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 overlooked an expansive clay canyon etched by the prehistoric, erosive actions of the Flint, and its colorfully striated embankments trailed down into the river swamps.

… Across the little branch that ran to the river past the turn-off to Indian Lake at Vinings Road, the pavement ended and the dirt road began to climb. The brothers slowed. They parked the car just beyond the curve, and left it to navigate the ditch that separated the pavement from the edge of an escarpment, colloquially known as “the Bluff at Bryant Hill.” It overlooked an expansive clay canyon etched by the prehistoric, erosive actions of the Flint, and its colorfully striated embankments trailed down into the river swamps.

A few paces down the ridge on the left, 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 in 1810, as a stylish carriage roadhouse along the old highway, the story-and-a-half dwelling, with its front and back lean-tos and rustic timbers, was said to have also housed the first ‘bank’ in the state of Georgia. After later use as a private residence, long since abandoned, it was eventually destroyed by fire, but during Tom’s youth, it loomed over the escarpment like a wooden mausoleum.

While the “Bryan Place” had always seemed hostile in Tom’s mind, as hostile as the house off Old Perry Road where the angry dogs had lived under the porch, the bluff was anything but. The bluff was a sacred portal, a magical transport to endless hours of adventure and exploration, a place where the dads were the 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 in that direction that one could reach on a bike, and the short hike to the mill pond below extended the journey into the impossible, the place beyond bicycles, a place attainable, heretofore, when fathers took sons hunting.

Photo: 1976

Photo: 1976

Though the Bryan house was never the main attraction at the bluff for young Tom, it did add to the atmosphere. Thrill seekers from 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 schoolbus in 1960. It was proclaimed on the afternoon Mac told all the kids to get into the car, and drove them to the bluff 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 up high in the corner and see if you can’t find the hole in the wall where the bullet came clean through that woman’s head.”

Without question, the children carefully navigated the steps to the door of the second floor. It opened into a single large room, but the upward extension of the enclosed stairwell continued to the ceiling, creating four distinct areas, each with its own window. The surrounding interior walls of the room and the stairwell gave it a gallery-like appearance, as Tom, Nancy and their friends crept around the sections searching the high corners. Just as they were inspecting the darkest, there was a “creeeek” on the stairs. No doubt, Mac was heading up to help with the search, they thought. When he didn’t appear, they moved to check the stairwell, but no one was there.

They continued to search, and were excited to think they had located the ominous hole, when again, the “creeeeking” sounded. Again, they looked, to find no one. Several more ominous stair-squeaks, and Tom alone peered down the steps, but there was nothing.

Where was Mac? Tom wasn’t sure, and he relayed the puzzlement to the others who stood frozen and listening, but when he turned to look again, Mac was standing on the top step in the doorway, his head shrouded in shadow. Tom shrieked and fell backward. With terrified screams, the others scattered. When they regrouped outside, they learned that Nancy had bailed out of the south gable window into a brier bush.

Mac followed their flight down the stairs, trying to reassure them, trying to explain, and they laughed about it all the way home that day, and for years to come. The episode remained in Tom’s memory as one of the funniest, but scariest of those remarkable times his father had caught them off guard, as he was apt to to do, from the time they were small children playing hide and seek. The way he ducked behind the door each time he hit the bottom step, yet somehow bolted up the stairs without a sound was never explained. Regardless, nobody was in a hurry to explore the house again, and certainly not with him — the precise result Tom’s father had intended.The Bluff View West Toward The Flint

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Copyright 2015 – 2018, 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’ often worked after school and on the weekends. Sometimes it was near dark when he started his trek to the outskirts of town, and the shortest route was by way of woods, through a large erosion gully near his parents’ farm. It had tall clay embankments bounded by low undergrowth.
Mac’s friendly collie, “Laddie” was usually there to greet him along the way, and would often lie in ambush on the embankment waiting for Mac to walk by so he could playfully jump down on top of him. It was part of a little game they both enjoyed. The other part was to race to the farmhouse once they reached the backyard gate.
REAL SPOOKS © 2012

Moonlit Gully

One bright, moon-lit evening, Mac spotted a white shape running through the undergrowth just above him on the ledge. It looked very much like the underside of his dog as it paced him, so he pretended to ignore it by walking straight ahead, and kept his eye on it all the same.  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 pace, but the shape continued to move, 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 up, the silent shape also stopped as if it were waiting on him. Mac watched as it slowly turned a seemingly mechanical body his way, and for an instant, two gleaming eyes peering from the strangely perched head, locked dead-on with his. Then, they blinked.

Just as Mac was beginning to think he’d imagined this, he felt something cold and wet on his hand. Startled, he looked down, and there, behind him, was Laddie, licking vigorously and wagging his tail.

Mac yelled and took off running down the gully, 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.  But he also made a point to entice Laddie down from the embankment early on, to make damn sure the faithful collie accompanied him the rest of the way home.

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Copyright 2012 – 2018, 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 had fallen into the tub, hitting his wrist watch on the side, stopping it at exactly 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 sobbed. 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, and started crawling around. She was 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.”

     A moment later, Helen handed Lucy Clair the invisible bouquet, and with a radiant smile, lay down on her 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 across the street. 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 wall, and he called out to Tom.

     “Come see this, Buck! Look! Here’s her half-moon!” He pointed out the window at what appeared to be a raging fire a few streets over toward Tom Town. 

     “We better look out for the children,” Tom gasped. “Mama said she heard ’em.”

     Sure enough, a few minutes later, Mac opened the front door to frightened screams. “Dolly’s house is on fire! Her house is on fire!” By now, Marian was awake, as were other family members, and many in the rest of the tiny neighborhood. The fire, which an investigation later proved had been electrical, burned the wooden to the ground. Thankfully, no one was hurt.      

     When Dolly’s grandchildren reported that not only had “Miss Marian’s” household anticipated their arrival, but that Marian had foreseen the tragedy, rumors spread quickly. Numerous versions of the story circulated town that winter. Some marveled at how such things were possible, while others scoffed, but one thing was certain. The mind’s eye vision of the fiery glow on his mother’s wall was burned into Tom’s psyche forever.

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Copyright 2013 – 2018, Real Spooks – Cynthia Farr Kinkel

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