Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Boll Weevil! Boll Weevil!

This post is dedicated to rockabilly pioneer Hasil Adkins, of Boone County, West Virginia. Hasil was found dead in his home today at the age of 67. A one-man band, Hasil played guitar, drums, and sang, all at once, 'cause that's the way he thought it was done when he first heard the music on the radio. A one-of-a-kind original, Hasil conjured the most primitive music imaginable, and I am happy to say I saw him perform once, in Athens, GA. He was supposed to go on around 11:30 PM, but took the stage sometime after 2:30 AM. Over the course of the next 45 minutes he screamed, groaned, moaned, and sang a little, too. At the end, he threw his guitar at a cymbal, kicked over his drums, and stomped off stage with a big grin on his face. So, for Hasil, we'll start this post with a tune. This ditty was sung by Charlie Patton, Leadbelly, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, among others. It's about the bug that tore the South apart.

Mississippi Boweavil Blues: "Sees a little boweavil keeps movin' in; You can plant your cotton and you won't get a half a bale; Boweavil, boweavil, where's your native home?; A-Louisiana raised in Texas, least is where I was bred and born; Well, I saw the boweavil, Lord, a-circle, Lord, in the air; The next time I seed him, Lord, he had his family there; Boweavil left Texas, Lord, he bid me: fare ye well; (spoken: Where you goin' now?); I'm goin' down the Mississippi, gonna give Louisiana hell; (spoken: How is that, boy?); Suck all the blossoms and he leave your hedges square; The next time I seed you, you know you had your family there; Boweavil meet his wife: We can sit down on the hill; Boweavil told his wife: Let's trade this forty (acres) in; Boweavil told his wife, says: I believe I may go North; (spoken: Hold on, I'm gonna tell all about that); Let's leave Louisiana, we can go to Arkansas; Well, I saw the boweavil, Lord a-circle, Lord, in the air; Next time I seed him, Lord, he had his family there; Boweavil told the farmer that: I 'tain't got ticket fare; Sucks all the blossom and leave your hedges square; Boweavil, boweavil, where your native home?; Most anywhere they raise cotton and corn; Boweavil, boweavil, outta treat me fair; The next time I did you had your family there."

Historically, the South was dominated by agriculture in every way. Whether you were a plantation owner, independent farmer, storekeeper, or sharecropper, your life, and each day in it, revolved around crops. Tobacco was big, corn was not uncommon, but cotton was king. However, as with any king, the reign can't last forever. Before 1900, the boll weevil (Anthonomus grandis grandis) didn't exist in the U.S. Then, right round the turn of the century, an odd little insect with a snout half the length of its body appeared near the Mexican border. It so happened that this new arrival could only reproduce on king cotton, and it used its large snout, complete with vicious chewing apparatus, to drill holes in cotton plants for feeding and depositing eggs. The cotton plant had never had to deal with such a pest before, and so it didn't. Instead, large parts of the cotton plant died and dropped off after infestation by boll weevils. These parts of the plant had previously been highly useful: they produced cotton. As for the photos, we've been to Plum Branch before, haven't we?

Around 1914, the weevil arrived in Georgia. By 1921, the agricultural economy (i.e. MOST of the economy) of much of the South was in tatters. Check out the figures for Hancock County, Georgia, which includes Sparta, just west of Augusta and a bit south of I-20, considered to be one of the hardest hit regions in the entire South. In 1919, 19,789 bales of cotton were produced in Hancock County, at a market price of 40 cents per lb. In 1920, 11,685 bales were produced, but they sold for just 16 cents per lb. By 1921, only 1,509 bales were produced, fetching 17 cents per lb. The price went up in 1922 to 23 cents per lb., but only 710 bales were harvested that year. So, between 1919 and 1922, cotton production in Hancock County fell from 19,789 bales to 710 bales. And similar numbers were recorded all over the South. In 1921, the Sparta Ishmaelite reported that, across the South, 10,000 people were starving as a result of the failure of the cotton crop. Thus the boll weevil precipitated the Great Migration, during which everyone that could get out of the South did, and those that couldn't suffered badly.

And there appeared to be no way to stop the weevil. In 1921, desperate farmers tried to kill the weevil by spraying their plants with a mixture of cane syrup, water, and calcium arsenate. The only creatures that really died were the farmer's mules, who liked to lick up the sugary mix. RANDOM ASIDE: In Australia, in 1935, an effort was made to control two types of cane beetle by importing 101 cane toads from Hawaii. What the introducers failed to recognize was that the beetles spent most of their time high up in the cane while the toad, at least under its own power, was rarely airborne. The cane toad is now a serious problem in Australia since it eats anything it can fit in its mouth and is poisonous to boot. Yet another example of our complete ineptitude when it comes to managing our own environment. But, uh, back to the story at hand... In some towns, schools and businesses closed one day a week so that people could go to the fields and kill the pests by hand. Along the coast, the sea cotton industry was wiped-out in one year, never to come back. Below is a photo of the painting I mentioned last time we were near Plum Branch. It's just inside the door of the house in the top shot of that post.

As is often the case in times of economic desperation, even when they result from a force of nature, folks start looking for scapegoats. So it was that in 1921 there were more lynchings in the South than there had been in any year since 1909. In fact, the number of lynchings during each year over the period of worst weevil infestation has been shown to correlate closely (and inversely) with the per acre value of cotton. Also, the Ku Klux Klan began to make large gains in popularity, whereas for the decade or two previous its influence had been much less obvious. Am I suggesting that the boll weevil is responsible for increased attendance at Klan rallies in Georgia? Why, yes, I think I am. There were also some very ugly race-based killings in the state during the weevil years. As literary critic Frederic Jameson has said, "History is what hurts..." The little empty building below is located on Wizard's Cove Dr. and, given the above, the street name might refer to either of two types of wizard. I'd like to think the name comes from the kind of wizard that Black Sabbath sang about, one of which can be seen hovering under the awning.

