Last week, our eyes were on the skies at Gainesville, Ga.’s Alta Vista Cemetery. This week in Part III, I’m focusing on some of the more tragic tales. One involves Gainesville’s mysterious “Ladies of the Lake” who disappeared on an April night in 1958. But I’ll get to them later.
Austin Hammett was the son of Willie Dexter “Deck” Hammett and Jessie Abigail “Abbie” Hammett. When they married in 1909, Deck (a native of North Carolina) was 31 and Jessie was 15. He worked as a “loom fixer” at a cotton mill in nearby Jackson County.
Deck and Jessie had six children during their 13-year marriage. Austin, their second child, died at the age of five in 1918. It’s possible he died from the Spanish Flu that was raging across the country. An unnamed infant died a few years later. Jessie died in 1922 and is buried beside Austin and her baby. Deck moved back to the Carolinas with his children and married Cleopatra Rogers, with whom he had several children before his death in 1935.
Dressed in clothing appropriate for the time in which he lived, Austin’s figure leans against a tree stump. This often means a life cut short. On the stump, you can see oak leaves and a single acorn, which can stand for power, authority or victory.
One of the most stunning monuments I saw during my visit was of Sarah Elizabeth “Lizzie” Blalock Estes.
The daughter of Lewis Frank Blalock and Hester Clements Blalock, Lizzie grew up in my hometown of Fayetteville, Ga. On Nov. 5, 1879, she married lawyer Claud Estes in Fayetteville. She was 20 and he was 22. They shared a home with Claud’s parents, John Baylis Estes (also an attorney) and Catherine “Fannie” Bryan Estes.
Lizzie died less than four years later in 1883. The only evidence that she and Claud had children is from a marker nearby that simply says “Our Babies, Infants of Claud and Lizzie Estes” with no year on it. It’s possible she died in childbirth.
Claud spared no expense on Lizzie’s monument, paying prestigious J.S. Clark & Co. in Louisville, Ky. to create it. Clark’s name appears on monuments throughout cemeteries in the South but his most noted is “Heroes of the Alamo” in Austin, Texas.
Lizzie’s monument is a collection of symbols, from the Easter lilies that stand for the Resurrection of Christ to the winged hourglass at the top signifying that “time flies.” It’s possible Claud saw the monument in a catalog and had it adapted to wishes.
The inscription on the back is no less vivid than the sculpture on the front. I’ve never seen a monument before that listed both the deceased’s last “expression” and last word (which was “darling”.)
Claud remarried a few years later to Fannie Jones in Bibb County, Ga. They had several children while he continued his law practice in Macon, Ga. He died in 1917 and is buried in Macon’s Rose Hill Cemetery with Fannie, who died in 1935.
Located just behind Lizzie’s large monument is a much smaller, humbler stone in the shape of a house. It marks the gravesites of the Walker twins. Ella and Ileta were the daughters of twice-elected Gainesville mayor George W. Walker and his wife, Ella I. Smith Walker.
Born in 1845, George Walker was trained to be a blacksmith and eventually opened his own carriage factory in Gainesville in 1876. He married Ella in 1869. In 1885, he was elected mayor for one term, having served on the city council for two years before that. He was re-elected mayor in 1893.
Ella and Ileta were born on Nov. 7, 1886. The twins had two older brothers, William, 14, and Harry, 9. Ella died first on Oct. 21, 1895. On her side of the little house, the marker reads:
4 little feet trod the streets of gold
4 little hands the harps of angels hold
4 little lips lisp the new made song
2 little girls in the angel throng.
Ileta died 27 days later on Nov. 17, 1895. Her inscription on the other side of the house reads:
God knoweth best whom to call to go
God knoweth best whom to leave below
Blest be the name of our God we say
Blest when he gives
when he takes away.
According to the 1900 Census, the Walkers had 11 children but only five survived. All lived long lives except for Rebie (born in 1892), who died at the age of 30. I could not find the graves of George and Ella. George died in 1919 in Gainesville but he is not listed on Find a Grave. I don’t know when Ella died.
Finally, the “Ladies of the Lake” are a Gainesville tragedy many locals know about. Two mothers decided to go out to at a local roadhouse one night and never came home.
On April 16, 1958, Susie Smallwood Roberts (37) picked up Delia Mae Parker Young (23) in her 1954 blue Ford for a night out. Delia borrowed a blue dress just for the occasion.
After spending some time at a Dalton County roadhouse called the Three Gables, they were spotted at a nearby gas station where they allegedly left without paying. There were reportedly skid marks on the road near the Dawsonville Highway bridge over Lake Lanier, indicating the car crossed the center line and went off the road.
Police searched the water but could find nothing. About 18 months later, a body that had floated up from the water was discovered by a fisherman under the Dawsonville Highway bridge. Identification from dental work was not possible because the body had dentures. But it was missing two toes on the left foot and had no hands. The body was buried in an unmarked grave at Alta Vista.
Some Gainesville residents say they’ve seen a woman in a blue dress who seemed to have no hands wandering on that bridge at night.
Over the years, Susie Roberts’ family wondered what had happened to her. Had she driven away with Delia? Had she been injured and lost her memory? Her husband, Frank, died in 1972, never knowing where she was.
Her son, James, said in a news article, “”We believed she was in the lake, but then we heard she might be in Chicago, then in Florida. We wondered if she survived but had amnesia and never knew where to go.”
In November 1990, workers doing construction on the bridge found a blue 1950s Ford sedan with a body inside. The car’s 1958 license plate was identified as his mother’s by James Roberts. A watch found on the body was also identified as Susie’s.
As a result, it was determined that the body in the unmarked grave must belong to Delia Mae Young. Her family provided a marker for her. She had left behind a husband and infant daughter, who died in 1985 at the age of 28.
For many years, the Roberts family only had a cenotaph marking Susie’s final resting place because her body had not been found. She was buried there soon after her remains were found and a small stone was placed above it that reads: “Died April 1958 – Found Nov. 1990”.
The Ladies of the Lake were finally home.
I’ll wrap things up next week in Part IV.