told police that they had to know Castro because he’d been riding his bicycle up and down Camden’s streets for years. Police said they had no idea who he was talking about and that they’d never seen anyone matching Castro’s description.

At that point in the tale, it seemed to dawn on Curl just how little he himself actually knew about Castro. Curl said that he realized that he really didn’t know who Castro was or where he’d come from. He didn’t know Castro’s last name, and he had no way of knowing how Castro knew the things he knew. Maybe worst of all, he didn’t know where he’d went or what ultimately happened to him. He’d simply disappeared.

Reading between the lines, Curl indicated that there was perhaps something supernatural about Castro and when you look back through legends and folklore of the past, ghostly messengers of this type are not unheard of. While they might not have been riding a bicycle, old stories of ghostly messengers on foot and horseback are somewhat common especially in places like England, Ireland and Scotland. Was Castro some type of ghostly messenger or was he a real, flesh and blood man who simply disappeared for unknown reasons?

Curl described Castro as a “young, good looking” man, who was “very clean cut.” In the end, I’d be interested in hearing from any readers with more information about Castro. Who was he and what happened to him? Also, I’d like to hear from anyone in the reading audience who has had any unusual experiences or seen anything out of the ordinary around the “Castro Tree” in downtown Camden.

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