Toward the end of the 1920's, cotton (the plant) was recovering from the weevil a little bit. But cotton (the industry) was not, and never would. Many farmers had switched crops, and untold numbers of people had fled. Those who kept farming cotton often had to spray their crops up to 20 times a year to keep the weevil at bay, killing the beneficial insects that increased yield, as well. And, of course, the Great Depression was right around the corner. Hancock County, once Georgia's leading farm county, would, 50 years later, have a per capita income on par with the poorest parts of the nation. Below is one of the very first photos I ever took of the type you've seen on this site. It was at the end of a roll of shots I took to document my thesis research for school. I was using a Fuji disposable, just before a rain storm, so the color is a little weird. But I never got back to take any additional photos here, so I present this and the shot below it for the record.

Difficulties with controlling the weevil continued through WWII. By the 1970's, DDT was being used extensively, but we all know how that turned out. Now, chemicals are still being used as insecticides, but genetic means have also been employed in the ongoing fight to bring the weevil to its knees. Yet, for the South, the point is largely moot. The major damage was done long ago. In the span of a couple years, cotton, the king of the South, was reduced to barely a shadow of its former self. A way of life largely vanished, as well. It was a tough, often unfair way of life, without a doubt, but it was all people had known. They then had to find something else; sometimes better, sometimes worse. And it was all because of a little bug with a big nose which, in 2003, for the first time since its arrival in the state, was not detected anywhere in Georgia. Information for this post came from Professor Barbara Foley (although she was discussing Jean Toomer's 1923 book, "Cane"), the University of Tennessee, and UGA. Next time, we'll take a final look at Phinizy Swamp.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Death of a Brick Factory

Alright, so maybe the brick factory was already dead, but now even its corpse is not long for the world. We've been to the brick factory before, and I've even said a little about the Hammond's Ferry development. But, as ground was officially broken in April for the first phase of the Hammond's Ferry riverfront project, which will render the entire area virtually unrecognizable in a couple of years, we'll take a final look. Houses, restaurants, shops, and offices--1,000 units-worth altogether--are on the way. These are all shots from my last trip back in December. I led off with this building last time, but this is the view from the back. It's in there somewhere.

Let's go WWAAAYY back. In 1540, Hernando DeSoto and his party had been lost for some time in the wilds of Georgia. Even their Indian guides didn't know where they were anymore. On April 21, they crossed the Savannah River near Augusta, probably a bit to the west of the Savannah River Site. The crossing was known as Point Comfort, which is ironic, as comfort was in short supply. Here, DeSoto met the friendly Cofachiqui Indians. Well, they were friendly as long as you weren't from a rival indian tribe. If you were, they'd sever the nerves in one of your feet so you couldn't run away, and hold you as a slave for life.

But Hernando was really only interested in getting rich, and became upset once it was clear that the Cofachiqui didn't have any silver, nor knew where to get any. So, with nothing else to do, DeSoto and his men started digging up graves to get at the freshwater pearls that dead people were given. In one grave, amidst the dirt and stones, they found the belongings of DeSoto's brother, Ayllon. Ayllon, it turns out, had unsuccessfully tried to settle in the area a number of years previously, but had died of a nasty bout of plague of one sort or another. As a result, scores of indians had also died of the plague, and many villages had been abandoned. In any case, Hernando was saddened to find the personal effects of his dead brother. To console himself, he kidnapped the Cofachiqui's queen, Cacique, and made-off with 14 bushels of pearls. Many of DeSoto's party had been enjoying themselves and wanted to stay with the Cofachiqui, but Hernando got them moving through SC, and eventually into North Carolina and Tennessee.

Long after DeSoto and the Spanish, in 1685, the first English colonists in the Augusta area founded Savanno/Savanna Town, which is the present-day location of Beech Island. Savanna Town soon became the major outpost of indian trade in South Carolina. In fact, the name of the town (and, later, the river) came from a Shawnee Indian tribe, known as the Savanna Indians. At that time, the Savannah River was called the Westobou. Savanna Town was a regional center for fur trading, in particular, and trails linked the town, through deep wilderness, to indian villages in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina. Furs were traded for European goods, and settlers then shipped the pelts and what-not to Charleston. In 1716, Fort Moore was built to guard against any threat to trade that might arise in the western part of SC. George Galphin built a trading post nearby in 1760, which became Fort Galphin during the Revolutionary War.

In 1770, Campbell Town, SC was founded, and its existence is directly relevant (finally!) to these photos. Enter John Hammond, the father of Campbell Town. Or was his name Leroy Hammond? No one really knows for sure, so we'll call him Mr. Hammond. (Update: It was John. Leroy was the name of his uncle...and a cousin.) Anyway, Campbell Town (why not Hammond Town?) was established near where the 13th St. bridge is today, and likely encompassed the land the brick factory sits on now. Mr. Hammond decided to get into shipping and storing stuff, mostly agricultural products. To this end, he built some warehouses in what is now Harrisburg, GA, and soon found himself in very stiff competition with Ezekiel Harris, who, through the tobacco market, was trying to establish his own town to rival Augusta. Hammond also started a ferry service that turned out to be quite successful. However, in 1799, Mr. Hammond was killed under very mysterious circumstances, and his death never fully explained. What is known is that Ezekiel Harris suddenly found himself with a bit more breathing room. In my original post, I mentioned that a woman, probably a prostitute, had been living (and possibly working) in this outbuilding.

