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One Day: The Story of Rebecca Latimer Felton

by Maranda Perez

Rebecca Latimer Felton was born on June 10, 1835 in DeKalb County near Decatur, GA, and died January 24, 1930 in Atlanta. She made history in 1922 when she was appointed to be the interim senator after the death of Thomas E. Watson making her the first woman in United States history to serve in the Senate. Unlike most senators who are elected into six-year terms, Felton held the position for only one day. Even though her time in the Senate was short, for a large part of her life, Felton dedicated herself to local and national politics, and was a staunch activist for the temperance movement, women’s suffrage, and prison reform. Her involvement in politics over the years opened doors previously closed to women, and she is an inspiration to many women all over the nation.

Rebecca Felton was raised in a traditional Antebellum southern home. Her father was a plantation and shop owner, and Felton, later in her life, spoke about how her father supported and encouraged her independent and determined spirit. During the mid-nineteenth century, directly before the Civil War, southern women of her status were expected to lead domestic and refined lives, and were not to get involved with affairs outside of the home. Felton remembered that it was the women in that time who typically made anything a family needed such as clothes, shoes, or blankets. Felton was a bit of an anomaly since she was well educated, and received a college degree from Madison Female College in 1852. She met the commencement speaker, Dr. William H. Felton, during her graduation, and the two were married a year later in 1853. During the Civil War, she worked alongside her husband as a nurse for injured soldiers, and the two began a school directly following the war. It was during the time following the Civil War that Felton became involved in politics with her husband.

Dr. William H. Felton ran for Congress in 1874, and Rebecca Latimer Felton was his campaign manager. During this time, it was quite scandalous for a woman to be involved in politics in any capacity, so Rebecca Latimer Felton taking on such a major role in her husband’s campaign brought criticism to them both. Many women actually avoided being seen near campaign rallies fearing criticism from their communities. Despite these social qualms, Dr. Felton won the congressional election, and Rebecca Felton went with him to Washington D.C. to work as his secretary. Moreover, Felton was involved with various social reform movements outside of her work in Dr. Felton’s political career. Being a woman in politics, she was a suffragist, advocating for women’s rights to vote. She was a member of the Georgia Woman Suffrage Association in 1895, and was a correspondent for the National Woman’s Party, advocating for the passage of state suffrage laws with the hope that a federal law would follow suit. Like many suffragists of the time, Felton was also active in the temperance movement, an anti-alcohol movement that preceded prohibition. She was a leader of the Georgia Woman’s Temperance Union beginning in 1886, and led multiple campaigns calling to make prohibition local and state law. Moreover, she advocated for prison reform. She, as well as her husband, believed that the convict lease system, the program that allowed cheap prison labor, was corrupt. She was also involved in the movement that established separate prisons for men and women in 1896. As you can see, even though Rebecca Felton is most known for her one day serving in the United States Senate, her political career and influence expands far beyond that.

On September 16, 1922, Senator Thomas E. Watson died from complications with bronchitis and asthma, leaving a Senate seat open, and in need of a replacement. Governor Thomas William Hardwick of Georgia was given the task of appointing an interim replacement, as they prepare to hold an election for a new senator. He initially asked the late senator’s wife who declined. He then called Rebecca Latimer Felton, who excitedly accepted the interim position. Some were suspicious that Governor Hardwick appointed Felton strategically, since he wanted to run for a Senate seat in the upcoming election, and appointing a woman could gain him the new voting demographic of women. He also did not want to appoint an interim that could possibly defeat him in an election. Rebecca Latimer Felton was sworn into the Senate on November 22, 1922, becoming the first woman to officially hold a seat in the United States Senate. Felton addressed the Senate that day saying that this was a major step forward for American women. She believed that her presence in the Senate would encourage women in upcoming years to run for political office. Judge Walter F. George, was sworn in the next day, taking her place as the newly elected senator for Georgia. Though Felton’s time as Senator was short, she recognized the importance of her brief presence there. From growing up in a time where women were confined to the home to being able to hold political office, Felton said that one of the biggest changes she witnessed through her long life was that of the roles of women, and her role as the first woman Senator is a clear sign of that.

Since her time in office, Rebecca Latimer Felton has become an icon of women’s rights and achievement in Georgia. She was inducted into Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame in 1997, having been nominated by DeKalb History Center. She was a pioneer for women’s rights, and political activism not only here in DeKalb County, but for all American women who have since held political office, and made their mark in the world of politics. It is important to honor the legacy of Rebecca Latimer Felton, and to remember all of her accomplishments outside of her time in the United States Senate. Her political career spanned decades, and had tremendous influence over local, state, and national law and politics. Felton was an incredible woman, and residents of DeKalb County should be honored to claim her as one of their own.

