September 06, 2008
Living in a place where history is almost a breathing entity you tend to get strange feelings at the most inopportune moments. Thirty plus years ago we were taken down a long dead end dirt road with my parents so that my father could take pictures of the building that my grandfather attended school in. I listened to stories that my Dad told as we made our way down the twisting turns of loose gravel and red dirt. He spoke of being a small child listening as his father told him about his older relatives spinning tales of slaves coming in for lunch from the fields near the school and sitting around a hollowed out log that served as their trough, which beans and molasses were poured into. The slaves would get slabs of cornbread and a wooden spoon and sit down on benches to eat at the same time the kids were out and about for lunch.
The road ended in the compound of an antebellum home with a yard full of dogs. We stayed in the car as my Dad got out and began to take pictures of the school, a run down wooden building complete with rusted tin roof and almost overgrown with weeds, muscadine vines, and kudzu. The school sat across the yard from the house - a bit into the wood line, but you could still see it. While he was outside of the car an elderly woman, brandishing a cane over her head, came from the house yelling at him. He made a move to jump back into the car, but ended up talking to her for quite a while. She thought we were there to dump dogs off and leave them. This was a common practice, I counted twenty something in the yard alone, she told my dad that the house was full of them as well. Once he explained who he was and what he was doing she became friendly and talkative. She told him about her ailing sister that lived with her and how they were all alone in the house and the niece that brought them food and supplies once a week. While he was talking to her I was checking out the school, sitting there next to the building, covered in kudzu, was the actual trough the slaves ate from. It left me with an eerie feeling. Years later in school we were telling some friends about the place and came to find out that it was known as a haunted house. The ailing sister had evidently died in her bedroom. After a while the niece became suspicious of the always ill aunt she hadn't seen for some time.. She then alerted the county sheriff's department. When local law enforcement went to investigate, the elderly woman held them at bay with an eighteen foot bullwhip. Eventually they subdued her and went inside, the mess was awful and the dead woman had been "sampled" by some of the canine house guests. Some of the guys at school had been in the house and told me about things that were written on the walls, "Must take care of sister" and other cryptic scrawls...
I have written a post about "screaming bridge", yet there is another bridge on the north end of the county. Located at Dunaway gardens, it was built in a curve after the old bridge was torn down. A woman had a wreck in the curve just before the bridge and legend had it that her child that was with her was never found. If you stayed at the bridge long enough at night you would hear the impact of the crash. You would definitely hear a loud banging at the bridge, it gave us several frightening evenings. We knew that it was the sound of the bridge moving after expanding in the sultry heat of Georgia summers, but still it was a scary sound after midnight. The best memory is of a group of people walking over the bridge, after a night of talking up the noises and convincing them to go hear it, passing by some over hanging trees and bushes... Just as we were even with the foliage a heart piercing scream tore out through the night... I was paralyzed and rooted to the spot, unable to move, everyone else ran screaming for the car. After a few seconds of no heart beat, I released a huge sigh of relief and wore a sly grin as the "scream" morphed into a drawn out hoot of the owl that had just frightened us. The bridge sits on the edge of a small swamp. My grandfather had told me that there were a lot of people "gotten rid of" in that swamp back in the twenties and thirties for stepping in on territory during the high point of the illegal liquor trade. I think of that each day I drive over it on the way home from work and look out into its soggy grasses. Even though I am forty one years old, I have been tempted to take my fourteen year old and some of his friends out there to experience the sound of ghosts after midnight, a rare treat in the humid summer night air.
During the same time of the haunted bridge adventures we had been experimenting with the "gateway drug" to the occult, the Ouija board. When I moved out after getting married I had a great time reading all the legal pads full of cryptic warnings that had been dictated to us from the boards. The only time I had real "this isn't right" feelings about the board was when we had been talking about it at a family get together, and my cousin and older brother wanted to give it a try. The message that came through was from someone that had died who claimed to know two of the people there. The group stood around and listened in the tense atmosphere as we were told that he knew "goat man" and "fat boy". I told them to ask the board "what time is it?" It's reply was "seven thirty". My eyes were watering, as were the eyes of another brother of mine standing next to me, not from emotional distress, just watering. The spirit then identified itself as "bee man", I left the room. My brother followed me out after a few minutes and told me in a sullen voice that an older black guy we used to work with had died a few weeks ago. Beaman was a workhorse of an old guy that had put his kids through college working hard labor jobs. His kids gave him an expensive watch for his birthday, yet Beaman couldn't tell time, it was an on going joke around the company to ask him "what time is it Beaman?" as you passed. He would always look at his watch, then reply, "Seven thirty". My brother had taken a delivery of goats from a guy at work, he was getting them to place around his house to eat away the underbrush. From that day on, Beaman called him goat man. He labeled me fat boy when I started working there, for obvious reasons..
The statue on our court square that stands as a memorial to those that fought and died in the civil war was placed there by leaning it on blocks of ice then as the ice melted the statue slowly sat in place. You can see the changes that have taken place around the square. From the infamous "Murder in Coweta county" all the way up to me, my brother, and my cousin walking around the low wall next to the side walk of the courthouse that now sits there when we were very small. We never realized that the bathroom we like to use that was down the steps next to the main entrance was built and used as a "colored" bathroom during segregated times. The court square has been injected into my blood and will remain, I can't tell you the feelings I had as I watched my own sons trying to walk the wall all the way around the courthouse, just a I did when I was their age. On the south end of town, there stands what my brother an I used to call the "witch house". When we were little it was in dire need of repair and had a scary looking black fence work around the top of each segment of roof, and just looked like the place a witch would live... Little did I know that years later I would spend my wedding night there after it had been renovated and made into a bed and breakfast... talk about strange trips... From "wishbone fried chicken" all the way to that same bed and breakfast, I have been in almost every place in this town and will never be able to shake its influence, nor would I want to.
The place that we live at was once a plantation, planted acres of crops, terraced off to allow growth and harvest. All that remains is a lone chimney sitting on the side of a hill. I have found all sorts of things around it, from horse shoes to hinges and nails, to kitchen ware to bullets and bits of various mule and horse riggings. When you move around this place at night and listen hard enough you can almost hear slaves singing. There are voices of many generations of people that have crossed over this land that speak to you in constant whispers, telling the secrets of this place, one has to just listen to learn the joy and human suffering that has taken place on the very ground that you walk. From my own family to farmers and slaves that worked the land back to the Cherokee and Creek Indians that hunted for game and made lives among the same trees I look out my window at.
This region, town, and indeed my very property are living reminders of a history that has passed with hopes and dreams being fulfilled, sorrow being felt, and tragedy being kept at bay. Sometimes the thoughts and emotions of those people that are embedded in the land can come through to tap your psyche when you least expect, leaving you with a strange feeling.. A mixture of calmness, expectancy, worry, love, sadness, hope, and loss. These people that walked here before us have a lot to say. I wish that I could sit down and have a long conversation with each of them.