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

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“A Horrible Demoness:” DeKalb History Center’s Historic Scrapbook Collection

“My father used to say that stories are part of the most precious heritage of mankind.” ― Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams

I love perusing through old scrapbooks. An unorthodox hobby, I know, but I find them utterly fascinating. This strange amusement supports commonly held assumptions: that historians and archivists are fundamentally nosy, digging through people’s mail and scrutinizing their written records. Personally, it as an extension of natural curiosity. Most of us are captivated by the past. If we know where we come from, we can forecast where we are headed. Continue reading ““A Horrible Demoness:” DeKalb History Center’s Historic Scrapbook Collection”

Social Exclusion: Saturday School in Decatur

“Individuals are prey to institutions in modern mass societies… Individuals can struggle mightily against institutionalized conditions, but without changing the institutions themselves, those efforts will be largely for nought, since people tire, lose focus, forget, and, eventually, give up their ghosts, while institutions share no such limitations.”
― Brian Awehali

Nowadays, students think of weekends as a welcome respite from studying, but, historically, this has not always been the case. Between 1902 to 1932 in Decatur, the school week ran from Tuesday through Saturday. Author Tom Keating proposes that the strange schedule was a method to “discourage Jews from settling in town.” Though no formal statement from the school board has been found, Keating bases his argument on oral interviews. Exploring this perspective highlights the insidious ways that systemic exclusion occurs.

Public school is, in essence, a democratic institution, a pivotal cultural experience that binds disparate populations together. George Washington in his farewell address, recommended that American leaders should “promote… institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge.” An informed and educated populace is necessary to maintain a functioning, republican government. Most Americans have experienced public education. School is, in theory, available to all: rich and poor, athletes and scholars, faithful and areligious, and, more recently, regardless of racial or ethnic background.

In truth, this promise has often failed. School policy is often intertwined with the social problems of the period, often in uncomplimentary ways. Exclusion of minorities is not uncommon. School policy, set by the district board, is a sword and shield: policy can absolve administrators and teachers of responsibility or be used to shut down potential challenges.

Continue reading “Social Exclusion: Saturday School in Decatur”

A Tale of Two Fires

1916 Fire
The fourth courthouse (1898-1916) caught fire on September 14, 1916 during the early hours of the morning (Courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“When knowledge is scant or conflicting, folklore takes over.” – Paul Smith

The stories that we tell, as a society, are a kind of collective imagining, a method to interpret and understand the world that we live in. Folklore serves a way to fill in crucial knowledge gaps, and aides in explaining the inexplicable. Such was the case in DeKalb County where the courthouse has undergone six iterations. Two separate versions of the courthouse burned under mysterious circumstances, and interesting tales have, in the past century, have sprung up to decipher the cause(s) of the fire. These folktales are well-worn, passed down from one generation to the next, and continue to have resonance in the present. Even as recent as 2016, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution repeated these myths when discussing the two fires. This causes one to wonder: do these folk-tales have any truth to them? Continue reading “A Tale of Two Fires”

Dr. Thomas Holley Chivers

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

So begins one of Edgar Allen Poe’s best known poems, “The Raven”.  The style and mood of the poem are notable; they are somber and rhythmic in a singular way.

Or perhaps, not so singular as all that.  Compare “The Raven” to the lines from another poem, by a different poet:

When thy soft round form was lying
On the bed where thou wert sighing,
I could not believe thee dying,
Till thy Angel-soul had fled; 

The above stanza is the opening of the poem “To Allegra Florence in Heaven” written by Dr. Thomas Holley Chivers.  The rhyme scheme sounds very familiar, as does the mournful tone.  It’s no wonder then that a plagiarism controversy ended up surrounding these two works.  To this day, there is no real, concrete consensus on who copied whom.  But there is no denying that both poets clearly drew some inspiration from each other.  This is no surprise considering Chivers and Poe were friends. Continue reading “Dr. Thomas Holley Chivers”