Works Cited:

Dictionary of Georgia Biography A-J 1, 302-303 

“First Woman Takes Oath as Senator.” Nov. 22, 1922.

Garrett, Franklin M. Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events Volume II. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1954.    

Notable American Women 1607-1950, A-J, Vol. 1, 606-607.

“Rebecca Latimer Felton, 1835-1930.” Found in DeKalb History Center Archives.

Rogers, Evelyna Keadle. “Famous Georgia Women: Rebecca Latimer Felton”. Georgia Life (Summer 1978).

“The Changing Role of Women from 1835-1935: The Life of Rebecca Latimer Felton”. Found in DeKalb History Center Archives.

Featured

A Walk Through the Past: A History of DeKalb County’s Native American Trails

by Maranda Perez

A marker for Hightower (Etowah) Trail, the most marked, and well-studied Native American trail in DeKalb County.

Before white settlers occupied today’s DeKalb County, two prominent Native American nations, the Creek and Cherokee, lived on and traveled through the area for thousands of years. These nations had a tremendous effect on the development of Georgia that largely goes unnoticed in modern day, but is nonetheless important to consider. There were three main Native American trails that ran through modern day DeKalb County: the Hightower Trail, the Peachtree Trail, and the Sandtown Trail. These trails were used by the Creek and Cherokee people for travel and trade between each other and other Native American nations in the Southeast region. These trails traced the shortest possible distances between destinations and least treacherous routes. Because of this, white settlers used these trails for themselves as wagon roads in the early settler period, and they have since become parts of prominent roads, boundaries, and rail lines in DeKalb County. 

Image showing Peachtree Station located on land that once was part of Peachtree Trail.

Generally, the Native American trails followed the highest ridges, which is why many converged at Stone Mountain. Moreover, they avoided streams as much as possible, making the areas where the trails were originally established ideal points of travel even to this day. This can be seen most prevalently with how we currently use the old Peachtree Trail. Peachtree Trail connected to Sandtown Trail in Stone Mountain and ran through today’s Peachtree Road and Peachtree Street, two frequently traveled roads today. Moreover, Southern Railway followed the same path as the Peachtree Trail, and was a railroad that connected much of the Southeast. The proximity of Peachtree Trail and these areas of transportation is no coincidence. Developers of the Southern Railway sought out high ridges for the railroad.  Even though the Creek and Cherokee people have since been pushed out of the area, their most important trails, being ideal points of travel, have become essential roads and railways for the county today.   

Image of Decatur Station, part of Georgia Railroad, where Sandtown Trail ran through Decatur, Georgia.

Sandtown Trail makes up the part of Georgia Railroad that runs from Stone Mountain through Decatur following today’s Decatur Street to Five Points in Atlanta. It is one of few Native American land sites in Georgia that has retained its original name given by the Creek nation. The Sandtown Trail is a direct translation of the Creek Oktahasasi, and was named for the communities that the trail connected. The first community known as Sandtown was located in Alabama, and the trail ran from there to another Sandtown in Fulton County on either side of the Chattahoochee River. It can be inferred that the trail was used for trade, travel, and communication between the Sandtown communities the trail connected. Sandtown in Fulton County was known by white settlers as Buzzard Roost until 1821 when a map of the trail was drawn connecting Buzzard Roost with Sandtown in Alabama. Buzzard Roost during the time of western expansion in the nineteenth century reflected the kind of communities portrayed in old western films where both white and Native people lived together, and fought often. The trail was used frequently by white settlers travelling west to establish gold mines in parts of Georgia and Alabama where the metal was rumored to be found.

Even though all three of these Native American trails are important, the archives here at DeKalb History Center contain the most information about the Hightower Trail. The name Hightower itself is an anglicized version of Etowah, which is the name given to the trail by Native American people. Dr. John H. Goff, believed that Hightower was a corrupted version of the name caused by the language barrier between Native Americans and English settlers. Moreover, the importance of this trail was abundantly clear to residents and surveyors in 1958 of both DeKalb and Gwinnett County when they ‘lost’ the boundary between the two. The Hightower Trail determined part of the original boundary between Gwinnett County and DeKalb County.  Surveyors could not definitively mark where certain parts of the trail were, leaving some residents and businesses unsure of which county they actually resided in. Surveyors had to go into the archives to review the J.T. Cunningham survey of 1819 that marked the boundary between Georgia and Creek territory during that time. This example is telling of both the importance of the Hightower Trail in DeKalb County, but also demonstrates issues that arise with a lack of documentation. There are not many sources from pre-colonial Native American nations preserved today to be researched creating a gap in knowledge that makes something as simple as finding a county line difficult. 

