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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