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Old Green Eyes: Chickamauga’s New Cryptid-Themed Festival

By Mason Edwards, News Editor

Green Eyes peeks around Wilder Tower's corner. Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. Photo by Mason Edwards.


With a costume made with $40 worth of arts and crafts supplies, the Green Eyes Festival is tapping into Appalachian culture and folklore first experienced in childhood.


The festival’s founders, Nate Tucker, 25, and Dillian Whisenant, 24, posted an image to social media which started a discussion spanning generations. After the post reached over 700 engagements, 200 comments and 300 shares, their social media gained 400 followers overnight.


“We tried to make [the costume] pretty ambiguous… it’s just sheets and green eyes and a hat,” Tucker said. “And it’s been great because people see it and they go, ‘what the heck is that?’”


Now, Tucker and Whisenant are in the early stages of planning a new, local folklore-themed festival coming Oct. 19, 2024. They hope to see over 1,200 people enjoy music acts, vendors and special cryptid-themed events in downtown Chickamauga.


Everything they’ve done– from registering trademarks, paying artists for designs and developing a website– came from one idea brainstormed during a nine hour car ride. Plus, as Tucker and Whisenant put it, they thought it would be fun.


In September, Tucker’s girlfriend, Ciarah Clark, encouraged the three of them to visit the Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. The group noticed that Chickamauga and Point Pleasant were both post-industrial, rural Appalachian towns– but only one had visitors from all over the country.


“I think it’s crazy how little infrastructure there was, yet people came out for it, thousands of people,” Tucker said. “So I’m thinking, with our position, there’s such a huge pool of people just locally that can be pulled from.”


Starting in November 2023, Tucker and Whisenant—both marketing professionals who grew up in Chickamauga— adopted a “guerrilla” marketing strategy. They’re trying to entice the general populace to spread news about the festival through word of mouth by dressing up and getting out in several local communities. During their outings, they speak to residents—sometimes needing to explain themselves—but often listen to peoples’ stories about Old Green Eyes.


“Old Green Eyes is really interesting because unlike a lot of other creatures, cryptids, there’s not a lot of established cannon,” Tucker said. “That’s like that because it’s an authentic local legend.”


Green Eyes sightings vary wildly. Many claim to have seen a ghost soldier, some a woman whose husband left her and others think it’s an elemental fey. By appealing to a subculture of cryptozoology and paranormal enthusiasts, the Green Eyes Festival wants to bring attention to Chickamauga’s culture and community.


Chickamauga’s Economic Development and Events Director, Eric Pullen, is almost more excited about the festival than Tucker and Whisenant. Although he mostly works with various civic, philanthropic and government entities, Tucker and Whisenant approached him last September with their Green Eyes idea. Now, he serves as their point of contact with the city.


“[The festival] has caught the attention of a number of people in city government and the community,” Pullen said. “I feel like this is going to create a new image for Chickamauga to a younger generation that primarily sees it as based on civil war history.”


Pullen explained that Chickamauga shares a similar story to other post-industrial towns. Its main employer, the Crystal Springs Mill, shut down and jobs dried up. As the city tries to focus on environmental recreation, tourism and growing as a residential community, the Green Eyes Festival is a unique opportunity to entice young adults.


As a result, there’s little political resistance to the festival, and the city will loan Tucker and Whisenant a stage. Even though the city has yet to vote to close the downtown streets, Pullen is confident that the festival will happen.


“We may make some adjustments to the festival to accommodate certain business concerns, but I don’t see any barriers stopping it,” Pullen said.


Many of the city’s local businesses support the event plan, like Chickamauga’s Jill Brooking. Part of nearly a dozen shops in the historic downtown center, Brooking operates Stories and Songs, which she described as a mixture of all of her favorite things: books, coffee and vinyl records. The festival, she hopes, should introduce new people to the city.


“We are a small town, so we depend on getting outsiders to come here,” she said.


Green Eyes haunts inside Brooking's store. Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. Photo by Mason Edwards.

As an entrepreneur who opened a shop 8 months ago, she’s noticed a peculiar pattern. Some organizations will host events and draw traffic—only for the business owners to learn too late. The Green Eyes Festival, she explained, began talking to her from the start.


“I’ve been really impressed not only with the way they are marketing the festival, but I’m also impressed with the organization here,” Brooking said. “They are coming around and making sure that businesses have heard about it, partnering with us.”


Part of their responsibility focus includes not promising too much. While they’re in talks with vendors and bands, they first want to secure more sponsors.


“We are not in position yet to be taking people’s money,” Tucker said. "There’s just so much that can happen in ten months, and we would hate to start making promises to folks and then things change.”


Nate Tucker and Dillian Whisenant pose with Green Eyes lurking in the background. Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. Photo by Mason Edwards.

While the locals think event planning and marketing comes easy to Tucker and Whisenant, they share a lot of the same work experience. After graduating from the same college with marketing degrees, they started a hip-hop promotion company before moving on to working for Scenic Trends. Most recently, they led East Ridge’s marketing for their centennial event.


“Our hearts are in the right place,” Tucker said. “We aren’t outsiders trying to take advantage of a town. My grandparents live in Chickamauga, so I’m there all the time.”


People wanting to learn more about the festival can find information as it comes through the Green Eyes Festival website: https://www.greeneyesfestival.com/

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