Over the years, the people of DeKalb County have found ways to commemorate these contributions made by Creek and Cherokee people mostly by placing historic markers where the trails were located. Georgia Department of Travel placed numerous markers along the highways where many of the old trails used to be located. In 1997, a plaque was placed at the original 1822 county boundary between DeKalb and Gwinnett County to commemorate the importance of the Hightower Trail. There are innumerous ways beyond the Native American trails that the Creek and Cherokee nations affected DeKalb County, whether we are aware of it or not. However, next time you drive down Peachtree Road or hear the train passing by your work or home, perhaps you’ll remember the Native American people who lived on and used this land long before we did, and think about how their lives here continue to affect daily life here in DeKalb County now.             

Works Cited

“Gwinnett, DeKalb Need Indians to Find Lost County Border”. The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Jan. 1, 1958. 

Goff, John H. “The Sandtown Trail”. Atlanta Historical Bulletin 11, no. 4 (Dec. 1966): 34-52.

Goff, John H. Summary of Remarks at DeKalb Historical Society, March 30, 1961.

Hemperley, Marion R. Historic Indian Trails of Georgia, 1989.  

Hudgins, Carl T. DeKalb County Indian Trails. Jan. 22, 1951.

Martinez, Sherron. “Signs Point to the Past: DeKalb’s Indian Heritage Recalled in Highway Markers as Georgia Reacher 250th Year”. News Sun, July 20, 1983. 

Moser, Charles. “Hightower Indian Trail Dedication Today”. The Atlanta Constitution, May 4, 1997.

Wells, Frank. “Not so Deep: They’ve got to Find the Hightower Trail.” Atlanta Constitution, Aug. 24, 1959.   

Featured

Hunting Mrs. Gray: True-Crime in Decatur

Mrs. Gray owned many cars, having developed a taste for the finer pleasures in life. Pictured above is an advertisement for a 1957 Pink Lincoln, the same car that she owned.

“Tis strange – but true; for truth is always strange,

Stranger than fiction: if it could be told.”

Lord Byron

It seemed like a strange place for a crime. A small, sleepy town of under 20,000 people, Decatur was a backwater in comparison to its larger, glamorous, bustling cousin, Atlanta. Yet, soon, the events set in motion here would be the talk of the nation.

It all began with one woman. Tall, older and stately, but with a youthful face unburdened by wrinkles, she automatically stood out of the crowd. Her cascade of silver hair made her appear glamorous if slightly cold. She cut a stylish figure, ensconced in the wide, oversized, flouncy skirts of the 1950’s. She was respectable and classy.

Yet, don’t be fooled, appearances can deceive you.

Many were drawn in by her. She spun stories deftly, like a spider deftly weaving her web. Her father was the former President of Panama. She owned mining interests out in Colorado. Her husband, a former colonel, had died. All of these factors served to make her independently wealthy, fitting into the respectability politics for a woman. Additionally, it provided an explanation for her extravagant spending. She seemingly had it all: stylish clothes, a multi-acre home, and numerous show dogs.

She arrived in Decatur in 1954 and quickly set her sights on the Decatur Clinic. Though it was a modest but handsome brick building, by the 1950’s, business was booming. Seven doctors were on staff with five visiting specialists, and, short of major surgery, most medical procedures could be performed within the office. Cash was flowing and the times were good.

Though she was well-off, Mrs. Janet R. Gray applied for the office manager job. She loved a good challenge and claimed that the job would keep her mind occupied. In return for her services, she received $400 per month. This was a generous salary, exceeding that of many male officers workers at the time. The doctors at the clinic liked her immediately: she was self-assured, possessed an air of refinement, and, strangely, bandied complex medical terminology about with casual ease. Under her, the clinic appeared to run smoothly.

The doctors were unaware of the developing underlying tensions. The administrative staff strongly disliked their new boss. Mrs. Gray was a stern and demanding supervisor. She pushed those under her purview to work hard, but did not put in a similar effort. Carole Whitney, a University of Georgia co-ed, who worked at the clinic in 1956 noted that “More often than not Mrs. Gray would come in the morning, leave at 10 or 11 [AM] and return later in the afternoon.”

Some found her to be tyrannical. Morale was low, and workers quit due to their inability to secure a raise. Mrs. Shelnutt, a clerk at the clinic, claimed that she was forced to work overtime by several hours per day but was not properly compensated.

“Mrs. Gray “would demand that I stay there and pound her fist on the desk at me… We were at the disposal of Mrs. Gray and whatever she told us we had to do.”

Ora Shelnutt, Clerk

Employees were also disconcerted by the haphazard business practices in the clinic. The cash and receipts for the day, which often totalled over $600, were left in an unlocked drawer. This meant that employees had easy access to the money, though someone was always present, in the seat or by the desk. This made clerks nervous: Mrs Henderson noted that this kept her in a state of anxiety: she “didn’t like being held responsible for cash that other persons had their hands in.”