Mr. Hammond's death meant doom for Campbell Town, as Augusta continued to upgrade its shipping and storage facilities and C-Town did not. The town languished until about 1811, but has since sunk without a trace beneath the rippling waves of history. While Campbell Town is long gone, Hammond has lived on for over 200 years through Hammond's Ferry, the bit of woods pictured here that bears his name. And though, like Campbell Town, these woods are now doomed, Mr. Hammond will gain an even more prestigious immortality via the Hammond's Ferry riverfront project. We should be all so lucky. In the meantime, there's been some difficulty in figuring out just how to get all the bricks out of Hammond's Ferry. There's an awful lot of them and, of course, they do have to go. The brick factory is dangerous and, as more people come into the area, the likelihood that someone will get hurt grows. There's lots of small brick tunnels that a kid could easily crawl into, which would be bad. I, of course, would've loved to get into them, but, upon trying, found that I was probably 3 feet too tall and much too wide. Thus, failure. It's probably just as well.

So, that's about it for the brick factory. You know, I don't make this stuff up, it just seems that at every turn I find some sordid little detail. I don't go out of my way to document death, disease, and insanity. Well, okay, maybe just a little. But it might just be the CSRA itself. And no-one is immune, really. For example, Cliff Roberts, who co-founded Augusta National Golf Course with golf legend Bobby Jones, Jr., one day walked out to the 3rd hole on the Par 3 Course and shot himself in the head. And he was from New York! As an aside, there's a funny golf story about Dwight Eisenhower and Vice-President Richard Nixon. Eisenhower, who apparently didn't think much of his VP, would never invite Nixon along when he went to play golf. But Nixon was always asking to play, and so on one occasion Ike agreed to let him shoot a round at Augusta National. However, Ike was livid when Tricky Dick missed the tee-time and was nowhere to be found for the duration of the game. At the end of the round, the entourage found Nixon at the clubhouse, wearing sunglasses and nursing a hangover. It was Nixon's first and last visit to Augusta National. More here.

Okay, I'm off to see the Handsome Family. If you like country music (un-modern, downright gothic), fantastically morbid lyrics, and a wicked sense of humor, I highly recommend them. To wit: "Evel Knievel flew up from dead grass, I loved him better each time he crashed." If you can't get behind that, the King of Pop would like to speak with you about making a donation to his legal defense fund. Really, the Handsome Family would make a great soundtrack for City of Dust. They have songs about parking lots, bottomless holes, forgotten lakes, and haunted convenience stores. It was from just such a store that these shopping carts escaped and dragged themselves to the edge of the Augusta Canal. However, lacking the wherewithal to finally throw themselves in, they sorta collapsed in a heap on the bank. Good night.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Bottoms

I think that not ending City of Dust with the last (soon-to-come) post from the CSRA is a good idea. However, it sort of wrecks my whole concept. See, after exhausting all my Augusta-area info, I had planned on just stopping, unannounced. No fanfare, no farewell, nothing. Then I was going to cast the site adrift to sail, unmanned and abandoned, through the far reaches of cyberspace for all eternity. I could even pay my server fees in perpetuity from an anonymous bank account or something. It just seemed so fitting. Now I find that abandonment isn't always so easily. Actually, I was going to make one change to the site before I let it go, and subtly change the name in the banner. What to? "The Flying Dustman," of course. Oh well, it was a nice concept. We're down on Sand Bar Ferry Rd. now, in what's known as The Bottoms. The front of this building is actually a facade; the building itself is a good bit smaller. Also, it's not abandoned.

The Metro Spirit, Augusta's weekly newspaper, had a cover story on The Bottoms a few weeks ago. Had I been smart, I would've copied the article and used some of the historical info here. The best parts were the quotes from long-time residents. But, alas, the Spirit only posts the current issue on their website, and so I'm on my own. Actually, there's not that much left to say. I've already mentioned that the original site of the Sand Bar Ferry, on the river, used to be a popular dueling ground. We know that Charles Tilly, the last person to be killed in a duel in Georgia, was shot there. In keeping with this history, The Bottoms have long been known as a dangerous place to live. The Spirit article mentioned the violence, and noted that at one time there was a running feud between rival housing complexes. Incidentally, "The Bottoms" is short for "River Bottoms," and, historically, this area was very prone to finding itself under a good deal of water. The levee that runs through Augusta was built in 1911, and is just feet away from these photos. Still, floods were a big problem here until the Thurmond Dam was built in 1954.

Much of Sand Bar Ferry Rd. is pretty industrial. There are welding shops and auto salvage yards. Also, the area is a haven for stray dogs. Dogs are always showing up dead on the side of the road, but then more arrive to quickly take the place of the deceased. Where are they coming from? I speculate that the dogs on Sand Bar Ferry migrate over from Laney-Walker, where things are even tougher. The dogs on Sand Bar Ferry Rd. may have matted fur and drag bits of rope behind them, but the dogs on Laney-Walker are missing legs and have hunks of chain swinging from their necks.

But the Metro Spirit article pointed out that things are improving. Residents were quick to mention this, as well. There are a few churches, a couple convenience stores, a record store (The Dirty Souff), and a beauty parlor, which keep things active. Also, folks from the welding and repair shops are usually outside, talking to customers and passersby, and this street life helps any neighborhood. Although there are a number of residential homes along the road, on the Saturday morning I took these photos there was not a soul around. It would sure be nice if they could find a tenant for the Goodale Inn, which is farther down. I've posted plenty of photos of the Goodale Inn before, and even put up a shot of the weird billboard/movie screen that's adjacent awhile back. This is a light fixture from the very-abandoned vet clinic, which is next door to a not-so-inhabited bar.

