The Tale of the Lost Marriage Certificate

In Special Collections, we’re used to unusual things popping up. It’s the very nature of a special collection. Recently, we received a call from Mike Couch at the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority because he had some papers in his office that he thought would be best placed with us. Construction workers, planning to demolish a building at Central State, decided these papers might be important, so they decided to hand them off to Mike. It turns out those were Payton B. Cook’s papers. Rev. Cook’s name is familiar to newer residents of Milledgeville mostly because his name is on a building on Vinson Road. However, longtime residents will recall Rev. Cook as a pillar of the community, whose accomplishments were recognized by the Georgia General Assembly upon his death in 1998.

Rev. Cook was a clinical chaplain at Central State Hospital in the 1960s through the 1990s. He was an African-American who helped to integrate the hospital’s administration, and while that is certainly important, what I’ve learned about Rev. Cook through inventorying his papers is just how much he meant to Milledgeville and Baldwin County as a true public servant. He served on numerous boards for the hospital, the local community, and the state, and he traveled the southeast to encourage students studying to become clinical chaplains and preach in pulpits large and small (usually Baptist and Methodist). Business leaders wrote letters to him asking for advice, and occasionally, the area elected officials reached out to him as well. There were also notes from his young daughter, reminding him to run errands for her while she was at school.

Rev. Cook had a very busy schedule, and perhaps that explains what we ran across today while inventorying his collection — an original marriage license from Peach County, Georgia, from 1970. Rev. Cook was the officiant, and he had completely filled out the form, but it had never been mailed. I thought at first he had handwritten a copy, but the form in my hands clearly said “county original.” My next thought was that Rev. Cook had likely misplaced this copy, yet mailed a second one. I realized I had better call Peach County Probate Court to be certain. Continue reading “The Tale of the Lost Marriage Certificate”



What do you get when you mix an uncensored, sexually exploitative art show put on by Georgia College and State University’s Art Department with a cacophony of performance reactions and concerns?

You get “Mexotica.”

In 2004, an art show put on by performance artist and writer Guillermo Gomez-Pena and a number of volunteers, in conjunction with the school’s Art Department, was held in Russell Auditorium. The reactions erupted discussion that travels the entire spectrum.

Gomez-Pena works in a number of artistic mediums exploring cross-cultural issues, immigration, and the politics of language. His mixing and blending of genres and art forms, of truth and fiction, seeks to create a “total experience” for the viewer/reader. He is the creator of La Pocha Nostra–an online collaborative art laboratory for performance artists to link up and connect with other rebel artists. Its main function is to destroy borders separating people by race, gender, and other cultural differences. La Pocha Nostra’s mission statement is “to provide a base for a loose network of rebel artists from various disciplines, generations, and ethnic backgrounds.” The term is meant to represent Mexican empowerment, to praise abnormality and indecency. Click on this interview for Guillermo’s detailed explanation of where the name originates.

The school’s Colonnade featured several articles of audience reaction following the performance. President Dorothy P. Leland, who was newly appointed president at the time, is quoted in the articles. Mexotica was the first visual arts performance she attended at GCSU, and what a way to acclimate her to the fine arts within the university. Gomez-Pena allowed students the freedom to wear and perform what they wanted, and I think that’s one of the most important takeaways in all of this. Performance is about trusting other artists. One student told The Colonnade that she felt like she was in the red light district; others felt it was fuel to confront issues regarding sexual exploitation. Continue reading “Mexotic-huh?”

April Showers bring May…Emergency Preparedness?

Severe weather across Central Georgia has caused quite a scare in 2017. As I literally write this during a tornado watch, I’m also reminded of the 55 storms we’ve had across Georgia this year – making us more dangerous than even Oklahoma. You may be asking what this has has to do with archives. Well, as we head out of April and in to May, archives across the nation celebrate May Day on May 1st, a day dedicated to the protection of archival collections.

The May Day website cites the Heritage Health Index, a report by the Institute of Museum and Library Services that addresses the “conditions and preservation needs of our nation’s collections” (HHI), which states that even after disasters as destructive as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast, very few institutions had actual disaster plans that were up to date (MayDay). Every year on May 1st, archivists and cultural heritage professionals attempt to change that.


Georgia College Special Collections will be celebrating May Day by conducting a walk-through of our own collections keeping an eye out for unboxed material and boxes and other materials that are stored on the floor. We’ll be spending the day creating a plan for boxing materials that are currently loose, and moving items stored on the floor up on to shelves in our stacks. Fixing these problems will help our archive be more prepared for natural disasters and man-made disasters that could befall Georgia College. By making sure everything has a home on a shelf, we can lessen the possibility of water damage, smoke damage, or fire damage affecting our collections.

