Sam Burnham, Curator
Tis the season for stories of the macabre, the grotesque, the suspenseful. The modern genre of horror has often strayed into an overuse of violence and gore in place of suspense and psychological thrills. I don’t care much for the blood and gore of the slasher genre but I love the old style. Hitchcock was a master. Stephen King’s 1408 and the movie adaptation of the same are also good examples.
The South has a long tradition in this genre. Although Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, he was raised in Richmond and attended the University of Virginia briefly. Poe is but one well known pen in a sea of Southern ink that has given America ghost stories, and of course our most famous literary class - Southern Gothic.
The stories are the fruit of a grotesque history. Our region has seen the War for Independence, slavery, the War of 1812, the Trail of Tears, The War Between the States (specifically Sherman’s March), Reconstruction, Jim Crow. Death and tragedy have stalked The South since settlers arrived at Roanoke Island. Disease and pestilence have ravaged this land. Cities like Savannah and Charleston are filled with ghost stories and much of the region remained, until relatively recently, a frontier only inhabited by the strong willed, who often succumbed to its hazards. This history and the personal tragedy invested in it led writers, including Poe, to delve deep into tragedy, mystery, intrigue, and suspense
Poe himself pointed to the past when searching for America’s best ghost story. As my friend Sean Busick relates: “Grayling, or Murder Will Out,” Poe wrote “it is really an admirable tale, nobly conceived and skillfully carried into execution—the best ghost story ever written by an American….”
That’s a pretty strong endorsement.
Simms was the most important writer in America’s antebellum period. The South Carolinian is remembered and celebrated by the Simms Initiatives at the University of South Carolina. A few years ago they teamed up to create this video playlist, a reading of that best American ghost story, Grayling or Murder Will Out. I have decided to link the playlist here for anyone who’d like to hear it read aloud. It’s an appropriate story for a good Southerner at Halloween.
[This story can be found in print in The collection The Wigwam and the Cabin. More information on Simms and Grayling can be found at the link above, where Sean Busick is mentioned in red.]
Sam Burnham, Curator
Nothing lasts forever. Things get old. They deteriorate. They fall apart. They die. Thsts just reality.
The preservation of historic and culturally significant places slows that process down, perhaps even delays it indefinitely. That’s the goal anyway. Preserving such places gives us opportunities to tell our stories to new generations, to pass our society down to our heirs and show them who they are, where they came from.
I’m hard on Atlanta when it comes to historic preservation. I am constantly baffled by the complete lack of concern in preserving any of its rich history. There are a sparse few oases that manage to avoid the wrecking ball. Oakland Cemetery, The Fox, Auburn Avenue, a few churches, but not much else. It makes me mad because they once had a lot to work with. They could have set an example of a true Southern cultural center but they passed on that opportunity. They passed on it because of greed but also because they’re trying to be this shiny modern metropolis. They’ve grown to hate anything quaint, charming, anything with lasting character.
The storied Peachtree mansions are mostly in landfills, replaced by office towers and parking lots. Sports venues are replaced every two decades, whether needed or not. The Cyclorama has been exiled from the battlefield and now resides in what appears to be an alien spacecraft in Buckhead. Theaters, concert halls, two beautiful and unique governor’s mansions, all gone, blasted, razed to the ground.
Now we see the final act of the Great Nassau Street Tragedy. All avenues for preservation have been exhausted. All legal options have failed. The building where “Fidlin’” John Carson recorded the first ever country music hit songs “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” and “The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going to Crow” and also where Fannie May Goosby and the Morehouse College Quartet both recorded music will be churned into dust to make way for the Margaritaville hotel, timeshare, and restaurant. So authentic Georgia music history is being forever lost to a temple to beach music by a guy out of Mobile.
This entire area is trending this direction. While you have a shrine to Atlanta’s iconic brand in The World of Coke, the Ellis Hotel (aka The Winecoff), and a music venue in The Tabernacle, much of the area surrounding Centennial Olympic Park has become chain stores and restaurants or tourist traps. Little authenticity remains, especially once this slice of the past is swept out of the shadow of s gargantuan Ferris wheel. That’s a fitting symbol as this demolition is another step in the process by which Atlanta becomes less of a city and more of a theme park with a violent crime problem.
