Last week, I wrote an entire post about Confederate General James Longstreet, Alta Vista Cemetery’s most noted resident. The people I’m featuring today are just as important but there’s not as much known about most of them. However, they all share a common theme in that something from above, good or bad, had an impact on their lives.
One bit of Gainesville history that packed a major punch was the tornado of 1936, or rather, tornadoes. On April 6, 1936, residents awoke to find the sky growing dark and threatening. At about 8:15 a.m., an F4 tornado touched down southwest of Gainesville, destroying homes and businesses as it moved northeast.
A second funnel was spotted west of town and at 8:27 a.m., the two paths met in downtown Gainesville, heading toward St. Michael Catholic Church on Spring Street. Amazingly, the church was spared when the combined tornadoes veered around it and returned to its original path, taking aim on the downtown square.
The tornado caused a fire in the collapsed multi-story building that housed the Cooper Pants factory, killing some 70 workers. School children seeking shelter in a downtown department store died when the building collapsed.
An estimated 203 lives were lost in the Gainesville storms and $13 million in physical damage. More than 1,600 people would be injured in Gainesville and throughout Hall County. More than 750 houses were damaged or destroyed. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was in Warm Springs further south when the tornadoes hit, made an impromptu stop in Gainesville on his way back to Washington, D.C. to talk to local officials about relief efforts.
Many tornado victims are buried at Alta Vista, some unidentified. In a small corner lot, there is a memorial stone from 1936.
Not very far away is an obelisk honoring prominent Gainesville resident Minor W. Brown. His monument gets your attention from its visual impact more than anything else.
I’ve seen this motif before on a few other graves (mostly members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows) but not in quite this context. Sometimes it’s contained within a triangle (as you’d see on currency) to represent the “all seeing” Eye of God within the Trinity. In this case, it’s contained within a cloud and shining over an open Bible.
Minor Winn Brown was the second postmaster of Gainesville and owned a great deal of land in Hall County. He also built the first bridge over the Chattahoochee River at the Hall-Forsyth County line. Fluctuating river levels interfered with the river crossing, so Brown was allowed to build a toll bridge in 1829.
Floods and storms destroyed the bridge several times, but it retained the Brown name, even when it was sold to Bester Allen. Hall and Forsyth Counties later bought it from him for $1,600 to make it toll free.
A 1947 flood washed the bridge onto the Hall County side of the river, and it was replaced by a military-style Bailey steel bridge. The bridge that now spans Lake Lanier is about a mile upstream from the original Brown’s Bridge. Brown’s Bridge Road (State Route 369) is also named for him.
The grave marker for Manley Lanier “Sonny” Carter, Jr. is much humbler than Minor W. Brown’s. You would never known by looking at it that as a human being, he came closer to reaching the Heavens than most humans do while still living.
Born in 1947, Sonny Carter was a native of Macon, Ga. He received a chemistry degree in 1969, and his medical degree in 1973, both from Emory University. During that time, he also played professional soccer from 1970 to 1973 for the Atlanta Chiefs.
In 1974, Dr. Carter entered the Navy and completed flight surgeon school in Florida. After serving tours as a flight surgeon with the First and Third Marine Aircraft Wings, he returned to flight training in Texas and was designated a Naval Aviator on April 28, 1978. During his Navy career, he logged 3,000 flying hours and 160 carrier landings.
Selected by NASA in May 1984, Dr. Carter became an astronaut in June 1985, qualifying for assignment as a Mission Specialist on future Space Shuttle flight crews. He was assigned as Extra-vehicular activity (EVA) Representative for the Mission Development Branch of the Astronaut Office when selected to the crew of STS-33.
The STS-33 crew launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 22, 1989, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. After 79 orbits of the Earth, the five-day mission ended on Nov. 27, 1989 at Edwards Air Force Based in California. Carter logged 120 hours in space.
Tragically, Dr. Carter was killed in the April 5, 1991 crash of Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA) Flight 2311 in Brunswick, Ga. while traveling for NASA. He was survived by his wife and two daughters. I remember the crash at the time because it also killed John Tower, a former Texas Senator who gained notoriety when he was rejected by the Senate as President George H. W. Bush’s nominee for Secretary of Defense in 1989.
Maude Mooney also soared through the air (but not quite as high) as a circus performer known for her acrobatics. Her specialty was spinning from a rope by her teeth (as you can see on her marker), which earned her the nickname “Mille Vortex”. Some think that was meant to be “Millie Vortex” but I don’t know. Little is known about her.
The story that comes up most often about Maude was that she died when the circus she was working with came through Gainesville. The only problem with that theory is Maude was 50 years old when she passed away. I truly doubt she was still physically able to perform such acts.
My other proof is that according to the 1940 U.S. Census, she actually lived in Gainesville for a time with her husband, Mike, in 1935. There is no listing of her working, but a 1939 business directory lists Mike as an instructor at Gainesville’s Riverside Military Academy. They had moved to Albany by 1940, where Mike worked as general secretary of the local YMCA.
I actually found much more information about Mike, who had a very colorful past that included several marriages. He was a circus acrobat like Maude in his younger days, but also graduated from seminary and taught gymnastics at many colleges and YMCAs. He died in 1961 and is buried in Forest Meadows Memorial Gardens in Gainesville, Fla.
The last person I’m going to feature is someone who isn’t even buried at Alta Vista. That’s because the remains of Harold W. Telford have never been found.
The eldest son of Gainesville banker James Telford and Laura Jane Thomas Telford, Harold W. Telford was born in 1881. The 1900 U.S. Census lists him as working as a clerk in a dry good store. I found a listing for him as a student at Harvard University in 1902.
Harold was still a student when he traveled to Switzerland in the fall of 1907. His visa application indicates he was in Zurich at the American Consulate on Nov. 3. His intention was to hike in the Swiss Alps. I don’t know if he was part of a group or alone at the time.
After his visit to the American Consulate, he seemed to vanish. Local authorities believe he became lost while in the Alps and that he met his demise there. This cenotaph at Alta Vista was created to honor his life and laid next to the markers of his parents. His mother, Laura, had died when he was a toddler. His father, James, died in 1917.
Next week, I’ll wrap up my visit to Alta Vista. There are too many stories still to share from here to stop now!