From the Asheville Citizen Times January 1914:
Tom Israel Possums.
Operating Possum Farm Near City to Domesticate and Grow Animals.
Believing that there is always a market for a well-fed fat ‘possum, Thomas Israel, of Henderson County has conceived and put into execution the novel idea of raising possums to order, and to carry out his idea, has enclosed a large plot of ground on his place near Hendersonville, stocked it with possums and is sitting back waiting for his profits to materialize.
Members of the opossum tribe, made famous by former President Taft, multiply very rapidly, Mr. Israel says, and he also thinks that the presence of the domesticated animals will attract large numbers of their brethren from the nearby hills and vales. Figuring all these factors into the proposition he expects to have about 2000 opossums of marketable age at the end of two years.
Possums now bring from $.50-$.75 apiece, and their skins, when properly prepared, bring an equal amount. Figuring every possible catastrophe into the account, Mr. Israel thinks he can raise the savory delicacy at a cost of about $.25 ahead. Based on his other figures, this would give a net profit of from a dollar to a dollar and a quarter on every animal.
The ‘Possum Farm was reported on in other papers as well.
From the Toledo Blade, January 29, 1914:
Opposum Farm in the South
North Carolina Man Finds a New Line of Endeavor.
An Asheville, N.C., correspondent of the New York Sun writes that Thomas Israel, of Henderson county, has started an opossum farm. The opossum has always been a favorite delicacy in the Southern states, fat specimens bringing 75 cents each.
Mr. Israel began with 100 animals and believes that the domesticated animals will attract the wild possums and thus increase his stock…
Is this the same Thomas Israel? Listed on census reports as a farmer and painter, he was a justice of the peace, then the Hendersonville town marshall, then county sheriff, then deputy U.S. Marshal and finally street overseer and deputy tax collector.
He completed a road (begun by Sidney Vance Pickens and S.G. Ewart) to the top of Stoney Mountain in 1902 where he built a 50-foot observation tower at the top of the mountain.
He is buried in Oakdale Cemetery.
Made famous by President Taft?
Taft was known for eating. Eating a lot. Soon after winning the election, he was served ‘possum at a banquet in Atlanta and the story was picked up by papers all over the country.
People thought that with Theodore Roosevelt leaving office, people would stop buying Teddy bears. They would have to come up with something new. And possum is what they came up with. Billy Possum would be everywhere. Briefly, they were.