Everyday I used to get on the John C. Calhoun Expressway... Well, yes, the JCC expressway IS completely across town from The Bottoms and, so, YES, once again, these photos and what I'm about to tell you have absolutely no relation. But, I'll tell this anyway. See, in Minneapolis, I used to live very close to Lake Calhoun. Only recently did I find out that the expressway and the lake were named for the same guy, a South Carolina-born, Yale-educated, former-vice president. I never got into the little house on Reynolds St., shown above, due to the huge amount of broken glass on the floor and the spiky bits of metal and wood sticking out from every surface. See: garbage houses.

Right, so, John Caldwell Calhoun was born in 1782 in Mt. Carmel, SC, approximately 48.1 miles from Augusta. He served in the SC state legislature and did three terms in the US House of Representatives. As the war of 1812 loomed, John C. and Henry Clay, two "warhawks" who felt the US was wallowing in a "putrescent pool of ignominious peace," were instrumental in finally getting war declared on England. Remember, rumor had it that Henry C. hung out at Getzen's Pond. Anyway, Calhoun was Secretary of War under James Monroe from 1817-1825. Ah, yes, remember when they just came right out and called the guy the Secretary of War? I believe this Coca-Cola bottling plant on Reynold St. is still operational. Why couldn't I just find out for sure? I don't know.

Calhoun ran for president in 1824, but eventually withdrew from the race. Instead, he ran unopposed for vice president. Ah, yes, remember when we voted for vp? Well, no, me either. Anyway, John Quincy Adams became president in 1824, and Calhoun was re-elected veep for Andrew Jackson's term in 1828. However, Jackson was in favor of the Tariff of 1928, which had been proposed by New Englanders who felt Britain was dumping cheap textiles onto the market. Calhoun saw the tariff as beneficial only to the industrial North, while hurting the South, which needed to sell cotton to English firms. So, Calhoun, now openly hostile to Jackson, became the only vice president in history to resign. He also wrote "The South Carolina Exposition and Protest," which essentially asserted that all federal laws should be nullified. His views earned him the nickname "Arch Nullifier." Ouch, that must've hurt. In 1832, the SC legislature agreed with Calhoun, and Jackson threatened to send in the army. Henry Clay stepped in to settle the dispute. A year later, Calhoun and Daniel Webster had a legendary debate in which Calhoun vehemently argued for states' rights and slavery. We took a quick turn off Reynolds and popped back down to Ellis St. AGAIN, this time on the east end of downtown.

Calhoun was appointed Secretary of State by President John Tyler in 1844. Bet you didn't even know a guy named John Tyler had been president, eh? Calhoun later went back to the Senate, where he was strongly in favor of annexing Texas and against the Wilmot Proviso, which stated that any territory obtained during the Mexican War should be free from slavery. Calhoun died in 1850 and was buried in Charleston. In 1957, despite his views (or because of them?), the US Senate honored Calhoun as one of the five greatest Senators of all time. Now, I suppose it's not so odd that Georgia named a rather short expressway after Calhoun. He was, after all, from nearby. But the real question is: Why would he be the namesake of one of the most popular lakes in Minneapolis, Minnesota? We've seen this bridge before. It leads over the Savannah River, into the ghost town of Hamburg, and on to the next post.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

More Pictures of Bricks and Blue Sky

So, we've wandered away from Walton Way and back downtown, where we'll have one final look-see. Are you noticing a pattern here? Yup, lots of last-looks. City of Dust as it has existed for almost 9 months is about to end. It had to happen. I'm running out of photos and stories and, since I don't live in the CSRA any longer, there's not much I can do to replenish my stock. I've got a handful of posts I'd still like to do, but you can count them on one hand. This is a set of barred doors behind an abandoned school off Reynolds St. Doesn't make it easy to get in, does it?

When I began City of Dust I thought once I'd posted everything I had regarding Augusta and the surrounding region I'd call it a day. Mainly, I had a lot of information I wanted to get out of my head and tons of photos I had no other use for. Thus, I've always been posting for myself, primarily. Which is good when you're doing a blog these days, 'cause it's hard to get people's attention. I believe Congress recently passed legislation mandating that every citizen is required to have a blog, effective immediately. But it's been a great way to process the experiences of the last three or four years and flush the mental vaults, hopefully in preparation for restocking by three or four years of equally intense experiences. That said, I've been really gratified to find that some people do read this thing, or at least look at the pictures, which is good enough. Some of these people I don't even know! I've appreciated all the comments, and its been fun to "meet" a bunch of folks through cyberspace. This is just a long-winded way of saying I don't think I'll be able to actually "quit." We're smack in the middle of downtown here. People exiting this building off the second floor have not been happy.

However, there will be some significant changes. I've thought about just what those changes might be, and I think I can say a couple of things. First, posts will get MUCH less text-y, and the focus will be primarily on photographs. I don't foresee having the time to crank out these huge posts in the future, nor will I have the inclination to include so many shots. While it may have been delusional, I've told myself that I've been "documenting" a specific piece of the CSRA for the last 9 months, and so I've put up tons of photos. I've hoped that the pictures complemented the text and maybe provided some atmosphere. However, not all of them were of the highest "artistic merit." Well, hell, what do I know about "artistic merit"? I'll continue to post the shots I like, regardless. There'll just be fewer of them (and they'll be a little larger). A window adjacent to the above doors.

Without the regional restriction which, I admit, has actually been a great asset, I'll be able to post all kinds of photos from all over the place. But, don't worry, you won't suddenly see pictures of puppies and begonias. Not that I don't like puppies and begonias, but I remain shackled to a dark, troubling vision. Aw geez, I hope I'm kidding. We've moved one whole building to the left of the one in the two shots above.

