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.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back. I love your stories, man. But I was thinking, given your talent for portraying unglamorous buildings, you may have blown your chance to become staff photographer for the Augusta Chamber of Commerce.

Anonymous said...

So did I win the contest then?? :-)


AValdez1 said...

The window does exist. As a former employee of the ASU Archaeology Lab I have
in fact photographed the window. The window is still in tact and stored on
campus. Your tale was fascinating and mostly true. Good job. If you are ever
in the south again and want proof, let me know.

Jeff K said...

Love these shots! Are they all orginal? I've got a new area of my person website that's called "Crumbling America" and would love to add some of these (with full credit to the phtographer)

Let me know


Anonymous said...

I am currently a student at Augusta State University and I am doing a project on the Ghosts of Augusta State. My brother had told me the apple pie ghost story and one of my professors had touched on Emily and Bellevue Hall. Thank you for having information about Augusta State's ghosts it is very appreciated by this ASU student.:)

jmhouse said...

Thanks for your kind comment. I recommend picking up a copy of Haunted Augusta by Sean Joiner, if you can find one. It's a slim little book they used to have at Borders and B&N around AGS, but that's been a few years ago.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by and good luck with the project. Sounds like fun!

Anonymous said...

Augusta looks like an absolutely depressing place.

jmhouse said...

Anonymous, you know, I still think it's probably the most photogenic city I've ever lived in. Now, to some that may actually imply that it *is* depressing. Beyond that, from my own experience I'd say that if you polled the residents of Augusta many would probably agree with your assessment quite strongly.

Best, JM