Cleveland’s favorite goblin may be retired, but the legend of Tall Betsy will soon live on in a new documentary from an award-winning filmmaker.
Zac Adams, owner of Nashville-based Skydive Films, is working with entrepreneur and philanthropist Allan Jones to bring Tall Betsy — the goblin known for walking with a cane made from a Persimmon tree — back to life.
The partnership is fitting since Jones — best known as the pioneer of the payday loan industry who created Check Into Cash — also pioneered the modern Tall Betsy legend more than three decades ago. Jones’ mother, Gincy, as well as his grandmother, Marie Slaughter, told him tales of the Tall Betsy goblin during his childhood in Cleveland.
Although Jones allowed Adams access to a treasure trove of private Tall Betsy memorabilia — including never-seen-before videos — the director is reaching out to local residents so that he can dig deeper into the past of the goblin who resides in Fort Hill Cemetery and, according to legend, stands more than 7 feet tall.
“Tall Betsy is an essential part of the history of Cleveland and there will be secrets revealed in this film that have never been brought to light,” Adams said. “I would also love to hear from the thousands of people who were young when the famous goblin was roaming through the downtown area on Halloween. We want this film to be the greatest Halloween story ever told.”
Although Jones’ relationship to Tall Betsy has always been shrouded in mystery, legend has it that the goblin began appearing at the controversial businessman’s home — then located on Centenary Avenue — in 1980. Once word of the “gruesome girlie” spread, many of Jones’ neighbors began decorating their homes as a tribute to the goblin and a poem was created called “The Legend of Tall Betsy.” (See poem published on this page).
Betsy drew so many people that in 1986, MainStreet Cleveland — the city’s downtown revitalization group — organized the Halloween Block Party that included games, costume contests and treats.
In 1989, the state of Tennessee named Tall Betsy as “the official Halloween goblin of Bradley County.”
“The Tall Betsy legend eventually spread outside of Cleveland and became such an event that in 1993 we took an official count of how many people came to my house,” Jones recalled. “From 5 to 8 p.m., we handed out exactly 11,201 pieces of bubblegum. That number does not include parents, grandparents or even the smaller children who were too afraid to actually come to our doorway.”
Tall Betsy suddenly retired in 1998 after drawing a Halloween Block Party crowd of 25,000, although no explanation was even given for the goblin’s vanishing act.
Betsy’s fans were rewarded in 2005 when the Block Party was dedicated in honor of her 25th anniversary. The Block Party was the biggest in history — so big that Check Into Cash even arranged for nationally recognized celebrities such as the cast of “Leave It to Beaver” and Little Richard to entertain the thousands of attendees.
While Adams is currently focused on Tall Betsy, he previously created “The Bell Witch Legend” film, a documentary that investigated the chilling accounts of the world-famous 19th century haunting of a Tennessee family. The documentary aired last year on PBS channel WTCI-45 and has received national attention. Adams has previously won awards for his other films, including 2009’s “Southern Haunts: Ghosts of the Low Country” and “Southern Haunts: Ghosts of Savannah” in 2007. Adams has worked with many celebrities, including Kid Rock, Billy Bob Thornton and Charlie Daniels.
The Tall Betsy documentary will be narrated by Lynn Hoffman, host of A&E’s popular “Private Sessions.” Celebrities interviewed by Hoffman include Ringo Starr, Anthony Hopkins, Carly Simon and Dustin Hoffman.
Because the documentary will contain exclusive footage from the upcoming 2011 Block Party, a premiere prior to Halloween will not be possible. Adams says his aim is for the documentary to be broadcast on television next October.
Jones says those who have photos or other Tall Betsy memorabilia to share with Adams can email their images to firstname.lastname@example.org. All items contributed to the documentary will be returned. For more information, call 423-473-4227.
“Tall Betsy is a part of our community, so it is important to me that those who grew up with the legend have a chance to contribute,” Jones said. “There is always a chance that if Tall Betsy enjoys the film enough, she may come out of retirement!”
The Legend of Tall Betsy
She comes out only on Halloween
On Centenary Avenue she can be seen.
Tall Betsy is the “Lady in Black”
For scaring “night-owls” she has a Knack.
Now if you’re good and go home early,
You won’t get ’et by this gruesome girlie.
But if you linger ’til after ten,
We want you to know you’re a “has-been.”
Cause Betsy will tuck you under her arm,
And you can bet, that’s cause for alarm.
To Fort Hill Cemetery she will go,
To her mausoleum, with you in tow!
If you don’t escape before sunrise
I warn you now you’ll be her prize.
She’ll have you for breakfast, I do not jest,
You’ll be on the menu, not as her guest.
Your bones she’ll dump in that old well,
At Arnold School, and no one will tell.
Your parents, they’ll worry and fret,
They’ll search all over for you, I’ll bet
So, go home early on Halloween night,
And November 1st you’ll be all right.
Trick or treating is so much fun,
But if you see Tall Betsy, you’d better run.