I've toyed with the idea of putting up one photo a day, but I'm kidding myself if I think that's going to happen. More likely, I'll do a group of shots, probably three, every few days. The photos in these triptychs will be somehow related, and I may tell a story or give some history or write something or other. Or, I might not say much beyond the location of the pictures. I guess what I'm saying is City of Dust might become primarily a photoblog. We'll see. I'm open to suggestions. Feel free to write in and say, "Uh, hey, buddy, don't you think you've done enough damage here?!" or "Please, whatever you do, don't stop writing 1600-word posts that are only tangentially related to the photos that accompany them." The carwash above, on 13th, just before you cross the Savannah River into South Carolina, has undergone a complete facelift and is now a fully operational auto repair shop. For now.

It's been a pretty good run though, I think. We've seen an abandoned mill and an abandoned brick factory. We've seen an abandoned rooming house and an abandoned freezer facility. We've also seen an abandoned mission and an abandoned farmhouse in a swamp. Oh, and there was a whole abandoned neighborhood, too! But we also checked out the Augusta Canal, hung around downtown Augusta, went to the junkyard, and spent some time in Aiken, SC. And we've studied the sad histories of the dead towns of Ellenton, Dunbarton, and Hamburg, South Carolina. I feel like the coverage has been fairly extensive, if I do say so myself. For some reason we went back to Ellis St., above, for one last look.

So, I feel pretty good about where City of Dust has been. Photographically, we'll go all around the country from here, and hopefully the world. Unfortunately, for most of my life I haven't even owned a camera, so I'm sort of starting from scratch. Again, thanks to everyone that's written in and said they enjoy the stories and the photos. It's been very much appreciated and, you know, there's no reason to STOP doing that stuff! This shot and the photo below are of Hulse's Laundry, which we've seen a little of before. Next time, we're going to take a (final) trip down Sand Bar Ferry Rd. It'll be business as usual for the next few posts, but I just wanted to let everyone know that changes are afoot. (But, no, I don't actually have a job yet.) Take care, everyone.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Access Denied

Last time, we were leaving James Brown Blvd. and heading downtown. However, The Trip of a Lifetime, a story carried in The Guardian a couple of years ago, suddenly changed our mind. Thus, instead of turning right off Walker St., we meandered around and eventually turned left. In The Guardian story, James Brown visits his childhood home, a brothel run by his Aunt, at 944 Twiggs St. The article describes the house as "abandoned and bristling with weeds." Now, if you think I'd pass up the chance to visit the abandoned brothel that The Godfather of Soul grew up in, and possibly get inside to take some photos, well, you haven't seen much of this site. However, I have no pictures of 944 Twiggs St. Nor do I have any photos of Hopkins St., also mentioned in the story. In fact, I have no shots of JB Blvd. south of Walton Way. In this post, I'll describe why that is, though I've touched on it briefly before, and include some photographs that are as close as we're gonna get. This is a shot of a warehouse along the railroad tracks just north of Walton Way.

On the downtown flats sits a relatively small, rectangular set of streets. This area is bounded by Walton Way to the north, and Laney-Walker to the south, with a trainyard and miles of open swampland beyond. To the east is Magnolia Cemetery, encased behind a high brick wall. To the west are more tracks, and then the landscape changes as one approaches the medical colleges. This rectangle was known historically as "The Terry," short for "Negro Territory." Within these boundaries Augusta's poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods are located. I've heard that police don't bother to patrol the streets, some of which are said to still be unpaved, and virtually no one I know has ever turned off Walton Way or Laney-Walker to see if the rumors are true. Well, I did, but we'll get to that. We're moving slow, so we're still checking out the warehouse in the photo below.

As the 2005 Master's Golf Tournament is wrapping up, I'll be a spoil-sport and mention an unpleasant event that used to take place at the once-grand Bon Aire Hotel, now a nursing home, much farther up Walton Way, on The Hill. In the 1930's, members of Augusta National Golf Club would recruit young black men, mostly from The Terry, and have boxing matches. In these matches, six men all fought at once, each blind-folded, and often with one arm tied behind their backs. These free-for-alls were a tradition, and club members dressed up in their finest for the matches. It's been said that James Brown participated in some of these bouts, which is possible only if they continued well into the 1940's, or if Brown's real birthdate is earlier than 1933, as has been speculated. Incidentally, the first African-American joined the Augusta National Golf Club in 1990, although Lee Elder had been playing the course since the 1970's. Now, of course, the controversy is over whether the Club should admit women.

As I mentioned, I don't know anyone that can tell me much about this part of the flats. In all honesty, it's probably best that way. Most of my friends in Augusta, like me, are white males, considered to have only two reasons for being in this particular area: 1.) drugs; and/or 2.) prostitutes. It's unfortunate, but residents and police, not to mention dealers and hookers, all know that to be the case. Therefore, it seems disrespectful to me to go into these neighborhoods to "check it out, man," when these folks are having a hard enough time without wacko urban tourists coming down and getting themselves into trouble. This is a mysterious photo of the Augusta Iron Works, actually very close to James Brown Blvd., and a street down from Walton Way. I know you can't see much, but there it is. At least for now.

After saying all of the above, I did finally break down and take a short trip through on a couple of occasions, basically driving a straight line from Walton Way to Laney-Walker and back. Yes, there's plenty of places that had been torched, and homes that were barely livable, though lived-in they were. I recall a large, two-story building that had obviously been a bar. The doors were wide open and, normally, I'd be unable to resist. James Brown, referring to these neighborhoods, said, "You look at this, it kinda take your breath." But there were also well-kept homes with flowers and lawns, and it was the looks I received from the owners of these residences, more than anything, that convinced me not to start wandering around. They didn't look pleased to see me, and followed my car closely as I passed. I don't consider this racism, nor do I believe it's a class issue (my car is worth about $300). As I mentioned, it's likely these people simply figured I must be looking for drugs, prostitutes, or some kind of trouble. To get out and start walking around with a camera, taking pictures, would be the height of audacity/stupidity. This is the back of the Augusta Iron Works.