This sense of suspicion was transferred to Mrs. Gray. Employees began watching her. Mrs. Whitney once saw her leave with the cash receipts in her brown briefcase. June Thurmond, another clerk, thought that it was strange that Mrs. Gray solicited delinquent payments. When Mrs. Gray did so, she used a nome de plume, J.M Royer. Queerer yet, when Thurmond balanced the receipts against payments received, she noticed that the total was off. Mrs. Gray would not let her check the adding machine records to rectify the discrepancy.

Furthermore, Mrs. Gray’s control over money extended to the deposit safe. One night Mrs. Thurmond made the mistake of locking the filing cabinet safe. The next morning, it could not be opened as no one knew the combination. Apparently, Mrs. Gray typically locked the drawer overnight and only she had the key. Despite the many irregularities, the staff excused them. Mrs Gray was the bookkeeper, a competent office worker, wasn’t she?


The interior of Mrs. Gray’s Happy Hollow living room. The room had a “peaked cathedral ceiling” with Empire and Victorian love-seats. With the abundant light, one writer described it as comfortable, lived-in country house with lavish decorations, including a room full of jade figurines (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
A hallway with luxurious wood siding. The Renaissance cabinet on the left cost more than $600, more than a month’s salary. One onlooker said that she “wouldn’t pay more than a nickel for a truckload,” illustrating how relative taste is (Atlanta Constitution)
On a tour of Mrs. Gray’s home, Peggy and Mrs. R.R Patillo try one of the hats on Mrs. W.C Patillo (Atlanta Constitution)

During the interim years, Mrs. Gray’s social reputation grew rapidly. Her wealth guaranteed her access to the upper echelon of Atlanta society. She looked the part too, stylishly attired. Her wardrobe was extensive, and she owned over fifty hats and 113 dresses alone. She was addicted to luxury: dogs, fine cars, and fur coats, she tolerated only the best.

Her house was similarly lavish. She lived in the affluent suburb Hollow Hills and owned over fifteen acres. Her house had seven rooms and a pool which allowed her to throw “sumptuous and gay” parties. It was furnished with fine French and Italian antiques.

Mrs. Gray worked hard to preserve the veneer of wealth, even with those who surrounded her. Her niece, Candace Lane, was the daughter of a countess. She attended the prestigious private school of Westminster, whose name served as a password into elite circles.

Rise and Shine, one of Mrs. Gray’s more than 50 cocker spaniels, wins Best In Show in 1954 at the Westminster Dog Show (Westminster Dog Show)

Most importantly, she became a influential dog fancier. Her cocker spaniel, Rise and Shine, won the Westminster Dog Show in 1956, and was considered one of the best living examples of the breed. Spaniels were her passion project: she had more than fifty. From these dogs, she started Gala Kennels which was well regarded. She also had a flair for unique names. What is better for a dog than Piccolo Pete and best of all, Capital Gains?


 Though the clinic was growing, the doctors were concerned by their declining gross income; thus, the clinic hired a new accountant, John C. Walsh. Moving forward, Mrs. Gray was demoted to being Mr. Walsh’s assistant. Yet, this was to be her downfall. 

On July 30, 1957, Mrs. Gray got a fateful telephone call. The clinic discovered a shortage of cash. They asked her would she be available to come in and explain the discrepancy? By all appearances, the doctors seemed to be in disbelief, thinking that she was blameless. 

Margaret Burton enters the DeKalb County courtroom for her first trial. Many people came from around the area to see her trial and newspapers referred to her as a ‘star.’ She was a media sensation with newspapers across the country tracking her every move from her cell accommodations at Fulton County Jail to how she spent Christmas (Atlanta Constitution)

Mrs. Gray’s almost three years in Decatur were an elaborate fabrication. Her name was not Janet R. Gray; in truth, she was Mrs. Margaret Lydia Burton, a British citizen born in Tientsin, China in 1906. She had a long history of embezzlement spanning over eighteen years in America, beginning in 1939 in Honolulu where she was working for a local Chinese rug company. She had committed crimes in three countries, four additional states and had over twenty-three aliases. During her thirty-one months at the clinic, Mrs. Burton allegedly stole $100,000 and that number would continue to rise as more details came to be known. 

Most shocking, her ‘niece,’ Candy, was, in truth, her daughter, Sheila Joy Burton. Sheila had posed as a fifteen-year-old student but was really twenty years old. She herself had over nine aliases, and authorities were unsure about her complicity. Her mother’s crime spree had begun when she was eighteen months She fled. What else could she do? This was her habitat; whenever things got sticky for her, she would pack up and leave. America was an easy country to vanish within. She could create a new past and identity for herself easily. She would commit a crime, rinse and repeat.

