Obituary--Pogo Possum dies by hit-and-run accident

Pogo Possum, a cartoon personality and one of the last surviving members of the “Okefenokee Eleven,” died December 5.  Mr. Possum brought blue-eyed cheer and soft satire to millions of Americans during the dark years of the Cold War and the McCarthy Era. He was 66--an exceptionally advanced age for a marsupial.

He died the victim of an apparent hit-and-run accident on South Owen Drive in Madison, WI. In a bizarre turn of events, a pedestrian spotted his flattened body in the middle of the possum crossing, and took a cell phone photo, running off to summon the City’s animal body detail. But when they arrived, the remains had disappeared, leaving only a furry grease spot on the road. After several days of deliberation, the Cartoon Coroner pronounced him “out of print.” The SPCA is conducting an investigation.

Accident scene--the cell phone photo

Possum began work in the cartoon industry in 1943, soon growing into the rounder, baby-faced contours of Disney characters. He was famous for introducing political and social satire into comics. But satire led to his phone being tapped by the FBI, and some officials wondered whether the whimsical banter of Pogo and his friends was a code produced by Russian spies.  More

Pogo and his gang of Okefenokee misfits portrayed an ideal southern society, without species divisions.

His increasing popularity led to an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1952. His campaign slogan, “I go Pogo,” became an expression of protest. Perhaps the most famous quotation attributed to Mr. Possum is: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Possum’s longtime friend, Churchy LaFemme said: “That quote says it all… about why our lakes are in trouble.”

Churchy LaFemme was last seen headed south.
"This city ain't safe for critters."

In his later years, controversy swirled around his name, while partisans all but forgot the old marsupial himself. Legally, it’s Possum, but the National Association of Taxonomists long championed Opossum, while the Society of English Teachers campaigned for ‘Possum ( the apostrophe to signify the missing “O”). Meanwhile, the Irish claimed it was O’Possum. Next, proponents of Intelligent Design argued that, since opossums hadn’t changed in 60 million years, that meant evolution was dead.

Possum was close to his father, Walt Kelly, and after Kelly’s death in 1973, Pogo entered decline.

Possum moved to New Orleans, where locals failed to appreciated his gentle wit. With the destruction from Hurricane Katrina, Possum became a refugee, eventually moving to the Hillcrest-Upland Greenway, where he established residence in hollow tree #190.

Home in the greenway

Bucky Badger is one of the few who knew Possum during his last years in Madison. The two used to visit the Memorial Union after closing time, drinking leftover beer from discarded cups. Badger said, “He wasn’t very talkative… he’d just lean back against that wall, there, and look up at the sky. Kind of sad. He used to be even more famous… than I am. And now, he’s just a... varmint."

Some say Possum moved here with high hopes of starting a casino. According to Badger, Possum said: “We marsupials aren’t bound by any treaties. We’re the Original Americans--we’ve been here 12 million years, and I think that gives us some rights.” Possum thought there was enough traffic on Midvale Blvd to support a small casino in a hollow tree. Badger said, "It's ironic that the same traffic he dreamed about for the casino--that traffic’s what done him in.”

In recent weeks, neighbors say Possum was despondent over plans by the City to destroy the greenway as wildlife habitat. Possum’s tree was slated for demolition, and his favorite pool at the head of the ravine was going to be buried in riprap.

“Chewing some of those danged ribbons on trees was his last protest, before he gave up,“ said Churchy. “I think he just lost heart. Probably just stepped in front of a that car, if you know what I mean."
Despondent over greenway plans

Possum leaves no known survivors, although he is rumored to have many half siblings from his father’s days in the Disney Studios and Dell Comics. His stepmother Selby Kelly died in 2005, after several attempts to revive Possum’s following.

Neighbors of the greenway regret not knowing about the illustrious old marsupial living in their midst. They have pledged to remember Possum by revamping Madison’s Board of Public Works, to make it more responsive to the public.

Resident Liz McBride said, “Posthumously, he‘s still the Protest Possum. People are going to rally to save his hollow tree from the saw." The funeral date is to be announced.  Thousands are expected.

Tiptoeing over limestone riprap. Ouch.

All drawings except Bucky are by Walt Kelly (copyright OGPI), used here under "fair use" provision of law. Photos copyright by David Thompson

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