In 1967, Canadian filmmaker Hugh O'Connor was shot and killed by Hobart Ison. Ison lived in Letcher County, Kentucky, in the Appalachian Mountains, where Lyndon Johnson had declared a "War on Poverty" in 1964. O'Connor was making a film at the behest of the U.S. Department of Commerce which was to show the many facets of American life. A scene was being shot during which a woman went to a common well to draw water. The well was on Ison's land, but Ison hadn't been told of the filming. Eventually, the crew was warned that Ison, gun in hand, was on his way, and began to pack up. Ison arrived, screaming "Get off my property!", and began firing. Some members of the crew thought the bullets were blanks. O'Connor turned to tell Ison they were going, and was shot in the chest. A movie was eventually made, released recently, called Stranger with a Camera. The film is directed by Elizabeth Barrett, who grew up in eastern Kentucky. "Can filmmakers show poverty without shaming the people we portray? I came to see that there was a complex relationship between social action and social embarrassment. As a filmmaker, I live every day with the implications of what happened." Ison wasn't the only member of the community who saw the filmmakers as "do-gooders" and "outsiders." Below is Sonny Boy's Barber Shop, and, despite what I said last time, we're actually back on JB Blvd. for a moment. Sonny's is gone now, and all that remains is a black and white checkerboard floor and a pile of glass block.

We're on the edge of Walton Way, but we won't cross the street. James Brown can drive his limousine through, because this is where he's from. It also doesn't hurt that he hands out $50 bills to residents. But, even without his generosity, he is not an outsider, and everyone knows he's not looking at them as "the other." Not so for me. I might take photographs if someone from the neighborhood offered to show me around. But maybe not. Such places are best documented by those who live there, who, given the means, could do a better job than I. For a northerner, such feelings seem even more pronounced in the South. Writer and SC-native Dorothy Allison has said something like, "Nowhere are you more aware that you are an outsider, who will never entirely fit in, than when you are in the South." No matter how comfortable you get, if you weren't born in the South, you will always find yourself somewhere, at some time, knowing that you are different. Then again, this can be just as true, if not moreso, on the street where you were born. I've been in abandoned restaurants, movie theaters, and motels, but never a strip club. I badly wanted in, but, as open buildings in this area are quickly occupied, the one below was sealed up like a fortress.

James Brown: "They want me to help build this place back. What can I do? Get on my knees and pray, and ask, 'Mr President, come. Mr Bush, come in here and clean it out and put decent homes in here'?" We'll turn back now and start heading downtown again. On our way, we pass this cement factory. At least, I think it's a cement factory. Thomas Croft, who wrote an interesting article on Augusta National Golf Course, has quoted his mother as saying, "Augusta is damned near three hundred years of history unblemished by progress." That, of course, depends on your definition of progress and your patience with the process. Next time, as usual, we'll look at more of the Augusta that hasn't progressed. Or is progressing back into that whence it came.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Boulevard of Soul

I hear ya. You're saying, "Oh geez, how many pictures of dilapidated buildings and empty streets can a person take?" But bear with me. This post, in combination with the previous and I Feel Good!, will result in what I believe to be the most extensive photographic record of this end of James Brown Boulevard currently extant. No kidding! You're thinking, "So, are people e-mailing you, pleading that you document the hell out of one half-block of a largely forgotten street from a slightly-above-horizontal perspective using quickly scanned photos off negatives developed at a drugstore?" I concede, no. However, consider this, as I type, tens of thousands of people are pouring into Augusta for the Master's Golf Tournament. How many will see this street? I'd estimate seven. How many of those, finding themselves on JB Blvd., will NOT think: a.) "Whoops, wrong turn!"; or b.) "I wonder if we can find some drugs down here?" I believe zero. I'm not saying thousands upon thousands of golf fans are wrong, that's just the way it is. And I don't think what you see here is going to last long. This block has even been considered as a site for the new courthouse, if they could just get around the pesky trains nearby. So, this one is for me and James. About the man...

James Joe Brown, Jr. was born May 3, 1933 (1928?) in Barnwell, SC. Or was it Macon, GA? Pulaski, TN? In any case, when James was 4 years old, his mother left his father for another man. His father told her, "Take your child." "You keep him," was her response. James didn't see her again for 20 years. The going got even tougher and the family, without a dime to their name, moved to Augusta, GA. James was quickly sent to live in a brothel with his Aunt Honey, the madam, at 944 Twiggs St. The boy shined shoes outside the "Shoeshine King," delivered whiskey, and buck-danced for soldiers--anything for a few coins. At the age of 16, he was picked up for armed robbery and sentenced to 8-16 years' hard labor. He spent the next four years in the county jail, on a juvenile work farm, and in a group home. Upon release, he joined the Gospel Starlighters, a vocal group led by Bobby Byrd. Soon, the group changed their name to the Famous Flames, shifted from gospel to r & b tunes, and moved James out front. James married his first wife, Velma, and, in 1956, after recording "Please, Please, Please" at WIBB in Macon, GA, the Famous Flames signed to Federal/King Records for $200. "Please, Please, Please" went to #5 on the r & b charts. In 1957, Little Richard renounced rock and roll for that other religion. Namely, religion. James and the Famous Flames picked up all the dates Little Richard had booked and also picked up a few of Richard's band members. Things really got rolling and "Try Me" was released in the fall of 1958, hitting #1 in the r & b charts, where it became the best-selling single of the year. This is the balcony of the above building. Another rare recurrence, this building also appears in b & w in I Feel Good!.