Mrs. Burton slipped away easy. She gave away ten of her dogs to local friends. She packed up remaining thirty-eight dogs and personal belongings into a caravan of cars, driving throughout the night Greensboro, North Carolina. She led the charge in her pink sedan, followed by her ‘niece’ in a station wagon and was followed by two vans with hired drivers. When the vehicles became too conspicuous, she abandoned them in Greensville, South Carolina. The dogs (with the exception of three prominent prize-winning dogs: Rise and Shine, Piccolo Pete and, ironically, Capital Gains) were transferred over to her dog trainer, Ted Young Junior, who took them back to Connecticut (He later faced charges for criminal conspiracy). After that, the FBI lost track of Mrs. Burton. She drove off with her daughter in a Pontiac and went unnoticed through one police checkpoint after another. 

The case of Mrs. Gray was carried widely, ranging from Connecticut, Indianapolis, Arizona, New York, Ohio, Missouri, Texas, Michigan, and even internationally in Hong Kong. These stories often emphasized her exotic nature. The Hartford Courant labeled her as an “international adventurer.”

Much of the fascination can be traced to the ways in which Mrs. Burton both transgressed and fit within normative gender values of the 1950’s. On a surface level, she was a perfect woman: she possessed feminine charm and had a classic elegance, she could entertain guests while being a mother. She was also a kind of Marion Crane-esque figure: she committed a lengthy crime spree and was a divorcee. It was difficult to categorize her and this dichotomy fascinated the public.

Former friends of ‘Mrs. Gray’ were in total shock, especially members of the Cocker Spaniel Club, who had recently begun to nominate her as the Southeastern Representative. Mr. and Mrs. Estes, close friends of ‘Mrs. Gray,’ described how they were shaken, comparing it to “picking up the paper and reading that President Eisenhower was a communist.” Initially, they did not believe the charges levied and they had planned to aide her. Now, they knew better and thought that she was “beyond help.”

When asked if they had ever suspected her, Mr. Estes replied, “Would you be suspicious of your own mother? Why she was the most motherly lady my wife and I ever knew.”

His wife chimed in, stating that ‘Mrs. Gray’ was one of the most gracious hostesses as well.

Government men tow off Mrs. Gray’s car from her rented home in Tulsa, Oklahoma to go towards repaying her debtors and former employers. The FBI agents also recovered three prize spaniels and a mink stole (Atlanta Constitution).

Mrs. Burton, despite being the subject of a national manhunt, boldly applied for a bookkeeper position at a local doctor’s office under the name Madge Barton. Remarkably, Mrs. Burton and her daughter managed to integrate themselves into the community in a short period of time. Sheila Joy Burton, alias Joy Barton, enrolled at the local business college and was described by a teacher as a “quiet girl, refined in manner.” Mrs. Burton received the job and her employers, as usual, were impressed by her intelligence and acumen; however, Mrs. Juanita Hellwer, a receptionist, recognized Mrs. Burton based on a page one story that had run in the Tulsa World, a local newspaper. Mrs. Burton’s heavily freckled face, similar last name, and interest in bookkeeping aroused suspicions. These were confirmed when Mrs. Burton’s daughter came in to be treated and matched the description of “a buxom blonde.” Federal officers were tipped off, and Mrs. Burton and her daughter were arrested shortly after.

People in Atlanta had mixed emotions when Mrs. Burton was captured. Her former hairdresser, C. Charles, was glum, telling a reporter, “I surely thought she would give them a more exciting chase… And just what will the ladies in my saloon have to talk about now?” The doctors at the Decatur Clinic were unabashedly ecstatic: Dr. Robert P. Shinall told a reporter that “You can say this, we are happy!”

This image appeared in the Atlanta Constitution on October 27, 1957. Pictured are A.P Turnmyre and Joe Davis men who bid for “Shiney,” Mrs. Gray’s prize-winning cocker spaniel. The dog was sent to live with its breeder.

All of Mrs. Burton’s many belongings were put up for public auction. The funds from the sale of Rise and Shine, the prize-winning dog, was valued over $5,000. The dog fetched an aristocratic price of $1,555 which was funded by cocker spaniel fanciers across the United States.

When Mrs. Burton took the stand, she sought to discredit her previous statement given to the FBI. She had previously admitted that she had stolen $50,000 when she was arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She claimed that her confession was forced, she had only given the statement to free her daughter from jail. She explained to the jury that “If you [the jurors] had a daughter in custody, I believe that you would have done the same thing.” She continued, describing how the FBI showed her crying daughter to try and coerce her. Furthermore, she was not given access to a lawyer.

Mrs. Burton’s testimony denied that she stole from the Decatur Clinic. She claimed that the doctors had practiced income tax evasion. She had fled because she knew that the clinic’s accounts “were in a mess and she feared an income tax investigation.” She was in constant fear that the doctors would blame her; Mrs. Burton testified that “I knew that the doctors would throw it all in my lap.” She claimed that, had she committed the crime, she would have not turned over and worked to sort out the clinic’s accounting books.

