For years Augustans believed the Harris House was the famous Mackay Trading Post or White House. It had a reputation as the place where hangings took place and other violent acts. But, as Bill Kirby tells us…this mystery needs to be examined.
Beginning in the 1970s, Augusta joined many other cities in the South by featuring a river raft race.
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Sea Serpent in the Savannah River –
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In May 1884 faculty members of the Medical College of Georgia gathered around a teen-aged west Georgia girl and tried to determine her secrets. The effort, as far as we know, was unsuccessful.
Her name was Lulu Hurst and she was called by The Augusta Chronicle “The Amazing Wonder of the Nineteenth Century.”
What made her a wonder?
The story Lulu and her parents liked to share was that she had been struck by lightning during a summer storm at age 14 and soon began to exhibit unusual powers. Parts of her body gave off sparks. Clothing and objects flew about her house.
If she tried to open an umbrella, according to accounts in The Chronicle, it immediately would turn itself inside out and fly about the room.
Then there was her strength.
Although Lulu was not all that large, she could push around men twice her size. To demonstrate what some newspapers began to call her “animal magnetism,” she would mount a stage and ask any man in the crowd to try to take a cane from her hands.
Soon, Lulu would be leading the larger males around as they tried desperately to jerk it free. Among those flummoxed by her maidenly muscles was former Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon, then a U.S. senator.
She was a sensation. She performed across Georgia, putting on shows in Atlanta, Athens, Augusta and Savannah.
In Macon, members of the Mercer University faculty examined her with keen interest. They apparently reached the same conclusion as their college counterparts in Augusta: No one could explain Lulu.
Even she couldn’t explain it.
And there were a lot of them. Not only did the staffs of MCG and Mercer examine her closely, so did others, including Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone; geologist John Wesley Powell and even a 10-year-old Winston Churchill who caught her show in New York.
Yes, Lulu the Georgia teenager went big time.
Atlanta Constitution editor Henry Grady was enthralled with her, and his paper began to cover her exploits. She went to New York and New England and even California.
She performed for members of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Her parents went with her, so did the family business manager Paul Atkinson. Her travels earned the equivalent of a million bucks in today’s money.
Then, rather abruptly, she quit show biz. Her father tried to talk her out of it, but Lulu seemed tired of the attention. She had not, however, grown tired of Mr. Atkinson, her manager. They married, moved to his hometown of Madison, Ga., and lived happily ever after.
She claimed her powers were nothing special, simply the proper use of leverage.
Some believed her.
But some thought she just wanted people to think she was normal.
In 1878 a rare and destructive cyclone hit downtown Augusta, Georgia. It crumbled many of the buildings and wiped out most of the railroad. When it hit the old market on Broad Street it was said to have “lifted it up and dropped it down in pieces.” Today, all that remains is one pillar from that market. It is at the intersection of 5th and Broad Street. It is said to be haunted too. In fact, before the cyclone hit in 1878, a traveling preacher was angered because he was not allowed to preach at the market. He then cursed the market and promised of a horrible wind. Well, the cyclone came and now it is said the pillar is haunted. If you touch it you will die. Well, not really. But Bill Kirby tries out this theory.
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You can make a pretty good case that the best preacher Augusta ever had was a short former slave who started life as an orphan.
But the life and success of the Rev. C.T. Walker demonstrates oh so well that the Lord can get the most out of many who start out with the least.
Charles Thomas Walker was born a slave in Hephzibah in 1858. His father died the day before was born and his mother passed away before he reached age 10.
That didn’t stop him.
Using the Christian church and his family for support, Walker moved on with his education at schools set up for the children of former slaves.
It wasn’t long before his calling to become a minister displaced other ambitions. He entered Augusta Institute – which later moved to Atlanta to become Morehouse College – for ministerial training.
A small man, 5 feet 6 inches – Walker was big in the pulpit, quickly gaining a reputation for oratory.
After preaching three years in LaGrange, Ga., Walker returned to Augusta in 1883. In 1885, then 27, he helped organize Tabernacle Baptist Church, one of the most influential churches to be founded in Augusta.
Walker not only saved souls, he informed them. He began one of Augusta’s first minority newspapers, Augusta Sentinel, in 1884.
Dr. Walker’s opposition to the “separate but equal” status of American blacks became more pronounced after his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1891.
