The day after wildfires tore through Gatlinburg, Tenn., destroying more than 150 structures, killing at least three people and displacing thousands, Isaac McCord was doing his part to help out, picking up debris from the Dollywood park grounds.
Gripping his rake, he revisited a spot in Craftsman Valley he had skimmed over after his co-worker, Misty Carver, quipped, “Is that how you clean your room?” Provoked, he said he had started “really getting in the nooks and crannies” under a park bench when he caught a glimpse of a piece of paper lying in a puddle of water — soggy, seared and torn in two.
McCord, a University of Tennessee alumnus who works as a human resources training coordinator at Dollywood, said he had no idea what the paper would say, but considering the circumstances, he was curious enough to pick it up.
“As soon as I got down on the ground, I noticed it was a Bible verse, and I was like, ‘Holy crap,'” McCord said in a phone interview on Tuesday night. “It was in a puddle of water. I said, ‘I want to take care of this the best way I can,’ so I gently scooped it up and carried it out the best I could.”
McCord, 24, sat on the bench where he found the paper, and called Carver over. Their work partners, Dollywood wardrobe manager Angela Davis and employee Kimberly Moore, had left to go to the restroom, McCord said.
In silence, the pair pored over the page, the edges of which were burned black, rendering many words illegible. But parts of the right side of the page were preserved enough to get the message across: It perfectly reflected, McCord said, the tragic natural disaster that had thrust Gatlinburg and Sevier County into the national spotlight the night before.
“O Lord, to thee will I cry: For the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field,” the page reads, according to a picture posted on McCord’s Facebook.
“At first, we didn’t know what part of the book it was from,” McCord said on Tuesday night, “but we saw bits and pieces about fire and scorching the land, and how the beast groaned and roared for help.”
The page appears to be from the first chapter of Joel from the King James Version of the Bible.
“We were like, ‘This is unreal, this is unbelievable,'” McCord said. “When we had both fully read it, we looked at each other — and I will never forget this moment — we both burst into tears. I was ghost white, and we just prayed. There was nothing else to do. Still to this moment, almost four hours after the fact, I don’t have words for it.”
McCord posted a photo of the charred Bible page on Facebook, and four hours later, he was contacted by Dollywood public relations workers who told him the post had been shared more than 50,000 times. McCord had no idea, he said: His Facebook showed less than 1,000 shares.
McCord wasn’t a highly religious man prior to his discovery — he didn’t go to church every Sunday or read the Bible often — but he said he has a relationship with God that shapes his morals and how he treats other people. He was impacted by the discovery because he said he knows several co-workers who lost their homes in the chaotic blaze. He intends to frame the Bible page, and now, he said he may re-examine the role religion plays in his life.
Angela Davis, reached by phone on Tuesday night, corroborated McCord’s story, saying when she returned from the restroom, she saw him with the Bible page. It was burned, brittle, wet and in two pieces, she said. Kimberly Moore also corroborated the story, recalling the same details as Davis and McCord. Misty Carver did not immediately return requests for comment.
McCord said he knows people may doubt the truthfulness of his story. He emphasized he is not an official spokesman for Dollywood, and he does not speak on behalf of the park or its employees. He just wanted to share the story to give people hope.
“I wanted to share this message because it brought me to tears. I wanted to share this message because I think that faith and hope is very powerful in a situation like this. There are hundreds of people that are displaced and that have lost their homes. Most of these people will cling to faith. By no means was I trying to get social recognition. … I would say to anyone who wants to call it fake, call me. Please call me. It is something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”