Mrs. Burton described the clinic as a hectic place that did “tremendous” business.

Purportedly, doctors had a competition over which one of them could see the most patients in one day. Dr. Shinall confessed to her that “he could spend only 25 seconds with a patient and he’d never know he had been treated in so short a period of time.” Dr. Heard went so far as to keep a chart in his desk which graphed patients who were seen with business outcomes.

Some doctors were heavily criticized for not keeping pace.

The trial appeared to be difficult for Mrs. Burton. She was noted for her solemn mien “with a mouth slightly downturned, giv[ing] her a sort of weary, supercilious look.”After court adjourned, people would wait near the balustrade, clustering in groups, brushing past her and chattering with the latest speculation. Public interest meant that her every step was hounded: the Atlanta Journal noted that “not until she disappears… does the curtain go down for the day, and she has been the star all the way through.”

The shenanigans surrounding the trial were not limited to the courtroom. Rev. R Frank Crawley, a minister at the Decatur First Methodist Church, preached a Christmas sermon which sympathized with the doctors at the Decatur Clinic. He jested, “Instead of Mrs. Burton being on trial for taking money from four physician-employers, it appeared that the physicians might be on trial for making that much money.” While apparently, it got a good laugh from the congregation, the judge was not as pleased. A jury member, William Pitman, was attending Sunday service was there. The sermon was an opinion expressed to a juror. When asked how things looked (with the likelihood of a mistrial looming), the solicitor general cheekily quipped “Gray.” After a short recess, the judge ruled that the prejudicial comment could affect the presumption of innocence and thus declared a mistrial.

Due to this, Mrs. Burton was re-tried for a second time in February 1958. Her two trials caused Mrs. Burton immense stress, and it soon began to show. Towards the end of the trial, she experienced frequent fainting spells and suffered a fall at the DeKalb County jail. On February 8, 1958, Mrs. Burton was indicted on two counts of larceny; the court ruled that she could serve two to five years per count concurrently at Reidsville State Prison.

On May 1958, the United States Federal Government brought deportation charges against her for “failure to keep the Government informed of her address and conviction of two crime involving moral turpitude and criminal misconduct.” Mrs. Burton could not be deported until she completed her prison sentence. Furthermore, she still had pending charges in California, Texas, Virginia and British Columbia.

“Mrs Janet Gray” (left) and “Candy Lane” are shown playing with puppies. Mrs Gray was especially fond of animals (Image credit: Atlanta Constitution).

So where did the two end up?

Sheila Joy, Mrs. Burton’s daughter, left Atlanta on September 2nd, 1957. According to local newspapers, her departure “ended a chapter in her life that would rival the wildest television drama.” She would stay with her uncle (on her mother’s side), Ian McGlashan, who was a movie producer. Charges against her as an accessory to her mother’s crimes were later dropped. Reportedly, she attended college and got excellent grades. When she was twenty-two, she married. It appears that after this period of excitement, she lived a largely ordinary life and had one child.

McGlashan, who was a movie producer. Charges against her as an accessory to her mother’s crimes were later dropped. Reportedly, she attended college and got excellent grades. When she was twenty-two, she married. It appears that after this period of excitement, she lived a largely ordinary life and had one child.

Mrs. Burton was released after serving eighteen months. Despite her attempts to fight it, she later was consensually extradited to California to face a charge of six counts of grand theft. After that, her fate is unknown. She died on October 2, 1992, in Los Angeles, California at the age of 85.

The case of Mrs. Burton is undeniably compelling. Criminal acts continue to enthral us, the general public because they address some of the most simplistic questions: Who are, and what has shaped us? What makes us behave in the ways that we do?

If you have any additional information about this story, the DeKalb History Center would love to hear from you! 

By Samantha Mooney 

References

 Ashworth, Richard. “Mrs. Burton Goes from Prison to Jail.” The Atlanta Constitution, August 8, 1959. Accessed June 6, 2018. ProQuest. Byron, George Gordon Baron. 2001. Don Juan. Argentina: Longseller. 

“China-born Divorcee Denies Stealing.” The South China Morning Post(Hong Kong), February 8, 1958. Accessed June 1, 2018. ProQuest.

The United States. United States Census Bureau. Census of Population and Housing. 2000.

The New York Times. 1958. “Clinic Aide Guilty of Larceny,” February 8, 1958. Accessed May 30, 2018. ProQuest.

“Doctors Fire Accountant Who Trapped Mrs. Burton.” The Atlanta Constitution, June 18, 1958. Accessed June 5, 2018. ProQuest.

“FBI Identifies Woman Sought in Fraud; ‘International Thief’ Likes Pastel Cars.” Cincinnati Enquirer, August 17, 1957. Accessed June 6, 2018. ProQuest.

