The Bluff

The Marshallville Chronicles…

(Vingette from “119,” in remembrance of J. T. ‘Mac’ McElheny, Sr. of Marshallville, GA)

Photo date: 1976

Photo date: 1976                                                                                                                                                           The Bluff at Bryant Hill:  It overlooks an expansive clay canyon etched by the prehistoric, erosive actions of the Flint, its colorfully striated embankments extending down into the river swamps.

… Past the little branch that runs to the Flint River, the paved highway curves toward Indian Lake and becomes Vinings Road, while the dirt road continues and begins to climb. Tom parked the car a ways beyond the curve, and the two brothers left it to navigate the ditch that separates the pavement from the eastern edge of the escarpment. Colloquially known as “the Bluff at Bryant Hill,” it overlooks an expansive clay canyon etched by the prehistoric, erosive action of the Flint. Its colorfully striated embankments extend all the way to the river swamps.

Climbing down the ridge, they reached the site where the dilapidated structure formerly known as the Stage Coach Inn had stood for years amid dying oaks. Built by a man named Nathan Bryan along the old highway in 1810 as a stylish carriage roadhouse, the story-and-a-half dwelling, with its front and back lean-tos and rustic timbers, also housed the first ‘bank’ in the state of Georgia. Later, it was used as a private residence, long since abandoned, and eventually destroyed by fire, but during Tom’s youth, it loomed over the escarpment like a wooden mausoleum.

The house, called the “Bryan Place,” always seemed hostile in Tom’s mind, as hostile as the house off Old Perry Road where the angry dogs lived under the porch, yet the bluff, itself, was anything but. The bluff was a sacred portal, a magical transport to endless hours of adventure and exploration, a place where dads were guardians. No mothers ever went there. The canyon’s gentle slopes up from the swamps were for climbing, and jumping, and expending boundless amounts of energy, imagination, freedom. It was the farthest point west that a boy could reach on a bike, and the hike to the mill pond below served to extend the journey into the impossible, the place beyond bicycles, still attainable, heretofore, when fathers took sons hunting.

Photo: 1976

Photo: 1976

But while the house was never the main attraction for young Tom, it did add atmosphere. Thrill seekers from the three surrounding counties ventured there amid rumors that the once-elegant inn was haunted. Indeed, a bullet hole in the large upstairs room remained as evidence that a murder had taken place.

Subsequently, every child in Marshallville knew it as the quintessential haunted house. Proof of the haunting, “House on Haunted Hill ain’t got nothing on Bryant Hill!” was proclaimed on the school bus in 1960. It was proclaimed on the afternoon Mac told the kids to get into the car, and drove them there on an expedition. When someone suggested they explore the house, Mac led the way inside to the central staircase.

Photo credit: Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey, Ward Dennis, Photographer - June, 21st, 1936 VIEW OF GABLE END AND FRONT - Marshallville, Macon County, GA

Photo credit: Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey, Ward Dennis, Photographer – June, 21st, 1936
VIEW OF GABLE END AND FRONT – Marshallville, Macon County, GA

“Now, when you get up there,” he instructed, “look way high in the corner and see if you can’t find the hole in the wall where the bullet went after it went clean through that woman’s head.”

Without question, the children carefully navigated the stair steps. The second floor was a large room intersected by the enclosed central stairwell whose walls extended all the way to the ceiling. It served to separate the room into quadrants, each with its own narrow window. The interior seemed almost gallery-like, as Tom, Nancy and their friends circled around it looking for the right high corner. Just as they were inspecting the darkest, there was a “creeeek” on the stairs. No doubt, it was Mac heading up to help with the search, so they resumed their investigation, and had located what they thought was the notorious ‘hole,’ when the “creeeeking” sounded, again. This time they waited, but Mac didn’t appear. After several ominous “squeaks,” Tom alone peered down the stairwell.

“Dad?” he called. There was no answer. Tom turned to relay an expression of puzzlement to the others who were frozen and listening. When he turned to look again, Mac was on the top step peering down at him, his head shrouded in shadow. Tom shrieked and fell backward. Terrified, the children scattered. Mac followed them down the stairs, and did his best to reassure them it was all in fun. Only when they regrouped outside, did they learn that Nancy had bailed out of one of the windows into a brier bush.

