I sometimes see it on the streets, in the office and in stores. People merely walking through life with no passion or purpose, simply going through the daily motions. You can see it in their eyes - completely dead and tired. I promised myself when I became a lawyer that I would never become a corporate slave or desk drone, and I can honestly say that after twelve years I haven't.
For most, finding your purpose or passion in life is a long journey, but for one man it came instantaneously. It was in Crossville, Tennessee that I met Horace Burgess, builder of the world's largest tree house. It all began in 1993 when Horace had a vision from God telling him to build a tree house. In the vision, God promised Horace he would never run out of materials if he followed God's will. So, Horace embarked on the project and began construction with the goal of making the structure open to everyone. The "people's house," as he calls it. I've said many times that I'm not a religious person, but Horace's story really touched me. Let's continue...
1. The tree house sits at the end a rural, dirt road. A wooden cross greets you at the locked gate, which prohibits the public from access. It's immediately clear the owner of the property is deeply religious.
2. At first glance, the tree house is stunning and the enormity of it almost incomprehensible. The house stands over 97 feet tall and is supported by an 80 foot living white oak tree. A total of ten floors, each with multiple rooms.
3. One of the lower levels contains a room for church services, with a wooden cross built right into the room. Horace is an ordained minister and previously held informal services every Sunday. However, in 2012 the State officially closed the tree house to the public due to fire hazards. So how did we get inside? We first called the local Fire Marshall's office to explain that we were out of town guests, one of us even landed in Crossville all the way from Russia!
We then inquired whether the local Marshall would give us access to photograph the house, but he said it was impossible. However, he made it clear that the property is privately owned and that Horace, the owner, could let us in. I asked for Horace's phone number and surprisingly the Marshall gave it to me. Rang him on the phone, he answered, and gladly volunteered to leave his home and come open the gate for us.
4. Additional pews on an upper level for "lazy parishioners" who arrived late for services.
5. A worn Bible sits on the pulpit. Twelve couples have been married here, with Horace acting as the minister. The tree house also is commonly called "The Minister's Tree House."
6. Torn pages from a book. In general, the tree house has a very rustic feel.
7. Religious overtones spread throughout. Notice also all of the inscriptions on the walls. Everywhere you will see hand-written messages and notes on the wood. Horace himself began the tradition when he wrote an inscription in honor of his parents. Since then, people from all over the world have left their mark on the tree house.
9. Not only did Horace let us in the gate, he stayed with us for over two hours and walked through the entire tree house explaining everything. What made us special that we got this personal tour from the creator? I'm not sure, but I'm grateful because it provided a deeper insight into everything. At this point, Horace explained that God appeared in bed with him and his wife one night, laid between them, and spoke about the creation of the world. The next day, he came across a circular piece of wood which he perceived contained a map of the world. Another gift from God, so Horace later made it part of the house. Does it all sound a little crazy? Absolutely, but for him all of this is grounded in reality and reason, not illusion.
10. As a lawyer, I understand why the State closed the tree house to the public. There are a lot of unsafe areas where people could easily trip, fall and become seriously injured. Especially children who may not be so aware of areas in which they're walking. Busted out doors and even exposed nails can be seen. Speaking of nails, Horace estimates over 250,000 of them have been used during the last twenty years of construction.
11. Several secret passageways and cubbyholes on various floors of the tree house. You can hide here when the zombie apocalypse happens or the Russians attack. :))
12. A funny story. Horace went to a local auction where he bid on a desk for his granddaughter. He won the auction with a bid of $4, but when he went to pick up the desk the auctioneer informed him it was for an entire set of desks, not one. So instead of a single desk, he now has a whole room full of them.
13. It's possible to see the supporting trunks of the oak at various locations in the house.
14. Imagine the skill, time and dedication involved in building the house and nailing each piece of wood! Horace is a carpenter by trade and construction of the tree house so far has cost him about $15,000. In total, ten floors and over 9,000 square feet.
15. One floor is occupied with hand carved wooden statutes. Amazing artistry, created by two of Horace's friends.
16. In total, there are probably 50 or more carved statues. Most of them depicting Jesus or other religious figures.
17. I asked how he got these statues to the upper floors. At one time, Horace envisioned creating an elevator in the house and even began work on the project. However, he abandoned the idea and lifted the statues from the ground by an old school method - strong pulleys to raise them to the upper floors. This was to be the site of the elevator.
18. The tree house has had several full time occupants. Horace offered this room to a non-believer who had no place to live. He stayed in this room for three years, with no heat and limited resources. As payment for rent, he helped Horace with various projects and construction of the tree house. He frequently spoke to visitors walking through, hearing stories of their strong faith but he never converted to Christianity. One day Horace went to the room and the man had vanished, never to be heard from again.
19. This is my favorite room! The "honeymoon suite" created especially for his wife. On a recent anniversary, they spent the night sleeping in a built in wooden loft. Is it romantic? To me, yes, but I suppose my perception of romance differs from the average woman.
20. A man of many talents! In his youth, Horace also painted. This piece is from his teenage years and it hangs in the honeymoon suite.
21. Horace explained this is the "jacuzzi" for the honeymoon suite. :) Placed here especially for his wife. I think she must be a very interesting and unique woman but we didn't get a chance to meet her.
22. View of the tree house from the ground.
23. A swing hangs from the top of the house.
24. The child in me couldn't resist, so I hopped on and took a ride. In the process, I was scolded for blocking my companion's shots of the house. Well, come on! We must have some fun in life. :) As punishment, he snapped this unflattering photo of me but I still like it. I've always been fond of playgrounds, swings and slides, visiting them even in adulthood.
25. The outside of the house also has many unique features, including more carved statues.
26. Additional crosses spread throughout the property.
27. Entirely peaceful feeling here.
28. A small pond sits right outside the house.
29. Parts of the property have a farm house feel, and in the back section horses graze the large acreage. I suppose this is my dream really - to live in some wooden house or log cabin in the woods.
30. Nice figurine by the pond area.
32. Horace, a strong patriot like many Americans. The flag is woven into various buildings and structures on the property.
33. At the top of the tree house there's a bell tower and visitors get a sweeping view of the property.
34. Here we're reminded about the driving force in Horace's life. In summer time, flowers bloom in the letters.
35. I don't know what to think of Horace. Honestly, I consider him crazy, yet still inspirational. Definitely one of the most interesting and kind people I've ever encountered. Such passion, commitment and purpose in life are rare. For this, he has my utmost respect.