While we care for our own collections, what about your own at home? As we at the archives check our level of disaster preparedness, it might be time to play along at home to check your own precious family photos and documents and to create an emergency plan for your own items. The Georgia State Archives in Morrow, Georgia has created a checklist of items that are essential disaster records, or those records that should be kept with you in the event of an emergency, as well as how to back up these items. Other sources like the Northeast Document Preservation Center cover photo preservation and emergency salvaging of documents like wet photographs. In this post, we’ll cover the basics so that you too can have an emergency preparedness plan for your documents and photographs. Continue reading “April Showers bring May…Emergency Preparedness?”

Moral Turpitude

In 1972, Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories won the National Book Award winning over John Updike, E.L. Doctorow, Joyce Carol Oates and Walker Percy, just to name a few. Eight years after her 1964 death, O’Connor moved notches up in American letters by posthumously winning the National Book Award as her writing progressively secured itself among, and surpassed, much of the writing she studied at Iowa just after World War II. At Iowa, O’Connor wrote a graduate paper on William Faulkner in her MFA program. She studied and read Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, Caroline Gordon, James Joyce, Gustave Flaubert, Edgar Allan Poe and Faulkner, just to name a few. Many writers influenced hers. One of O’Connor’s most recognizable fictional characters from her novel Wise Blood begins with Hazel Motes returning from WWII, and he buys a blue suit, changing from his Army fatigues. Then in 1988 amidst The Cold War, Pete Dexter is awarded the National Book Award for Paris Trout. O’Connor had been passed twenty-four years, by then.  

Despite the years, O’Connor and Dexter have two things very much in common besides both being awarded one of America’s most prestigious writing awards besides the Pulitzer. 

For one, O’Connor and Dexter have in common the streets, squares, people and their stories that echo in Milledgeville. During separate decades, O’Connor and Dexter inhabited the streets of Milledgeville as Dexter lived in Milledgeville for a time before Paris Trout was published.

The more specific streets are Wayne, Hancock, Jefferson, and Wilkinson. On Wayne, Marion Wesley Stembridge owned a dry goods store. Wayne is where Mary Flannery O’Connor’s grandfather, Peter James Cline, had also owned a dry goods store. At Hancock and Jefferson, O’Connor attended weekly mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. At the corner of Hancock and Wilkinson, O’Connor’s mail was postmarked Milledgeville where, during The Depression, her aunt Katie L. Cline was a money order clerk, and O’Connor’s uncle Hugh T. Cline had been Postmaster. Diagonal the once post office turned Visitor’s Center, across the convergence of Wilkinson and Hancock, O’Connor and her mother often ate lunch. A story above the restaurant in the building that no longer stands, Pete Bivins once had a law office in the Sanford building in May of 1953. On Hancock above the Campus Theatre, Marion Ennis also had a law office in May of 1953.  

2017 view of the stairs leading to the offices above the Campus Theatre where Marion Ennis’s office was in May 1953. 

For two, O’Connor and Dexter have in common Marion Wesley Stembridge. On 2 May 1953, O’Connor hadn’t been long returned from Iowa, New York, and Connecticut. Later, Dexter will hear about the infamous 1953 Saturday and base the eponymous fictional character Paris Trout of the National Book Award winning novel Paris Trout on Marion Wesley Stembridge.

Maybe a sliver of a silver lining can be seen. In a way, the story of Stembridge and Emma and the Cooper family and, subsequently, Pete Bivins and Marion Ennis and all others sadly involved in the story will win the National Book Award twice–once in 1972 then again in 1988.


O’Connor’s first draft of “The Partridge Festival” was first published in The Critic in 1961 and collected in the body of work that comprises The Complete Stories. “The Partridge Festival” was once a draft and then eight more drafts as the nonfictional Marion Wesley Stembridge is first named Mr. Sparrow then ultimately Singleton. The first draft is described; “Dr. George Gordon de Lacey comes to Pittsville from the university, takes a motel room to write about Mr. Sparrow’s murdering three prominent businessmen and then killing himself. [de Lacey] visits his spinster aunts, Minnie and Elizabeth de Lacey” (Driggers & Dunn p. 119).

O’Connor added a businessman.   