On the way home in the car, everyone had a good laugh, and for years to come they laughed. The episode remained in Tom’s memory as one of the funniest, and scariest of those times his father had caught them off guard, as he was apt to do since they were little, playing hide and seek. Mac never told them how he was able to duck behind the wall each time after hitting the bottom step, and bolt up the stairs without a sound, but nobody was in a hurry to explore the house again — the precise outcome Tom’s father had intended. Mac was a skillful guardian.The Bluff View West Toward The Flint

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Copyright 2015 – 2021, Real Spooks – Cynthia Farr Kinkel

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The Only Thing Mac Could Never Explain…

The Marshallville Chronicles…

(Vingette from “119,  in remembrance of J. T. ‘Mac’ McElheny, Sr. of Marshallville, GA)

…  As a young man growing up in Monticello, Georgia, in the 1930s, Tom’s father, ‘Mac,’ worked on the farm after school and on the weekends. Sometimes it was near dark when he finished his chores. The shortest route to his parents’ house was through a large erosion gully whose tall clay embankments were topped by an occasional small tree, seasonal field grasses, and low undergrowth. Most evenings, Mac’s friendly collie, Laddie, would lie in wait for Mac to walk by so he could jump down in ambush on top of him. It was part of a little game they played. The next part was the race to the kitchen steps once they reached the backyard gate.

REAL SPOOKS © 2012

The Gully

One bright, moon-lit evening, as Mac walked through the gulley, he spotted a white shape on the ledge. It looked like the underside of his dog as it paced him, so he pretended to ignore it, but kept his eye on it all the same.  As usual, he was planning to spot it before it jumped, so he could grab it, but soon found he was having to quicken his steps just to keep up with it.

“Hey, boy!” Mac whistled. He was hungry and tired and ready to get home. “Come on now! I see ya!”

He slowed his gait, but the shape continued to wind through the undergrowth, almost as if it were ‘scooting or gliding’ like a mechanical rabbit on a dog track. It made no cries or sounds.

That’s odd, Mac thought, and he stopped.

Several yards ahead, the silent shape also stopped as if it were waiting. Mac watched as it slowly turned a rote body his way. Two gleaming eyes peering from the strangely perched head, locked dead-on with his, … and blinked.

Just as Mac thought he’d imagined this, he felt something cold and wet on his hand. Startled, he looked down. It was Laddie, licking vigorously and wagging his tail. Mac took off yelling and leaped down the gully as fast as his legs would carry him, and didn’t look back. He and the collie reached the gate together, but Mac beat the dog to the house.

In coming years, Tom’s father would tell this story many times, always prefacing it with the same, “That was the only thing I ever saw that I couldn’t explain,” and he meant it. He never encountered the strange shape again, though he passed through the gully a thousand times and always looked for it. He also made a point to entice Laddie down from the embankment early on, so he could make sure the collie was by his side the rest of the way home.

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Copyright 2012 – 2021, Real Spooks – Cynthia Farr Kinkel

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I Saw It On My Wall…

The Marshallville Chronicles…

(Vingette from “119, by John Thomas McElheny and Cynthia Farr Kinkel, told in remembrance of Marian Y. Clay McElheny of Marshallville, GA.)

  * * *      First United Methodist Church of Marshallville     …Tom’s mother, Marian, walked into his room in the wee hours one Sunday morning, woke him and told him that fellow church member Graham Bell was dead.

       Tom sat up in bed. “When did it happen?”

     “At five o’clock this morning,” his mother replied.

     Tom blinked his eyes and stared at the clock. “Mama, it’s only three-thirty.”

     But Marian was convinced, so he humored her. “Why don’t you call him, and tell him whatever he’s planning to do at five o’clock, not to do it.”

     Marian shook her head. “Whatever is going to happen can’t be prevented.

     “Well, how do you know?” Tom protested.

     Her tone was resigned. “I saw it on my wall.”

     She requested that Tom get up and learn the Douglas Sunday School lesson for the men’s class that Graham Bell was supposed to teach. She instructed him to walk into the Sunday school room and say, “I’m your substitute teacher today.” 

