The Deeper Meanings Of A Leg, Lost And Found — And Fought Over
Years ago, in the small town of Maiden, N.C., a man named Shannon Whisnant bought a storage locker, and in it he found a grill. When he took both of them home and opened the grill, he discovered something he hadn't been expecting: a mummified human leg.
Most people — one presumes — would've have wanted to get rid of the leg as soon as possible. Whisnant, however, wanted to keep it. Trouble is, the original owner of the limb, John Wood, wanted it back. He'd had to have that leg amputated years earlier.
As you might imagine, what followed was a bizarre battle, a media frenzy — and, now, a new documentary called Finders Keepers.
Filmmakers Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel tell NPR's Arun Rath they wanted to dig deep and get the story behind the spectacle.
"Yes there's this moment of hilarity of two guys fighting over a leg," says Tweel, "but then how does the rest of it play out? And where do their lives really go after the media attention perhaps really dies down? And that's kind of, for us, where things started to fill out, and we really started to feel like we had a feature film on our hands."
On Shannon Whisnant, the man who found the leg
Tweel: Shannon is a kind of self-made man, an entrepreneur of sorts. He deals in kind of found goods and trying to resell them for a profit and he is always looking for a way to turn a buck. ... I think what happened was, he saw that the local media took to the story so quickly, and it gave him this kind of sense of fame and sort of energy around being on camera that he so longed for. He did a very good job, and it started getting on nationally syndicated radio shows and eventually international and national TV.
On John Wood, the man to whom the leg once belonged
Carberry: John Wood was kind of the rich kid of this small town. Everyone knew John; he was the cool kid, he was the rebel. He's had 13 near-death experiences ... electrocuted twice, a couple out of body experiences. ... John lost his leg in the same plane crash where he lost his father's life. And John was the co-pilot that day, kind of took home some guilt from that, even if it wasn't his fault. And so I think all of that kind of got tied up in his wanting to hold onto this leg.
On how the leg ended up in the grill in the storage locker
Carberry: [John] tried a few things. No. 1 was putting it in the freezer. When his power got cut off, he even took it to a friend who worked at a Hardees. They put it in their freezer until the manager found it. His buddy worked at the mortuary so he borrowed some embalming fluid and did it himself at home. He soaked it in the embalming fluid, put it in a possum trap and put the trap in the tree in his front yard to sun dry and after six months it was mummified. When he got evicted, it went into his grill in his storage unit.
On what inspired the directors to make the movie
Tweel: I think our job was then to continually to dig deeper and get to the heart of what makes these people tick and they were unbelievably trusting of us and more honest than a lot of people are on camera. So that allowed us to go to these places that we didn't initially expect.
On what the subjects thought when they saw the documentary
Carberry: Shannon had two notes. One was that it could have been a little longer, and B., he thought there should have been a little more of him in it. ...
Tweel: John has seen the film now many, many times. He really likes it. He says he cries at a different part at almost every screening. My favorite thing I've heard as a reaction is Marion, John's sister — she felt like she's been watching this story through a knothole in a fence, and she feels like we knocked the fence down for her. For us, as documentarians, that's such a great compliment.
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