Constantly in demand, Brown booked seven nights at the Apollo in NYC in 1962. The midnight show of 10/14/62 was recorded and released as--yup--Live at the Apollo. A few months later, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" was issued, dominating the r & b charts for 8 weeks and even cracking the mainstream Top Ten. In 1965, another smash hit, "I Got You (I Feel Good)," was released. In 1969, James played Richard Nixon's inauguration. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, much like his second marriage, to Deirdre Jenkins, in 1970. Later that year, he signed with Polydor and shortly afterward released "Get on the Good Foot," which reached #18 in the Top 40 and eventually sold a million copies. James started to call himself "The Godfather of Soul," a title which appeared not unwarranted. In 1973, James' eldest son, Teddy, was killed in an auto accident. The following year, The Payback was issued, featuring long, dense jams, the shortest of which was 5:52. (The longest, "Time is Running Out Fast," clocked in at 12:47.) It became Brown's only gold album, selling over 500,000 copies. That same year, James played "The Rumble in the Jungle," the music festival-cum-Ali/Foreman fight held in Zaire. I guess that was Don King's idea. Oh, and the IRS wanted $4.5 million in back taxes, ensuring that the Hardest Working Man in Show Business remained so. Here's a thin green door. I do not know what's behind it.

Enter the Disco Era. James responded by releasing "The Original Disco Man." This was probably not a good idea. He did show up in the Blues Brothers movie though. In 1984, he married his third wife, Adrienne. In 1987, he got an audience with the Pope. James was considering the Ministry, but the Pope advised that he not quit his day job. In early 1986, "Living in America," the theme to Rocky IV, reached #4 on the Hot 100, and James was back in action. Sort of. Was Rocky IV really that long ago? Anyway, in 1988, following a troubling period of drug abuse and arrests, James was picked up on a domestic assault charge. Music fans of conscience really wished he wouldn't have hit his wife. Soon after, Brown took a shotgun into an insurance-licensing seminar being held next door to his offices in downtown Augusta, believing that an attendee had used his personal toilet. He then hopped in his jeep and was chased back and forth across the SC/GA state line on Interstate 20 by police, who fired 23 shots at the vehicle. Brown drove back to Augusta on tire rims before being pulled over, and was found to be on angel dust. Brown denied being on PCP, and claimed he'd fled police to protect himself. Nope, no way over the thin green door either.

In December 1988, James Brown was sentenced to 8 years in prison. He was paroled on February 21, 1991 for good behavior, and immediately had new eyebrows tattooed onto his face. (Not so strange, really. Donald Trump had similar work done.) The eyebrows were completed just in time for James to be given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1992 Grammy Awards. The next year, MC Hammer presented James with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 4th Annual Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards. In November 1993, 9th St. became James Brown Blvd. and November 20 was declared James Brown Day in Augusta because, among other things, "James Brown is a musical phenomenon affectionately known as `The Godfather of Soul.'" Here's another door. See, there's just no way inside these buildings.

In 1996, Adrienne died from complications while having liposuction surgery. James received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997, but in 1999 a former employee, Lisa Agbalaya-Ross, claimed he'd told her he had powerful testicles which he'd received from the government. She promptly sued him for sexual harassment to the tune of $1 million. In January 2002, Brown married wife #4, Tomi Rae Hynie, and was also cleared of the harassment charges. On January 28, 2004, Brown was arrested once again for domestic violence, causing the city of Augusta to cancel his appearance that spring, a performance that was to coincide with the unveiling of a statue (subsequently re-veiled), and the re-naming of the Garden City Music Fest to the James Brown Music Fest (subsequently un-renamed). James' dishevelled mug shot was shown nationally. We could see inside this old church-like building from the roof of The Meathouse. What we saw was that the whole 2nd floor had caved in.

The Godfather of Soul, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, is undoubtedly a legend. Some of his recent acts are indefensible, others laudable, some baffling. Until a bout with prostate cancer last December, he was still playing 50 dates a year. He continues to hand out free Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas presents each year to the poor in the neighborhoods near where these photos were taken. But JB Blvd. saddens the Godfather of Soul. Among the few people that roam this ruined stretch, one is Brown's daughter by a former mistress. Of her, he's said, "She's got worse than a habit. When a person is just spooked, we say she got a monkey on her back. She got a gorilla on her back." The man may have banned computers from his office because he believes they can watch him, but only Elvis Presley has had more hit records. Until recently, Brown used to hang around his radio station downtown, which, I believe, is now defunct. One day, a friend of mine saw him hanging a display in the window and waved. James pointed back, smiled, and did a little spin and shuffle. James Brown: "I fear God. I fear a man with a gun. I fear a man with a knife. I fear a fool behind the wheel. That's what I fear. I fear death. Death may come to me. I may not run from it like a lot of people if my rights is there. I put my rights first, 'cause if I can't live then I'm already dead." And so we leave JB Blvd., and head down Walker St., never to return. Info for this post came from the Hall of Fame biography and Cosmopolis. If you only read one James Brown story, make it The Trip of a Lifetime, a driving tour through downtown and along JB Blvd. with James Brown himself. The quotes included here are from that story. The original proclamation regarding JB Blvd. and James Brown Day in Augusta is here....somewhere. See ya next time.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Belle, Her Soldier, and Their Ghosts