They call it Milledgeville; O’Connor fictionally called it Pittsville in an early draft of “The Partridge Festival”, and fictionally, Dexter told the story his way, telling Emma’s story, calling her Rosie

Continue reading “Moral Turpitude”

Guards! Guards!

If you got the reference in my title as a Pratchett fan, you may be expecting dragons and the Night Watch. Not quite. This story started with the search for a cornerstone. During the process of putting together items for the upcoming Russell Library exhibition on Russell Auditorium, I went back to the stacks to search for the mythical Russell Auditorium Cornerstone. Little did I know that I should not be looking for a physical cornerstone but rather a box filled with items from the cornerstone time capsule discovered by Dr. Bob Wilson and unearthed by the Physical Plant staff in October 1996. To hear the rest of the story of the cornerstone, come visit the Special Collections exhibit on the second floor of the Russell Library.

In the search for this so-called stone, I stumbled upon a box with a brick — yes, a literal brick — labelled as coming from the Prison Courtyard during renovations during 2005-2006. Since the box label stated Dr. Bob to be the donor, I inevitably sought him out to ask him. Turns out that this little brick is part of a much larger story encompassing the slice of Milledgeville history that is the penitentiary.

Kemp House Brick
The infamous brick

As has been talked about on this blog before (our first post in fact!), the penitentiary began accepting prisoners in 1817 and existed well into the 1880s. After being engulfed in flames in 1864, supposedly by the prisoners who were let out in the hopes that they would fight to defend their city from the incoming Union General — William Sherman. To no one’s surprise, the prisoners didn’t, and the penitentiary was rebuilt to accomodate even more prisoners until the 1880s, dampened by the convict lease system instituted in 1868 and the establishment of a state prison farm with state prison warden two miles west of Milledgeville in 1897. So the story goes that the land appropriated to the prison became the land of G.N. & I.C. leading the students to sit among the spirits of the state prisoners, even leading to ghost stories of prisoners spirits shaking the green shutters of the Bell Hall Annex (Hair). Continue reading “Guards! Guards!”

Eye-Gougers and ‘Duellists’: A Sense of Continuity

Art is born of pain; art is currency ∴ pain is money.

We live in a violent world ∴ we live in a beautiful world.

Zora Neale Hurston criticized her own color during the Harlem Renaissance, died poor in Florida beyond sandy beaches, abandoned. Hurston was buried in a pauper’s grave, unmarked. Her grave was so lost until Walker asked Hurston’s ghost to lead her, and Hurston’s spirit did. After Walker stepped in the grave, Hurston was found. Alice Walker brought Zora Neale Hurston’s works like Their Eyes Were Watching God back to life. Alice Walker brought Zora Neale Hurston back to life.

Alice Walker won the Pulitzer Prize. Walker’s work is immortal. She published a poem in 1973 about Rock Eagle, a Native American animal effigy just north of Milledgeville in Putnam County, Georgia:

Eagle Rock

In the town where I was born

There is a mound

Some eight feet high

That from the ground

Seems piled up stones

In Georgia


But from above

The lookout tower


An eagle widespread

In solid gravel 


Takes shape


The Cherokees raised it

Long ago

Before westward journeys

In the snow

Before the 

National Policy slew

Long before Columbus knew.

I used to stop and

Linger there

Within the cleanswept tower stair

Rock Eagle pinesounds

Rush of stillness

Lifting up my hair.

Pinned to the earth

The eagle endures

The Cherokees are gone

The people come on tours. 

And on surrounding National 

Forest lakes the air rings

With cries

The silenced make.

Wearing cameras

They never hear

But relive their victory

Every year

And take it home

With them.

Young Future Farmers

As paleface warriors


Live off the land

Pretend Indian, therefore


Can envision a lake

But never a flood

On earth

So cleanly scrubbed

Of blood:

They come before the rock

Jolly conquerors.

They do not know the rock

They love

Lives and is bound

To bide its time

To wrap its stony wings


The innocent 4-H Club.

(“Eagle Rock”, Revolutionary Petunias, pp. 20-3)

It’s a beautiful poem.

“Cherokees” didn’t build Rock Eagle, but the mistake is a perfect example of misinformation approved by The State of Georgia and extended to Walker at a young age, as a student. Creeks didn’t name themselves Creeks no more than the Cherokee named themselves. In all, it’s an ultimate example of how malleable history is and how wrong, and rhetorical, history is. When I was young, Alabama History taught me Creeks were “belligerent”, yet Cherokees were good because they were peaceful. I’ve no doubt Georgia History taught Walker the same.  What is peaceful?

