Edisto Island Mattress Tree – Charleston, South Carolina
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This quirky novelty along South Carolina Highway 174 stands proud as a testament to the offbeat spirit of Edisto Island. The Edisto Island Mattress Tree is one of two celebrated local landmarks that locals and visitors alike have come to love about the island, the other is the famous Edisto Island Mystery Tree. Over the years the mattress tree has become a roadside oddity where visitors can stop to photograph one of the true pieces of what makes South Carolina undeniably wonderful.
Known to some locals as Mattress Point, this mattress swing was the idea of Edisto Island native, Frank “Tish” Gadsden, whose mother was a direct descendant of slaves on the island. It is said that the mattress tree began as a bit of a “dog house” for Tish when he partook in libations and his wife would get angry. He is noted as saying he had a cot on the ground and he looked above to the gnarling branches of this ancient oak and thought to himself to hang his bedding in a tree like a hammock. What began to locals in the 1970s as a curiosity or eyesore became a beloved landmark where friends would come to visit, play cards and lovingly tell tall tales. Tish once had a fruit stand here but his business would later become charging people a nominal fee to take a picture of his landmark that was sure to become a legend. Every summer a new mattress was put out on the tree and each winter it was taken down.
By 2009, Tish had passed away and much to the dismay of many, the mattress came down for what was thought to be forever. Thankfully, family members continued the tradition and the mattress was back in full swing by at least 2013. Today, the once bare mattresses are highly decorated for each coming holiday or season adding to the festive cheer of Edisto once again. Artist Charlotte Hutson-Wrenn described it best when she said: “It was part of the myth of this island paradise. Lying in a hammock is a traditional summertime habit for those who come to the beach for vacation. For visitors to the island, it reminds us of the importance of taking a nap, of putting our feet up, of swinging the day away, “Edislow” style.“
This painting was completed by the talented artist Becky Lee of Walterboro. Becky was largely self taught and mused “I never could color between the lines.” My earliest memories of being an artist began as a child, as soon as I could hold pencil and crayon.“ My mother complained that she could never keep me in notebook paper because I drew on everything.” After some helpful guidance from a primary school art school teacher and later, a thoughtful husband and art coach, she has developed her own style that depicts the Lowcountry in a fresh and energetic way.
Reflections on the Edisto Island Mattress Tree
This swing hanging from the boughs of a large old oak tree on Edisto Island is definitely one-of-a-kind. Rusty Williamson of North Charleston provided an interesting story about this unique swing. He writes: “Where that tree stands was once a run-down mobile home, owned by a native of the island we called ‘Tish.’ My uncle befriended him over the years and we got to know him fairly well. He would take us shrimping back in the creeks behind his property, land left to him by his mother, a direct descendant of the original slaves on the island. Many years ago, a highway patrol officer plowed his car through the mobile home after failing to maneuver the curve in the road. My uncle gave Tish materials to help repair the damage [along with] the first mattress that ever hung from that tree. The story I remember is that Tish’s wife would make him sleep outside in the summer when he took to fits of drinking and not bathing for a few days.”
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