Sunday, March 24, 2013

Tales of Falling Stars

In February of this year over 1,000 people were injured due to a falling star explosion above Chelyabinsk, Russia. The explosion created a sonic boom and damaged hundreds  of buildings. Scientists have estimated the object was 50 feet in diameter, and said it was the largest such blast in over a century. Here's a video showing the path of the object: 

You actually hear the sound in this next video:  

While I have seen a shooting star from time to time, I've never witnessed anything this large or this loud.

I can only imagine....

A falling star or a shooting star simply refers to the visible path a meteoroid -- a small particle from a comet or asteroid -- creates as it enters the Earth's atmosphere.

Once the meteoroid enters the Earth's atmosphere it generally burns up, but if it lands on the Earth's surface we refer to it as a meteorite. Objects several meters wide generally explode in the air and can cause severe damage.

Most explosions are heard several seconds after they occur. Sometimes people also report hearing crackling, swishing and hissing sounds.

Sightings of falling stars go back to ancient times, an as recently as this past Friday there were reports of meteors all along the east coast of the United States.

With today's technology and "instant" news fueled by social media, we know about falling stars almost immediately. However, for all of our knowledge we only recently were able to track a meteor from space through the Earth's atmosphere. The first tracking occurred in October, 2008 -- almost one hundred years to the day that Douglas County citizens along with hundreds of folks across northwestern Georgia heard a meteorite explode.

I first came across a mention of a meteorite in relation to Douglas County while researching something else. Similar to the scientists of today I had to "track" the meteorite, but instead of searching through space I had to search through a large volume of newspapers.

Because my access to the Douglas County papers that were published here during the late 1800s and early 1900s is limited, I often count on the Library of Congress and their huge library of newspapers from all across the country to provide me with history trails to follow.

I ran across this "dispatch from Douglasville, Georgia" that was published in the Keowee Courier from Pickens Courthouse, South Carolina on October 21, 1908 -- though the actual event occurred on Friday, October 9, 1908.

It said...

A dispatch from Douglasville, Ga. -- People for miles around here...were alarmed by the shock from the fall of a large meteor which struck the ground with enough force to be felt with a radius of fifteen miles. The crash came about 4:30, and within a few minutes afterward telephone messages were received from several places twelve and fifteen miles away asking what was the cause of it.

The dispatch went on to say that before it was determined to be a meteor other possible explanations were given as a large boiler somewhere in town might have erupted, but then citizens began to come forward to express they had seen large streaks of light across the heavens at the same time of the explosion and [there was talk] that it was a large meteor struck the ground.

The talk in Douglasville was correct because on the 10th of October the Atlanta Constitution printed a dispatch from Adairsville confirming the noise and confusion in the surrounding area for miles around. The dispatch from Adairsville confirmed the date and gave the time of the "explosion" around 4:45 in the afternoon.

The Adairsville dispatch stated...the houses shook and the windows rattled, but no flash of light accompanied it. Different themes are advanced as to its cause. The most plausible being a meteor bursting in the upper air. It was rainy and cloudy all day. was rainy and cloudy all day. That would certainly explain why so many folks heard the meteor across northwestern Georgia, but didn't report seeing it.

The Atlanta Constitution finally cleared up any doubt on October 11, 1908 when they printed a dispatch from Kingston, Georgia.

Kingston is located in Bartow County -- 11 miles from Cartersville and 12 miles from Rome, Georgia. The small town was a focal point during the Civil War and is remembered as the place where the General was delayed for over an hour which helped to thwart the Great Locomotive Chase in April, 1862.

Also, in May, 1864 some 3 to 4,000 Confederate regulars surrendered at Kingston -- the last significant Confederate regulars to surrender east of the Mississippi.

The dispatch from Kingston stated...

Friday afternoon between four and five o'clock a terrific explosion was heard near here, but no one seems to be able to locate the noise. Some thought it was at Rome; that a magazine or boiler had [busted]. A telephone message was sent to Rockmart, thinking possibly the explosion occurred there. 

Today it was learned the noise was produced by the bursting of a meteor.

It is thought that the meteor came to earth somewhere on the Best place, three miles from here as a [person] on the place says he saw the smoke from it, but the noise of the explosion was heard simultaneously in Calhoun, Cartersville, Dalton, Pine Log, Cartersville, and the surrounding county. rave

A man named Lee was hunting near Saltpeter cave, and when the concussion came gravel fell all around like hail.

J.W. Odom of Cement [a community about a mile and a half north of Kingston] and a [man] named Henry Pritchett say that they saw it burst in the heavens; that it sped through space like an immense red ball of fire in the southwest sky. They saw it break into ten thousand fragments accompanied by a noise that startled everyone.

Apparently, some of those "ten thousand fragments" were quite large. The Douglasville dispatch from October 21st indicated....the meteor struck the ground three miles south of Kingston and buried deep in the earth leaving a hole as large as a dwelling house. Hundreds of people visited the scene Sunday.