“Freckles Are Downfall for Wanted Woman.” The Austin Statesman, August 22, 1957. Accessed June 1, 2018. ProQuest.

The South China Morning Post. 1958. “Hongkong-Born Woman Facing Deportation,” May 13, 1958. Accessed June 1, 2018. ProQuest. 

“Mrs. Gray’s Dog Trainer Is Jailed in Connecticut.” The Atlanta Constitution, August 14, 1957. Accessed June 7, 2018. ProQuest. Johnson, Oscar. 1957.

“Mrs. Gray Put Cash in Satchel, Co-Ed Testifies.” The Atlanta Constitution, December 13, 1957. Accessed May 29, 2018. ProQuest.

 Johnson, Oscar. “Decatur Semon Causes a Mistrial for Mrs. Gray.” The Atlanta Constitution, November 17, 1957. Accessed June 5, 2018. ProQuest. 

Keasler, Jake. 1957. “Oh, How She Fooled Them.” St. Louis Dispatch, September 1, 1957, sec. The Everday Magazine. Accessed May 29, 2018. ProQuest. 

McCartney, Keller. “Hunted Mrs. Gray Grey Quits Caravan in N. Carolina.” The Atlanta Constitution, August 2, 1957. Accessed June 5, 2018. ProQuest. 

McCartney, Keller. “Mrs. Gray Seized in Tulsa at Job in Doctors’ Office.” The Atlanta Constitution, August 22, 1957. Accessed June 6, 2018. ProQuest. 

McLemore, Margaret. “Cocker Club Holds a ‘Wake’ to Swap Views on Mrs. Gray.” The Atlanta Constitution, August 22, 1957. Accessed June 6, 2018. ProQuest. 

Moore, Charles. “Candy Slips Away to California.” The Atlanta Constitution, September 2, 1957. Accessed June 6, 2018. ProQuest. 

“Mrs. Burton and Sheila to Face Georgia Trial.” The Austin Statesman, August 24, 1957. Accessed June 5, 2018. ProQuest. 

“Mrs. Burton Gives in to Extradition.” The Atlanta Constitution, September 5, 1959. Accessed June 6, 2018. ProQuest. 

“Mrs. Burton Is Given Deportation Hearing; U.S Referee Expected to Rule in Week.” The Atlanta Constitution, May 22, 1958, Constitution State News Service sec. Accessed June 4, 2018. ProQuest. 

“Mrs. Gray Sits Alone As Yule Comes, Goes.” The Atlanta Constitution, December 26, 1957. Accessed June 1, 2018. ProQuest. Shannon, Margaret.

“Amid Trial’s Hue and Cry- Mrs. Burton Sites, Quietly.” The Atlanta Journal, December 15, 1957. Accessed June 6, 2018. ProQuest. 

State of California. California Death Index, 1940-1997. Sacramento, CA, USA: State of California Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics. State of California. 

California Marriage Index, 1960-1985. Microfiche. Center for Health Statistics, California Department of Health Services, Sacramento, California. 

“Theft Trial Halted by Pulpit Comment.” The New York Times (New York City), December 17, 1957. Accessed June 4, 2018. ProQuest. 

“Woman Fleeing Law Called Noted Thief.” Detroit Free Press, August 17, 1957. Accessed June 6, 2018. ProQuest. 

“Woman on Trial in Clinic Theft.” The Arizona Republic (Phoenix), December 9, 1957. Accessed June 4, 2018. ProQuest. 

“Woman on Trial Today on Embezzlement Count.” The Hartford Courant, December 9, 1957. Accessed June 5, 2018. ProQuest.    

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In the Kingdom of Dreams and Madness: Clark Ashton’s Druid Hill

“Art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” – Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park

Clark Ashton remembers the first time he saw him. There was a man who wore the three-piece white suit; he would hang out on the street corner, swinging a gold chain. To a young Ashton, this man was fascinating. The man who fearlessly stood out in the small town of Augusta, Georgia. He was unique, inimitable.

For a new generation, Ashton has become a similar figure, “that strange man over on Druid Hills road.” Each year, for the past twenty-four years, he has sat on a throne in his front yard, waving at local school children who are trapped in morning traffic. He is trying to show kids that it is okay to be different, that people can prosper in alternative lifestyles. In his view, independent thought and action are increasingly important in a highly regimented society. Most people react favourably, but a few laugh or yell. It doesn’t bother him. Ashton believes in what he is doing. Continue reading “In the Kingdom of Dreams and Madness: Clark Ashton’s Druid Hill

Tobie Grant

by Sylvia Marshall, volunteer

“‘What’s your trouble, honey?’ Aunt Tobie would ask.

‘I just don’t know whether he loves me or not,’ the young girl would say.

‘And you think Aunt Tobie can tell you?’

