In the darkest depths of the Great Depression, Ridgeway and the surrounding hamlets would occasionally be visited by an itinerant from the backcountry who followed the rails and the old 313 from place to place. At first the man was largely left to his own devices, but it soon became know that many of the vacant and barren lots in which he spent time between sojourns would blossom forth with fruit and flower after his departure.

Eventually, a man who’d lost his job when the sawmill closed approached the itinerant, who had no known name but was occasionally referred to as Garden Joe. The millworker asked for a batch of barren soil near his house to be blessed with produce so that his family might supplement their meager diet. At first “Garden Joe” refused, but the millworker prevailed upon him.

The itinerant agreed to help on three conditions: that he be left totally alone, unmolested, and unobserved on the land for 24 hours, that he be paid with a single silver nickel with a hole punched through it, and that the nickel be hung from a string in a nearby tree before it was collected. The millworker, desperate, agreed.

The lot next door soon blossomed forth with a bounty of fruits and vegetables, and the silver coin was collected three days later.

Word soon spread, and throughout Ridgeway and nearby country towns “Garden Joe” was deluged with similar offers. He made the same three requests to all comers, substituting a penny or a dime if the people involved were particularly poor or well-off. Each time, as promised, the garden would grow.

Eventually, travelers began speaking of Garden Joe’s shack in the wilderness, surrounded by floral beauty. Next to the house, people said, was an old dead tree with branches weighed down with silver coins on strings. It was inevitable in those hard times that someone would eventually seek to see for themselves.

A ne’er-do-well from Ridgeway named Samson eventually decided that he wanted more than beauty and food from Garden Joe. He followed the man back to his home and stole a single silver nickel from the tree to show to would-be confederates who could then help him steal the entire thing. He enticed a half-dozen Ridgeway down-and-outers to do so.

The next day, Ridgeway awoke to find their gardens brown and dead; even those who had canned or iceboxed their harvest found it rotten and inedible. Samson was unable to locate the house again despite the notes and trail markers he’d left; his “friends” wound up taking their share out of his hide.

And Garden Joe? He was never seen in those parts again.

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