I was a little disappointed that the location for the meteor touchdown wasn't Douglasville. I was in high hopes...but, there are some thoughts to take away from this, I guess. Strange sounds and items falling from the sky are still big news, and for all of our  advances concerning technology we still can't control something if it wants to collide with our planet bad enough.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Shooting Promiscuously

This week's installment of Douglas County history begins in Lithia Springs.

The time period we are visiting is Summer, 1891. The Sweetwater Park Hotel had been open for awhile bringing hundreds of visitors each season to rest, relax and drink the waters. The Piedmont Chautauqua was also in full swing promoting education and entertainment.

Lithia Springs, however, was riding the fine line between a village yearning to grow into a town with upstanding and hardworking citizens or a frontier rough and tumble collection of buildings and folks...some of them with fighting, drinking spirits and even murder on their agendas.

Dr. C.C. Garrett, pictured below, had been elected mayor of Lithia Springs in 1890 to serve the term of one year most believed...with the town council and the town's marshal, James M. Caldwell.

They served their year, however, when November, 1890 rolled around the election folks were anticipating was postponed. For some reason the election didn't happen. It was surprising news to many including L.W. James who had planned to run for mayor.

James actually showed up on election day at Lithia Springs accompanied by 20-30 friends who intended to submit their ballot for their friend. The would be voters were advised by Mayor Garrett there would be no election until after Christmas.

At this point in my research I'm not privy why Mayor Garrett and the Lithia Springs City Council felt they could postpone an election. I don't know the language of the city charter at the time other than there was no time specified for the terms to expire. I am also not knowledgeable to how candidate James felt about the situation, but once Christmas came and went voters were put off again until January. Finally, the announcement was made there would be no election until November, 1891.

The announcement meant the mayor, the city council and the marshal received an extra year in office. They continued serving in their positions with the same authority.

But did they legitimately have the same authority? 

Could those holding office extend their terms at will?

The question was brought up the next year in a courtroom belonging to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

Did candidate James finally have enough of the postponements and file a lawsuit regarding the usurping of power by the city officials?


The whole matter regarding the election only came up as an attempt by a man convicted of assault with the intent to murder to get his conviction overturned.

During the middle of June, 1891 a group of men including brothers Jim and Dock Bohannon, Aleck Garrett, and Jim Hollis had gathered to drink and have a few laughs as men sometimes tend to do.

Today, in 2013, it matters not that the Bohannons and Aleck Garrett were black, but in 1891 reports of the outcome of the group's drinking and "fun" repeated over and over again they were black.

News reports from June 15, 1891 state "a crowd of drunken negro toughs became so disorderly in Salt Springs along towards midnight that Marshal Caldwell attempted to arrest Jim Bohannon."

Jim Bohannon didn't take kindly to the good Marshal interrupting his fun time. He pulled a pistol and per reports began "shooting promiscuously."

Marshal Caldwell saw that he needed help and called on his friend Postmaster John C. Bowden, who I have written about before here. Bowden was 65 years old at the time, so I'm not so sure how much help he could have been, but he was a respected man in the community. Perhaps Caldwell though Bowden could calm the situation down.

Unfortunately, the group of rowdy men continued to be unhappy about being interrupted.

"Knives and pistols were drawn", and per the Supreme Court records "Jim Bohannon fired his pistol at Bowden and then the other Bohannon stabbed Caldwell in the neck and body. Aleck Garrett threw Bowden to the ground and held him while Hollis struck him behind the ear."

Marshal Caldwell received three deep cuts in what the Atlanta Constitution reported was a riot. It was said that Caldwell's injuries were so serious they should have produced instant death.

Mr. Bowden's injuries were seen as "only in the flesh and his recovery would be rapid."

The group of drunken men scattered sending a posse of white men out to scour the countryside for the ruffians. Naturally, given the mentality of the times the white posse was out for blood.

Eventually, those involved were rounded up and taken to jail at Douglasville for safekeeping.

Joseph S. James acted as prosecutor. He understood the volatile climate between the races and instantly sent for John Slaughter Candler to make haste to Douglasville to oversee the commitment trial as the Superior Court judge.

You have to admit that having the middle name "Slaughter" an being a judge is interesting. Candler was the brother to Asa Griggs Candler, founder of Coca-Cola.

The commitment trial was held the next day while "Marshal Caldwell lay at the point of death and Postmaster Bowden was also in bed, badly injured but not dangerously hurt."

"The trial was largely attended, hundreds of people living in Douglasville [stopped] work and [went] to town. Marshal Caldwell was personally known to nearly all and a more popular  man [did] not live in that section. All were his friends, and had his death occurred humanity would have made a trial of the case unnecessary."

By the end of July, 1891 the trial was over with the men convicted and sentenced from eight to ten years in the penitentiary. The appeals process began the next year with the sentences upheld, so it would seem the Georgia Supreme Court felt Caldwell was indeed the authorized and legal law enforcement authority to keep the peace.

I'll keep looking to see when the citizens of Lithia Springs were able to exercise their right to vote again. Stay tuned.....

Sunday, March 3, 2013

William McKinley's Visit to Lithia Springs

July, 1888 was an important month in Salt Springs/Lithia Springs, Georgia. The Piedmont Chautauqua opened in grand style -- I wrote about the opening celebration here.

