I once heard Milledgeville called the saddest but most beautiful place in Georgia.
In Milledgeville, I live atop a hill eight miles from town. For over three years, watching the sun set itself near the location in the distance where a small small cluster of lights appear at dark that students call Milly or Illy, I’ve generally avoided downtown after nightfall. I could be afraid of Marion Wesley Stembridge’s ghost, but it’s not Marion’s ghost that scares me. Maybe his ghost isn’t there, at all. Employees of Ryal’s Bakery disagree. Some say his cigar smoke wafts the air in Stembridge’s old store on South Wayne Street early in the mornings.
Maybe I’m paranoid. Maybe I see things that aren’t there. I once tried to write an essay where I ask Milledgeville permission to call it Illy or Milly because a pet name made Milledgeville less scary, to me. The essay is called “Can I Call You Milly?” where a stray cat shows up at my remote rented house on the hill. The cat hid in the shadows. At dusk, I would talk to the cat, and the cat becomes a metaphor for Milledgeville. I try to make friends with the two: a cat and a city. The Milly essay didn’t find its way into my MFA thesis at Georgia College because it didn’t fit.
In reality, the cat was afraid, yet, eventually, the cat comes closer after I talk to it night after night. The cat turned out to be a girl. Her name did become Milly—a calico cat of all cat colors. Milly lived with me until fate brought a solid black cat to my door. Milly left because I think she was afraid of Harlem, the black cat. Milly, the calico, was more afraid of Harlem than she’d been afraid of the woods. They were both female cats.
Maybe I’m a crazy cat person. Maybe I’m certifiable like my neighbor. My 53 year old neighbor gets a “crazy check,” as she calls it, from the State of Georgia. Today is her birthday. Sometimes she needs a ride to River’s Edge, which is a mental facility on the outskirts of Milledgeville, to get her medicine or her check. I’ve given her a ride to the facility a few times. She’s been deemed agoraphobic, but she loves to be outside in open spaces. It doesn’t make sense. After enough years, she’s said, “minds get made up on what you are, so you just go with it.” To me, that’s also metaphorical.
As the smoke from fires in north Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and north Alabama blow southwest over Milledgeville, after the 2016 election polarized my country with its venomous spewing of maliciousness and clandestine dealings that ranged from secret emails, foreign powers (among other hidden agendas) from both fronts, after a man yelled at me for sitting in my parked vehicle because he wanted my parking place when several open spaces were available near me, after a car sped down Highway 441 at 100 mph in the twilight of dawn last week, crashing into a section of Georgia College’s campus where students sleep at night, I sit down to wonder if it’s just Milledgeville, or if it’s all the World that’s lost its mind. Or maybe it’s just me; however, the World is burning because I can smell it burning.
The land of the Cherokee is burning.
The day after the 100 mph car wreck, The Union-Recorder, the local newspaper, did not report the story of the speeding car that crashed into campus. Later, the story is buried on the paper’s third or fourth page. In the daytime, that exact spot where the car wrecked is peopled with students. I wonder if the story would have been newsworthy had students been directly hurt. It makes me wonder how the wreck isn’t a major public safety concern. It makes me wonder if the illusion of safety is better than actual safety. It all makes me wonder: Why?
Log trucks still speed through Milledgeville. Log trucks still speed through campus. In a way, a log truck caused Emma’s death the moment when the log truck hit the Cooper family car in 1949.
Milledgeville is a place of secrets, and that type of thing drives me crazy. Crazy isn’t politically correct, but I live in a world where Syrian refugees get into inadequate boats with babies to escape chaos in the Middle East and, upon reaching shore across the Mediterranean, some refugees take “selfies” on their cell phones for Social Media. Maybe it’s just me. I live in a world where people often check boxes if they’re “white” or “black.” If I ever truly see a white or black person, I will lose it.
Milledgeville is a good place to fall off the rocker.
Milledgeville is home to Central State Hospital (CSH), which was once the World’s largest insane asylum.
Milledgeville is literally synonymous with crazy, but I’m not supposed to say that. Going to Milledgeville once meant, quite literally, to go crazy. On the capstone of the second oldest building on CSH’s campus, etched in stone are the words: Georgia Lunatic Asylum. Milledgeville. Insane. Crazy. Lunatic. However, crazy is bigger than Milledgeville.
If enough doctors agree that a person is crazy then that person must be crazy. A person, like my neighbor, can be an agoraphobe if experts with credentials say so. That’s plenty to make me batty. This happened to me in Milledgeville, but I proved that those doctors were lying, but these were PhDs–not MDs. Doctors, however, are doctors. I live in a world quite literally obsessed with religion and race. I live in a world obsessed with status and rank on pieces of paper even if either form of doctor has a clue or walking-around-sense. I live in a world where people judge other people as if it’s a compulsion. After this last election, I read news channels throw the words “uneducated, poor whites” around as if that’s not also “racist.” It’s also elitist. One of the ways to judge a person is by a person’s skin color. Race is a biological fiction. There’s ethnicity; however, race is a pure social construct. In 1949 in Milledgeville, GA, however, skin color meant everything. I wish I could say that things have changed in the world since then. It’s not all Milledgeville’s fault, but it’s all sad to me.
This makes me crazy. Humans aren’t crayons, and humans aren’t their God. Truth is subject to interpretation, and each human has his/her own truth. In my opinion, the truth is that Milledgeville helped Marion Stembridge get away with murder until some in the city had a change of heart.
Central State Hospital postcard. Special Collections, Ina Dillard Russell Library, Georgia College.
Cranford, Peter G. But for the Grace of God. Great Pyramid Press, 1981.
Cranford, Peter G. “Dr. Green and Dr. Powell Guide State Hospital in Formative Years,” The Union-Recorder, 30 April 1953, p. 3.