On his return to America, Dr. Walker wrote about the irony of an already burgeoning immigrant class that seemed to outdo blacks born in the United States.
“These very people come to America to supersede the Negro and to boss him!” he wrote.
The frustration of watching poor, white immigrants succeeding where blacks failed because of racism became a recurring theme in Dr. Walker’s talks after he moved to New York City to be pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church in 1899.
By 1900, Dr. Walker boldly declared blacks could not hope to escape the evil of racism by migrating North.
“It was a mistake for blacks to leave the South, since prejudice was national and not sectional,” he said.
During a speech the same year at New York’s Carnegie Hall, the minister outlined the state of African-American affairs.
“The Negro is an American citizen,” declared the minister to an audience of 8,000. “The amendment to the Constitution did not make us men; God made us men before man made us citizens!”
Such radical turn-of-the century views conflicted with the cautious approach prescribed by the more conservative Booker T. Washington.
Yet the minister continued, mingling his message of equality with converting souls to Jesus Christ. According to newspaper accounts of the time, dozens, sometimes hundreds, at a time would heed the call to change their lives in respect of God.
One, John D. Rockefeller, one of the most influential if not richest men in America, loved to hear him preach.
Returning to Augusta in 1901, the minister continued his missionary work of education and compassion, strengthening opportunities for black children and offering a voice for the voiceless.
In 1909, Dr. Walker was asked to introduce President-elect William Howard Taft at the YMCA the minister founded on Ninth Street.
Such would become the legend of Dr. Walker before his death at age 63 in 1921. Today, through Tabernacle Baptist Church – the center of Augusta’s fledgling civil rights efforts – and C.T. Walker Traditional Magnet School, that work continues.
When he died in 1921, The New York Times reported his death with sympathy and praise.
Almost a century later, Augusta honors him with the name of magnet school of exceptional young students.
What better way to serve our community’s future?
We all know the story of Sacred Heart. For decades it was not only one of the prettiest churches in town,
It was one of the prettiest buildings in Augusta.
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Rev. C.T. Walker – No Shortage of Spirit –
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Halloween is getting close.
And people are thinking about ghost stories.
I like them. You like them. Everyone likes ghost stories.
And while Augusta isn’t what I would call a ghost town, it has a few tales.
But most are as phony as a 50-cent séance.
Take the Ezekiel Harris House on Broad Street near the new Kroc Center.
For years, the story was told that during the American Revolution, a bitter British commander hung 13 patriots nearby. Naturally, there are those who report that strange lights are sometimes seen in the vicinity. Odd sounds are heard, too.
But the house Harris House wasn’t built until decades after the American Revolution. The Mackey House, where the patriots may or may not have been killed, was probably destroyed two centuries ago.
Then there’s the well-known “Haun¬ted Pillar.” At Broad and 5th streets.
This lonely column is said to be what’s left of an old market building destroyed by an 1878 tornado. The “haunted” part is a local legend – move the pillar or touch it, and you’re supposed to die.
That’s all made-up hokum, spun by a press agent, the city of Augusta hired in the 1930s to lure tourists.
The pillar we see today isn’t even the original. In
1935, The Chronicle reported, an automobile hit it and “reduced it to a pile of brick and cement.” The driver was not injured; the pillar was rebuilt.
On a Friday the 13th in 1958, the newspaper said, the column was toppled when an oversized bale of cotton fell from a passing truck. The driver was not injured.
Maybe the curse involves bad driving.
Walk down the street a few blocks into Olde Town, and you might see something spooky. On both July 11 and July 13, 1871, The Chronicle reported a ghost frightening residents. It turned out to be a mentally unbalanced girl wandering in her nightclothes.
In June 1903, The Chronicle reported that ghosts were seen at Meadow Garden, the former home of George Walton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Maybe it was George and political rival William Few renewing a political argument.
Augusta’s best ghost story is probably farther up Walton Way on the campus of the former Augusta State Uni¬versity.
This one, I can’t explain.
But The Chronicle and a Georgia ghost story anthology tell the story in the 1960s of a professor strolling across campus who saw a man dressed as a Confederate officer walking in the old Walker family cemetery. Then he vanished.
The professor said he didn’t believe in ghosts, but he could offer no other explanation.
We’ll have to take his word for it, and you can take my word for this: If you do see something spooky Halloween night, it won’t be me.