The Piedmont Chautauqua Association was working hard extending invitation to all sorts of people to speak during the Chautauqua season including an invitation for William McKinley. That particular invitation set tongues to wagging because Georgia was a Democratic state at the time, an Congressman McKinley was not only a Yankee, he was a Republican Yankee.

Insert a mental picture of Scarlett O'Hara's Aunt Pittypat at this point of the story exclaiming, "Yankees!!!! Yankees in Georgia!!!!"

During the weeks leading up to McKinley's appearance at the Chautauqua on August 21st there were all sorts of rumors flying about that he would be snubbed. Some folks made accusations against the Chautauqua accusing it of bringing politics into what should be a non-political venue centered on education. The naysayers were quieted some when the Piedmont Chautauqua Association published a statement saying the Chautauqua aims to influence no man but to enlighten not lead...its purpose from first to last is education.

Yes, the rumors turned out to be just a bunch of drama. The day after McKinley's appearance at the Chautauqua The Constitution used one word to describe McKinley's visit...REMARKABLE.

The whole idea of him speaking at Salt Springs/Lithia Springs was remarkable...a great leader of one political party coming to Georgia and addressing an audience a large proportion of those present being leading members of the opposite political party; and that, too, in the face of the fact that the subject he was there to discuss was the one upon which the party lines [were] to a very great extent drawn.

McKinley's subject was the protective tariff, and if anyone had the right to discuss the tariff it was McKinley. He was considered to be the nation's go-to-guy regarding the issue.

Come remember the tariff, right? It was one of those very important threads woven through your early American History course in high school, but in case you don't remember....a tariff is a tax, and the protective tariff would protect American business. It was a tax on the importation of foreign goods.

Even today some argue that a protective tariff hinders free trade while others pointed out a protective tariff would prevent inexpensive imports from destroying local business.

In his biography of McKinley, the author Oscar King Davis states McKinley's address at the Chautauqua was one of his more notable speeches that year.

McKinley told the crowd, "One third of the cotton crop of the South is consumed at home. Who could not wish that all of it might find a market in the United States? We of the North would be better off; you of the South would be better off. The country at large would be the gainer if the whole cotton crop was fabricated in our own mills by our own people...Men of Georgia, upon this great industrial question there should be no North and South. To us of every section have been given the interests of our country -- Our whole country....My fellow citizens, in the conflict, influenced by patriotism, national interests, and national pride, let us be Americans."

McKinley's entire speech at the Piedmont Chautauqua can be found here. I haven't discovered how many minutes he spoke, but the speech is over 15 pages at the above link.

The second reason why The Constitution felt McKinley's speech was remarkable had to do with the crowd's enthusiasm. The article continued...It was shortly after four o'clock when Major McKinley entered the hall. His appearance was the signal for that hearty welcome which Georgians know how to give so well.  There was cheering and applause from all parts of the immense building. Half the audience rose and, waving hats, handkerchiefs, anything they had in their hands.

Notice how The Constitution refers to McKinley as Major and not President. That's because in 1888 McKinley was a United States Congressman. He would not be President until 1897. The paper referred to him as Major because that had been his rank in the United States Army during the Civil  War.

In fact, McKinley's experience during the war was one of the icebreakers that existed during the trip to Atlanta and then on to the Chautauqua Grounds. Even though he had served on the opposite side during the war, the men had common ground and shared their war stories.

But the most remarkable thing about the visit per The Constitution had to do with the quality of those present in the hall. There were prominent Democrats from all over the state as well as Alabama and Tennessee. There were professional men, manufacturers, merchants and -- gasp -- leading Republicans, too.

The Constitution stated, The audience was thoroughly representative of the best elements of southern life.

McKinley reached Atlanta the day before his Chautauqua address. At the Atlanta depot he was met by several hundred colored people accompanied by a brass band. Some of the leaders of the group were granted permission to board McKinley's car for introductions and begged the congressman to at least greet the crowd from the platform. 

McKinley granted the request and told the crowd, I am here as the guest of the Chautauqua and of the people of Atlanta, the foremost city of the empire state of the south, but I am glad to see you. Good night."

That was all he said, but even that was received with great enthusiasm.

Prior to McKinley's arrival at the station the leaders of the colored delegation had made speeches to pass the time. McKinley's visit was a major event for them since the majority of politically active colored people in Georgia during this time were members of the Republican Party.

Smith Easley, chairman of the group spoke followed by C.C. Wimbish.

Wimbish called for the crowd to give McKinley a hearty welcome and a big send off for the trip to Salt Springs/Lithia Springs. He also encouraged the crowd to go to hear McKinley speak at the Chautauqua.

Another leader of the group, Jackson Henry, called for every man to go to the Chautauqua and take his lady with him saying, "They have seats for you there!  There will be room for you there and more!"

This remark was met with great laughter because it was far from the truth. While there may have been a section of the Chautauqua tabernacle which was designated for colored seating, I've not seen any confirmation of it. 

I find it very ironic that the group of people who were members of the same party with McKinley might have been restricted from hearing him while the tabernacle was full of folks from the opposing party who had been upset he was coming to Georgia in the weeks leading up to the speech.

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