Emma Johnekin was/is from Putnam County. Walker and Emma Johnekin grew up near the same road near Lake Oconee–a lake created by damming the Oconee River, for power. The road is called Old Phoenix.  The lake was dammed after 1949.

Enough pain put into words, music, or other media makes one rich. Enough pain put into words also can make one poor. If not for Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston would remain intentionally forgotten, particularly forgotten by the Harlem Renaissance. Jean Toomer oversaw a school in Sparta, and Toomer often passed as a white man.

Flannery O’Connor lived in Milledgeville. Alice Walker lived here when her bluest eye was shot-out by her brother. Jean Toomer lived in Sparta. Joel Chandler Harris is also from Eatonton, which is where Brer Rabbit is thrown in the briar patch after the run-in with Tar Baby, which put Brer Rabbit at the mercy of Brer Fox who set the unspeaking trap made of pitch, dead, in the rabbit’s path.

‘Skin me, Brer Fox,’ sey Brer Rabbit, sezee, ‘snatch out my eyeballs, t’ar out my years by de roots, en cut off my legs,’ seize, ‘but please, Brer Fox, don’t fling me in dat brier-patch,’ seize. (Harris 18) 

Brer Fox is smart, but Brer Rabbit is smarter. The briar patch is the rabbit’s home. The fox and the rabbit, the crow, the turtle, and others, are tricksters borrowed, or taken, from Native American lore known as Trickster Tales retold through oral tradition from indian to slave to indian to slave to indian-slave until the stories reached Harris’s ears, and eventually Walt Disney makes a movie called Song of the South that offends. Actual bombs that kill thousands are expected, but words are painful. Savage is now a cool, hip word. If anyone at all, the word offends few. It’s a rad word. It’s applied many times in The Declaration of Independence to describe a people The United States of America reduced to 1% of the current North American population. The original document is behind bullet-proof glass. Officials in Washington DC are also bulletproof. If you’re important enough, it’s another person’s honest job to take a bullet for you. Read past the two famous paragraphs of the eternal document if you want to see the savage words.

Toomer’s Cane, O’Connor’s works, Walker’s juke joint, The Color Purple and Walker’s mothers’ gardens might be, or might range a twenty mile radius from Milledgeville. Dee (Wangero) moved to the big city, but Mama and Maggie lived in the country. Maggie was scarred by a fire.

Continue reading “Eye-Gougers and ‘Duellists’: A Sense of Continuity”

“The game ain’t worth winning if you’re breaking all the rules:” G.N. & I.C.’s own Crime & Punishment, or Rules and Regulations of the Founding Years (1890-1924)

Note: This is the final part of a three part series on the day to day administration and life of Georgia Normal & Industrial College students from 1890 to 1930. Find part one here and part two here.

“We don’t need no education…”

“School’s out forever…”

While housing and fashion are the somewhat more glamorous parts of college, today we’re here to talk about the respected and resented, controversial topic of rules and regulations. Girls at Georgia Normal & Industrial College had more than just the Student Judicial Board and Honor Code to worry about while out and about in Milledgeville. These girls were held to a high standard, as former President John Harris Chappell, and later President Marvin M. Parks, expected them to abide by a code of conduct that would probably impede even the most rule-abiding student among us today.

To examine these particular codes of conduct, I initially turned to what has become my favorite resource – A Centennial History of Georgia College. (The name has gotten familiar enough that I feel like I don’t even have to write out the full name agnic main buildingnymore, but here you are.) And if you’ve ever wondered why historians rely so heavily on prospectuses from 1891 to 1924, here’s your answer: the main building of the G.N. & I.C. campus burned in 1924, sending all administrative records up in smoke. What have we got to go on, then? Prospectuses, photographs, and personal histories recorded in memorabilia.

At this point, it is important to note that the ages of G.N. & I.C. students was much different than Georgia College students today. Students during this era ranged in age from 16 to 20, with preference given to younger girls rather than older. This differs wildly from the 17-22 year old age range on campus today. Younger students in the 1890s meant that Chappell took his role of “in loco parentis” very seriously, leading to his autocratic reign as president. Chappell was absolute in his enforcement of rules on his students, going so far as to admonish parents of students for breaking them, and asking them to avoid sending their young daughters to the school if they were not willing to play by his rules. However, there were also pockets of delightful resistance, of which I hope to highlight. Continue reading ““The game ain’t worth winning if you’re breaking all the rules:” G.N. & I.C.’s own Crime & Punishment, or Rules and Regulations of the Founding Years (1890-1924)”