The Virtual Corkscrew Museum's Occasional Newspaper

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

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Corkscrew Tree

On November 28, 2003 we published this:

Saucier, Mississippi - Here is a Ripley's "Believe it or Not" cocktail napkin. Do any readers know the story of the Cork Screw Tree near Saucier, Mississippi?

Diana Borzik responded:

I have a photo that was taken about 1939 with my Uncle Louis Borzik standing in the center of the tree. The Corkscrew Tree was located on what was then the Borzik family's land (80 acres). My Uncle John Borzik found the tree while hunting and he is the one that took the photo and Aunt Mary Borzik sent it to what was then the newspaper art column, "Ripley's Believe It or Not" in The Daily Herald.

The news feature apparently was so popular that The Corkscrew Tree was used in novelties (such as the napkins). Both my Uncles & my Aunt said they were disappointed in the drawing that Ripley's used because it didn't look like the real tree. Aunt Mary said, "But I guess it made us famous for a short time" because people in near by communities were tracking across the Borzik land to get a look at the tree.

The tree was located on the bank of the Big Biloxi River about 2 miles south of the Saucier- Lizana Road. The Borzik land was located on the Biloxi River about 2 mile west of Old Highway 49. Diana Borzik

Diana sent us a copy of a 1988 newspaper clipping:

"The mystery of the Corkscrew Tree is solved.


Four of the well-known journalism "Ws" have been satisfied for the arboreal oddity once located in rural Harrison County, and the who, what, when and where do make interesting reading. But the why - the reason behind its unusual shape - remains elusive.

The tree looked like bark had been wrapped around a huge cylinder, and the cylinder was removed to leave the spiraled bark free-standing.

"It's just one of those unexplained things, a freak of nature," assures the woman who helped unravel this story.

The coastwide search for the elusive tree was launched April 16 when Coast Chronicles published the photograph of an old cocktail napkin with a drawing of the tree and the words "Corkscrew Tree near Saucier, Mississippi." It had been part of a collection of Ripley's Believe It Or Not napkins that depicted oddities from across the world.

Earlier history sleuthing by Coast Chronicles had failed to locate the tree or uncover any tidbits about it. So readers were asked to help play detective.

"I have seen the tree many a time," wrote Harry Bowman of Gulfport. "The tree was located on the bank of Big Biloxi River about 2 miles of the Saucier-Lizana Road.

"It was about 40 feet tall. I can't remember what kind of a tree it was, but I do know it was not a pine. I know it was standing in 1939, the year I enlisted in the service. I believe a Mr. Borzik who lived near the tree sent a picture to Ripley's Believe It Or Not some time before 1939."


Then came the double bingo.

About the time Bowman was sitting down to write his letter, Miss Mary Borzik called the newsroom. She said that here family once owned the land that nurtured the tree.

"When my brother John first found the tree, it was alive because there were branches at the top of it with leaves," she said "It was a magnolia tree, though you wouldn't have know it be the unusual trunk, which looked like someone had carved it into a giant corkscrew."

Today, Mary and 82-year-old John are spending their retirement years together in a west Gulfport house. Another brother, Louis, lives nearby.

They had moved to Mississippi in 1922 as a family of seven. Her immigrant parents, Mike and Mary Borzik from Czechoslovakia, had sold their Kansas bakery and headed to the warmer climate and inexpensive farm land of South Mississippi.

Originally they had planned to truck farm in Long Beach, but instead found 80 acres on Biloxi River, about two miles west of Old Highway 49. There, they cleared 20 acres for farming and built a house. The five children, of which Mary was the youngest and the only girl, enjoyed romping in the woods, mastering the river's swimming hole and stalking game.

On a hunting expedition in the mid to late-1930s John first noticed the unusual tree about 100 yards from the river bank, nestled among a thick grove of trees and underbrush. Soon others from nearby communities were trekking across the Borzik land to gander at the aptly nicknamed Corkscrew Tree.

"It looks like it was carved into a corkscrew, but it wasn't done by man," Mary said. "Our brother Louis wondered if maybe a vine twisted around it and caused the trunk to become deformed over the years.

"But the marks were so evenly spaced that it didn't seem to make much sense. It's just on of those mysteries that will never to solved."

The tree was hollow, as so many old magnolias often are, but Mary and John distinctly remember live branches at the top. John took a photograph and sent it to what was then the newspaper art column, Ripley's Believe It or Not. The news feature was so popular that it was also used in a book and in assorted novelties, such as the cocktail napkin.

"Ripley's use our tree," she said. "We saw it in the newspaper - The Daily Herald, I think - probably about 1939.

"But we were disappointed in the drawing that Ripley's used. It wasn't the photograph, and it really didn't look like the real tree.

"But I guess it made us famous for a little while."

The tree didn't last much longer. Mary believes it fell over from decay helped along by storm winds. At the time, John brought home a piece of it's twisted trunk, but it has long since disappeared.

The rest of the Corkscrew Tree dissolved into the ground from which it had sprang. And its secret dissolved with it.

A footnote from Diana:

When Aunt Mary Borzik cut the clipping she failed to clip the date of the paper. The photo it self was taken in 1939, the newspaper states that Uncle John Borzik (who discovered the tree) was 82 years old so that would put the article as being written in 1988 because he was born in 1906. My Uncle Loius (the one in the tree) was about 23 ears old at the time it was taken. Uncle John passed away 85 years of age but Aunt Mary age 84 and Uncle Louis is age 88 still lives in Mississippi.

Thank you Diana.

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©2004 Don Bull, Editor


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