‘Yes’m.’

‘Lawd, chile, if you can’t tell about that better than I can, you better give him up. Aunt Tobie ain’t got that personal contact.’ And the old Negro woman would laugh.”

(Paul Hemphill article, “Aunt Tobie: ’65”)

Tobie Grant: Philanthropist, Sense-giver, and Businesswoman

“Fortune teller” often conjures images of crystal balls, burning incense, and floating tables. But, for Tobie Grant, those things were nothing but superstitious props. Described as a quick-witted woman with an iconic personality, Tobie Kendall Grant served as a beacon of the Scottsdale community and became renowned for her ability to give uncannily accurate advice and predicting the future.  Born in 1887 to Nancy Kendall, Grant was the 13th child out of 15 children and the 5th daughter of the family. Her abilities started manifesting when she was young with Grant claiming that she had been predicting since she was “knee high to a duck”. Her powers were unsurprising considering Grant came from a famous line of future predicting women.

Her mother and grandmother were famous for possessing the power to predict the future and solve mysteries that no one else could. Nancy Kendall, known as Aunt Nancy was a force in her own right with a reputation as a powerful seeress. It is said that in 1900, Nancy Kendall even predicted the advent of World War I. Kendall was described as a devout woman of Baptist faith who prayed before trying to see a vision, a tradition that Grant carried on in her own work. Grant relied on prayer to prompt her own visions and her own intelligence when giving advice.

Nancy Kendall, Tobie Grant’s Mother

With her divine abilities and ingenuity, Grant was not your stereotypical seer. In life, she preferred to be called a “sense-giver”. Asked about where such as title came from, with the sharp wit she was known for, Grant stated that she just gave sensible advice and that she simply “…gives people sense”. The advice was always uncannily accurate and drew the attention of citizens from all over DeKalb County and beyond. From politicians and bankers to policemen and high society ladies, Tobie Grant became the woman to see for any problem you had.

She advised businessmen who would not dare invest their money into anything unless she approved it. Like her mother, Grant helped police in their search for missing persons, thieves, and murders. There are reports of her finding a woman’s missing husband, a soldier that had been missing in action, and stolen money. Grant even mediated marriages and love disputes, warning one young woman about the man she wanted to marry whom already had a wife and 2 children. Unfortunately, seeing into the future can be painful.

Tobie married Julius Grant and together they had one son and adopted two other sons, two of whom she outlived. Grant foretold of her own son’s death before he died in a trolley accident, and her other son died in war. Nonetheless, she continued to use her second sight to help others. With a client base composed mostly of white citizens, Grant knew how to operate within a segregated society. However, Tobie Grant was not a woman to back down or be held back. During her lifetime, Grant actively worked to promote better understanding between the races and was a member of an “interracial committee”. Her mission, however, did not include the Ku Klux Klan. When the Klan was particularly active in DeKalb County she once told a newsman that if any Klan members were to come around there, she would place a powerful hex on them.

The Klan never did bother Miss Tobie Grant.

While researching Tobie Grant, I came across an article written by Medora Field Perkerson describing a typical workday for Miss Grant that was tucked into her subject file. It seems that when Miss Grant decided she was done for the day, she was known for getting into her Ford and driving away before anyone knew she was gone. Perkerson describes a packed front porch with clients waiting like patients at a doctor’s office outside of Grant’s home. At one point in the day, Grant stuck her head out of her upstairs window and declared that “Tobie isn’t able to see anybody else today. Everybody has been to the fair but Tobie and now Tobie is going”. When a matron whispered to her friend inquiring about whether that was the Tobie Grant, Grant stated that it was indeed her and promptly slammed the window shut.

Well-liked and respected for her kindness in the community, Grant had a reputation for being generous and eager to help others whether through her abilities or material means. Besides being a spiritual and financial advisor, Grant was also a businesswoman who owned several plots of real estate and operated two insurance companies. She owned a Washington Park Cemetery and large tracts of land adjacent to her home some of which she donated to the county to be used as a park for the black children of Scottsdale. Grant also donated some of her prominent land holdings to the county to be used as a park which bears her name.

Washington Park Cemetery

                                                          

On March 16, 1968, Tobie Grant was laid to rest in Washington Park Cemetery. But even in death, her legacy lives on in DeKalb County. A visitor to Scottsdale will discover a local library, a park, a recreation center and a housing development all named in her honor.

The Case of the Missing Dress

Quite recently, a longstanding mystery of the archives was solved through a happy bit of circumstance.  A missing dress lost somewhere in the collections of the DeKalb History Center, was unearthed within this last month.  ‘Why all the fuss about a dress?’ you might be thinking.  Well, considering who wore the dress, and who she married while wearing it, we think you will be able to understand our excitement.

Continue reading “The Case of the Missing Dress”