The trend becomes more troubling as civic leaders elsewhere see what Atlanta is doing as beneficial. There’s a lot of money changing hands in Atlanta-land and that gets attention. So other cities start thinking they need some gimmicks, some theming, some flashy facade. They sacrifice history, elegance, and charm. The foundations of our culture are ripped up and replaced by a plastic facsimile. A hoax. A fraud.
And then we wonder why why our society falters. There’s nothing true to hold it up.
I don’t hate Jimmy Buffett. In fact, I like much of his music under the right circumstances. A little sand, salt water, a tasty beverage, sure. But hearing Cheeseburger in Paradise while I’m huddled down staying warm in a Georgia ice storm makes me angry, even resentful. But, then again, I guess nothing says “Parrothead” quite like standing between your open hotel curtains in your underwear waving at the people circling the Ferris wheel right outside your window. Especially in Atlanta. In January.
Danny Burnham, ABG Contributor
There is some prime hunting land in north Georgia known affectionately as “The Cohuttas”. My father in law introduced me to the place in 2013 on a hunting trip. I’d heard tales about the vast forest and rugged terrain from hunters, but I was blown away by how big and rugged it actually is. Between the “Wilderness” area and the Wildlife Management Area there are over 90,000 acres of hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking opportunities. Trout abound in the two rivers (Conasauga and Jacks) and deer, turkey, bear, wild hogs, and a litany of small game critters inhabit the area. Several people claim to have even encountered Bigfoot in that neck of the woods. There are over 180 miles of walking trails and another 100ish miles of dirt roads that crisscross the territory. Out of all those, I have a favorite. Georgia’s ‘Lost Highway’.
Georgia Highway 2 stretches across the northern part of the state from the community of Flintstone to the South Carolina state line. It winds its way through mountains, and over rivers on its way through Walker, Cattoosa, Whitfield, Murray, Gilmer, Fannin, Union, Towns, and Rabun counties. But this piece isn’t about the 165 miles of blacktop that you can drive on today. Or even the 12 miles of dirt road that still runs through the Cohutta Wildlife Management Area. It’s about the 7 mile stretch that hasn’t been driven on in over 30 years, It is now known as East Cowpen Trail, and is every bit as “back country” as it sounds.
No less than 12 miles from a paved road on either end, it’s mostly been reclaimed by nature. Which of course was the point of the 1964 Wilderness Act that started the process of designating 9.1 million acres of American woodland as “federally protected” meaning that things like roads were prohibited. The problem with that was, the road was already there.
I suppose I should take a moment and clarify what I mean when I use words like “road” or “highway” for the purposes of this story.
The “road” was never paved, and not even very well maintained. It was only ever designated a “highway” as part of a long term plan, a REALLY long term plan, to span northern Georgia with a single highway. It was basically a single vehicle in width,
It took until 1975 before the reach of the Wilderness Act made its way to North Georgia and even the limited maintenance of the road ceased. From 1975-1987 it was still legal to drive on the road, but was essentially limited to off-road vehicles because of the condition of the road. Now there are only a few places left on the trail that even resemble a road, but the path has still got a lot to offer. Old Highway 2/East Cowpen Trail winds along a ridge that runs the length of Cohutta Mountain. The same ridge that divides the Cohutta Wilderness and separates the Jacks and Conasauga River Watersheds. The trail may be the flattest (ish) 7 mile stretch in the entire territory. The combination of all of those things are likely the reason they chose to build the road there to begin with.
As far as hikes in the mountains go, it’s not the most rigorous. It’s easiest if you’re going from south at the Three Forks Mountain trailhead (accessed from FS64) to Forestry Service rd 51 on the north end. There are some great views, and if I had to bet my truck on the best public land spot in Georgia to see a bear, that’s where I would go. You can access Jack’s River Falls via the Rough Ridge trail which meets East Cowpen at .4 mile from the south terminus. You can also get to Panther Creek Falls on the same route.
While the passage never developed into a major highway, or really a highway at all, it still gets plenty of traffic. Hikers, hunters, horseback riders all make use of East Cowpen trail. But don’t count on the local forecast. It’s said that the mountain makes its own weather. I’ve seen torrential rain. Snow, when there wasn’t snow anywhere else in Georgia. On one occasion we had to give up our hunt because the fog was so thick we couldn’t see to the end of our rifles.
One thing you can count on is adventure. Just don’t feed the bears.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire