The town of Wausau in Florida is a quiet pocket of the state with a full-time population of fewer than 400 people. But during the first weekend of August, thousands of visitors pour into the town to celebrate a local hero: the possum.
Wausau is home to more possums than humans, and is the “Possum Capital” of the world. The furry marsupials have lived in the region for more than a century and were a crucial source of food during times of hardship like the Great Depression. Their meat was often the only available protein, and the people of Wausau have never forgotten that.
(It’s worth noting that that “possum” is the colloquial term many Americans use to refer to Virginia opossums. There actually aren’t any possums in North America. They are found in Australia and are very distant relatives of opossums—they are actually more closely related to kangaroos.)
The Possum Festival started in 1970. In 1982, a resolution was passed to recognize the first Saturday of August as the state’s Possum Day, which has become an iconic annual celebration. A possum parade, an auction, and a contest to crown a Possum King and Queen are some of the most popular events. Politicians have often participated and even made appearances with the favored furry creatures in an attempt to win over locals.
A permanent tribute to the possum is seen in the form of a 12-foot monument, built also in 1982. It is engraved with the words, “Erected in grateful recognition of the role the North American possum, a magnificent survivor of the marsupial family pre-dating the ages of the mastodon and the dinosaur has played in furnishing both food and fur for the early settlers and their successors. Their presence here has provided a source of nutritious and flavorful food in normal times and has been important aid to human survival in times of distress and critical need.”