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


Behind the Scenes: The Guy Hayes Collection

Hayes Dog in Cup
One of the treasures of the Guy Hayes collection. Pictured is a kitsch image of a puppy in a cream pitcher. Though taken earlier, this photo echoes the popular pet images of today (Image courtesy of the DeKalb History Center)

At first glance, the Guy Hayes Collection may look simple but take a second look. The photographs are a delightful look into everyday life in Georgia from the  1950’s to the mid-1960’s. The subjects are ranging: sporting events, gubernatorial races, the civil rights movement, etc. Hayes photographs reveal a changing America, a culture in constant flux.

After World War II, America became an economic and political behemoth, countered only by the Soviet Union. The economy was strong due to a continuation of the wartime industrial build-up. Young men, returning after the war, settled down, and created families; this resulted in the Baby Boomer generation. The landscape changed with suburbs expanding, rapidly becoming the preferred living areas for the rising middle class. The end of the war and new affluence meant that American families had increased leisure time. This created a new consumer culture around the television. More than ever before, Americans were fascinated celebrities. Outdoor recreation and parties, particularly food, became a way to advertise their newly affluent status.

This photo is a self-portrait of photographer Guy Hayes taken in 1984 (DeKalb History Center)

Continue reading “Behind the Scenes: The Guy Hayes Collection”

Courting Your Lady-Love


“Well, I’m sure you’ll find someone somewhere who’ll have you.” 
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Often, I get asked, as a historian, how did people in the ‘olden times’ meet or date. Certainly, modern dating has fewer social limitations, but nonetheless, young men and women did mingle, often at community events. It is hard to give a definitive answer without direct evidence; luckily, when I was looking through archival files, I found an answer!

Apparently, Stone Mountain, the largest exposed mass of granite in the world, was a popular destination site. Men who took a fancy to a certain woman would take her out on a group excursion, to court her and, eventually if they were lucky, to see if she was amenable to marriage. This allowed courting to fit within permissible morality as women not alone in the presence of a man. Yet, as the excursions were on horseback, men and their ladyloves were paired side by side. Levi Willard, an early historian of Decatur history, says the following: “It was reported that matches were made on these little rides. It was easy to lag behind the company… [the woman’s] saddle was turning and must be girted tighter, or the blanket was slipping out of place, or some other excuse for the moment.”

Continue reading “Courting Your Lady-Love”

Concoctions and Cures: Early ‘Heroic’ Medicine in Decatur

Chapman Powell's Still
Pictured is Chapman Powell’s medicinal still which he created his ‘miracle cures’ from herbs and shrubs growing in Cherokee territory.

“Isn’t it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do ‘practice’?” – George Carlin

We have romanticized images of the past. We perceive settlers on the frontier as bravely weathering obstacles, standing resolutely against all odds. Yet, such a life had high costs. Nothing was ever constant but, rather, always in flux; even the smallest things could be dangerous. Life was a treasure, not something to be taken for granted. In early Decatur, the average lifespan was around twenty-eight years. Infant mortality rates were high. Only the hardiest, those people composed of copious grit and some luck, lived longer. Disease and sickness abounded: malaria, bilious fever, pleurisy, pellagra, hookworm and yellow fever were all ready to take your life at any quick turn.

The city and county were healthy during the early years. Sure, some risks were present then, but the actions of settlers worsened living conditions. They changed the topography and environment, reshaping the earth to fit their social and economic needs. When clearing the land, trees, once majestic and stately, were felled into rivers. Ponds were not cleared, and the water became stagnant, pooling, attracting mosquitoes. Sickness spread faster, and, in increasing frequency, citizens fell ill. Even doctors were not immune. Ormand L. Morgan was the second physician to settle in Decatur, and, though young, he impressed townspeople with his acumen in medicinal practices. Yet, he died quickly and his was the second grave dug in the new cemetery. Levi Willard, an early chronicler, provides insight into what early medicinal practices were like:

“There was… [a] doctor whose success in making money in his profession was perhaps greater than any of the others. I refer to Dr. Chapman Powell. Many preferred his medicine because the first requisite was a gallon of whiskey in which to mix the pulverized herbs.”

Continue reading “Concoctions and Cures: Early ‘Heroic’ Medicine in Decatur”

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”