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July 14, 2013

WEIRD Valdosta

A few of the stranger stories from the region’s past

(Continued)

- — Judgment for Valdosta?

In 1865, shortly after the end of the Civil War, Valdosta fell into the shadow of an unexpected total eclipse. Reports of the time claimed many Valdosta residents believed the sudden loss of daylight meant Judgment Day had come. They were relieved when it passed without passing judgment.

Promise kept

Geraldine McLeod Clifton and Dorothy Peterson Neisen’s book, “Church and Family Cemeteries in Lowndes County, Georgia 1825-2005,” details the story of Mary Sandwich. She was the teacher of a school in Olympia, a small sawmill town south of Clyattville.

“She was fond of high-spirited horses and rode one to school every day,” the book notes. “She was told by her friends that a horse would one day kill her.”

She told them that if riding a horse led to her death then her friends should bury her on the spot where she fell. Mary Sandwich died riding a horse. Her request was remembered and honored.

Mary Sandwich is buried where she fell.

No Room In Valdosta

Famed for writing the poem “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight,” American poet Vachel Lindsay rose to early 20th century fame by going on a series of walks across America. “He took no money with him. Instead, at farmhouses and small villages along the way (he left the cities alone), he traded his poetry for food and shelter,” according to the Vachel Lindsay Association.

On his walks, which he called “tramps,” Lindsay kept a simple set of rules. “I was to begin to ask for dinner about a quarter of 11 and for supper, lodging and breakfast about a quarter of five. I was to be neat, truthful, civil and on the square,” he wrote. “I was to preach the Gospel of Beauty ... I always walked penniless. My baggage was practically nil.”

Reportedly, Valdosta was the only place that did not extend him a hospitable welcome.

Leaving Jacksonville, Fla., he gave a show in Cranford, stayed with a preacher’s family, visited a church, before setting his sights on Macon, Ga., as the goal for his next major stop, according to one Lindsay biography. He purchased a train ticket which took him as far as Fargo, Ga., where it was the literal end of the line for one set of tracks as well as the end of the line for Lindsay’s money.

In Fargo, he talked his way into a caboose ride to Valdosta as he continued working his way toward Macon. Lindsay had been told he might be able to convince a train official in Valdosta to give him another train ride to Macon.

In the caboose, biographer Edgar Lee Masters writes, Lindsay was so swept up by excitement for his adventure that he repeatedly exclaimed, “By Jove!” One railroad official warned Lindsay to quit with the “By Joves!” or he’d have him tossed from the caboose. The railroad man explained he was religious and he didn’t appreciate Lindsay’s swearing.

Lindsay reached Valdosta, where he gave the railroad’s general superintendent a letter from the YMCA and explained his mission. The superintendent was unimpressed and refused to give Lindsay a free ride. Reading a poem wouldn’t get Lindsay a ticket either.

While at the Valdosta train stop, Lindsay befriended a drunk Texan and soon had the 10 cents to board the train.

The refusal by the train superintendent could have been the basis for the impression that Valdosta was inhospitable to Lindsay, according to the Vachel Lindsay Association, which noted there is no hard evidence that Valdosta was the only place that did not extend kindness to Lindsay.

Still, the incident led playwrights Joseph Robinette and Thomas Tierney to include Valdosta’s refusal as one of the songs in their 1970s musical on Lindsay’s life, “Trumpet of the New Moon.”

Here is the end of that song:

Vachel: Is anybody home? Is anybody home? At any number anywhere, Valdosta way — any number anywhere Valdosta, G.-A.?

All: What can we do for you? What can we do for you? Anything you ask us we will do. Anything you ask us we will kindly do.

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