Graham Bell's Watch - Real Spooks

     Tom was to teach the lesson, then, go down to the choir room, put on Graham Bell’s robe, rehearse the anthem, process with the choir and sit in his spot, so that Graham wouldn’t be missed. After the service, he was to tell Pastor Emitt Davis that Graham had died, and was to also insist that Pastor Emitt go over to the house to verify the event. 

     A goodly representation of First Methodist folks were sent directly to the Bell’s house. They found Graham in the bathroom. He’d had a massive heart attack and fallen into the tub, hitting his wrist watch on the side, stopping it at five a.m.

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     Helen Johnson was one of Marian’s best friends. She had returned to Marshallville, to her parents’ house across the street, after the death of her sister Irene, to become guardian of Irene’s three children, Clara, Ricky and Albert. Eventually, Helen also cared for her parents, Miss Ethyl and Mr. A.N. in their declining years.

     One afternoon, Helen checked into the hospital to have some medical tests done. She was accompanied by her sister, Lucy Clair.

     That night, Marian came into Tom’s room and roused him. “Wake up,” she whispered. “Come look at this.”

     Tom followed her to the bedroom where his father was still sleeping. His hearing aid lay on the bedside table.

Marians Bedroom with Helens Flowers      “Isn’t it beautiful?” Marian quietly exclaimed.

     Tom had no idea what she meant.

     “Look at that beautiful field of flowers!” she sighed, and she began pointing to them as if there were many.  

   Tom was perplexed. “All I see is what I know in the dark to be a celery green paint job.”

     But Marian insisted. “Helen Johnson! Don’t you see her,… there? She’s picking flowers.”

    Tom laughed softly. “Well, that’s nice, Mama.” He didn’t see.

      Marian shook her head. “No, it’s not nice.” Her smile faded. “She’s dead! Helen’s dead.”

     The next morning, Lucy Clair came to the house in tears, and rang the doorbell.

     “She’s gone, Marian…” She held out her hand. “She wanted you to have these.”

     There was nothing there, but Marian replied, “Thank you, I’ll put them in water,” and she invited Lucy Clair into the kitchen for coffee.

     The woman proceeded to tell Marian that during the night in the hospital room, Helen suddenly sat up in bed, started crawling around, and pointing, and reaching out into thin air.

     “Aren’t these beautiful?” she kept asking.

     Lucy Clair said that when she inquired about what was beautiful, Helen replied, “These flowers. See?– I’m picking them for Marian. She will love them.”

     Lucy Clair added that a moment later, Helen handed her the invisible bouquet, and with a radiant smile, lay down on the bed and died.

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       Dolly Rock was a native of Marshallville. She resided in the first house on the road heading toward Tom Town directly in back of Miss Ethyl’s house across the street from Marian’s. She’d once worked for Tom’s grandmother, Inez, and for neighbor, Omie Crowe, and Marian knew her well.

     It was Christmas break one year when Dolly’s grandchildren had come for a visit that Marian awoke one night to see an inverted orange half-moon glowing brightly above a ‘horizon line’ on her wall. When the vision returned the second night, Marian roused Mac. Their spirited conversation was enough to wake Tom from sleep in the middle bedroom. Marian also said she heard children screaming. 

Marians Bedroom with occupants and half-moon      On the third night, Marian was sleeping soundly, when Mac was awakened to see a glowing orange reflection on the same wall, and he called out to Tom.

     “Wake up, Buck! Get in here!” He pointed out the window at what appeared to be a raging fire a few streets over in the direction of Tom Town. “Look! There’s her half-moon!”

   “And Mama said she heard children,” Tom gasped. “We better be on the look out for them.

     Sure enough, a few minutes later, Mac opened the front door to frightened wails. “Dolly’s house is on fire!” By now, Marian was awake, as were the other family members. So was the rest of the tiny neighborhood. Thankfully, no one was hurt. But the fire, that later proved to have been electrical, burned the wooden structure to the ground.      

     When Dolly’s grandchildren reported that not only had “Miss Marian’s” household anticipated their arrival, but that Marian, herself, had foreseen the tragedy, rumors spread quickly. Several versions of the story circulated around town that winter. Some folks marveled, while others scoffed, but one thing was certain. The fiery glow of the mind’s eye vision Marian had described from her bedroom wall was forever burned into Tom’s psyche, … as were all things Marian. 

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Copyright 2013 – 2021, Real Spooks – Cynthia Farr Kinkel

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