Okay, I've returned from my little jaunt through the South. The weather was beautiful in New Orleans, we stopped by Robert Johnson's hometown of Hazlehurst, Miss. (the azaleas are in bloom down there), and saw Reverend Al Green at the Krispy Kreme in Memphis before going to Graceland. What more could you want? Now we'll get back to downtown Augusta, as I promised. We'll follow the path I took the morning I shot these photos, strolling down Ellis St., across Telfair St., up James Brown Blvd., and then over to Walker St. This is the second batch of scanned photos and I'm fairly happy with them. However, they sometimes look a little jaundiced. I've messed around with the scanning software, dumped the shots in Photoshop, tried a little of this and that and what you see is the best I can do for now. Actually, I kinda dig the slightly yellow tint some shots have. I believe the term is "antiquing." Arty, eh? Maybe it's just malaria. Anyway, this is the Ellis entrance to the big, empty Woolworth's on Broad St. and 8th. For those of you closely following the Woolworth's building, you can see the mosaic on the floor of the third entryway, on 8th St., here.

For this post I'm going to relate a little ghost story from Sean Joiner's "Haunted Augusta & Local Legends." I've borrowed from his book before, so once again I thank Mr. Joiner, wherever he may be. This tale takes place in Bellevue, a home built in 1805 by Freeman Walker, who'd been mayor of Augusta and a U.S. Senator. Bellevue is located on what is now the Augusta State University (ASU) campus and is used, I believe, as a student counselling center. ASU is up on "The Hill," a ritzy part of town up Walton Way where wealthy folks moved to get away from the Savannah River and "swamp fever," AKA malaria. Here's the Kress building, just down from Woolworth's. What's Kress? Beats me.

Now, the Augusta Arsenal used to be near the river and, consequently, soldiers were always turning yellow, getting enlarged spleens, and dying like flies. Captain Matthew Payne visited Freeman Walker in his house up on The Hill in an attempt to regain his own health afer a bout of fever. While there, the Captain realized that the men at the Arsenal might not die so often if they were up on the hill too. So, construction of a new Augusta Arsenal began, right beside Bellevue. This was in the mid-late 1820's. Now, having dodged some construction equipment and a few stray dogs, we're just a bit further down Ellis St.

Just as the Civil War was on the horizon, the Federal Government sent 22,000 muskets and rifles up to the Arsenal under the guard of Captain Arnold Elzey. In January of 1861, Elzey surrendered the Arsenal and its arsenal to Colonel W.H. Walker of the Confederate Army. Elzey then joined the Confederacy and was promptly promoted to Colonel himself. By this time, Freeman Walker was long dead and John Galt lived at Bellevue with his two daughters, Emily and Lucy. I'm assuming both daughters were very beautiful and prone to swooning, but I can't verify that. We've taken a left turn and walked down the street to Telfair. I rarely take more than one shot of something, but I've got at least three of this sign. I dunno why. I guess I just like it. There's another here, and a third here. This is the only perspective from which you can see the Russian Orthodox church in the background though.

Lincoln had just been elected and the South was pissed, but Emily was more interested in a young soldier she'd been eyeing next door at the Arsenal. Emily, what with the swooning and being young and beautiful and all, had no trouble getting a marriage proposal out of the soldier, whose name has apparently been lost to history. Anyway, the soldier coughed up a nice rock and Emily spent a lot of time up in her second story room admiring her ring and swooning. Possibly she suspected the stone was cubic zirconia, because she took the diamond and etched her name in the glass. Hey, it IS real! Lucy saw this and wanted her name immortalized as well. Then they scratched the year: 1861. But, as you may have imagined, something went horribly wrong. At the corner of Telfair now and entering my favorite street in Augusta, James Brown Boulevard. Ow! Let me hear ya say it one time! Ooh! Um, possibly not the best street to get your shopping done, however.

Emily's beau had to go off with his friends from the Arsenal and fight in the War and was very quickly killed. Like, right away. Upon hearing the news, Emily opened the window she and her sister had etched their names into and jumped out. She died as a result of her injuries, as in those days a second-story fall meant certain death. At the time, you know, amputations were done with a saw and a bottle of whiskey for all concerned. But Emily may not have really wanted to leave Bellevue. Over the years, many people have claimed that they've heard not just Emily, but her fiance, as well. University employees staying late have overheard two people arguing bitterly in the house, not unlikely in a counselling center, but when they've gone to see what was wrong, no one was there. Do they even make Diet-Rite Cola anymore?

The bickering couple is believed to be Emily and her soldier. Emily pleads with him not to go off to war, while he tells her that it is his solemn duty as a southerner to fight. As it often does, war wins out over the girl, despite youth, beauty, and swooning. And it's possible Emily's never gotten over it, almost 150 years later. You can bet that I went on a mission one day to look for this window, even if I had to pretend I was an ASU student in need of counselling. Yes, I know, possibly not a stretch. However, it took me awhile to get around to it. Just before I left Augusta I figured I better finally have a look see and, would you believe it, the whole place was closed for renovation. I'm pretty adept at getting into old buildings, but not secure contruction sites in the middle of the day. Or even the middle of the night. So, as they say, I can neither confirm nor deny the veracity of the claims. But, you know, I believe it! Other side of James Brown Blvd. Not much livelier than across the street.

Anne from Wide Angle had the best guess in last week's contest. She thought the photos were from one of the Great Lakes. In fact, the lake is Superior, the first two shots being Grand Marais, MN, the third Beaver Bay. They were taken in February, during a bit of a thaw/refreeze. This is a photo of one of my favorite buildings downtown, on Walker St., across from The Meathouse. Well, it WAS one of my favorite buildings. You can see what happened to it here. Now nothing remains. I have no idea what it might've been used for. Next time, we're going to thoroughly explore the Boulevard of Soul. Bye.