We are what we pretend to be.
– Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
The Augusta Museum of History has me on its monthly speakers agenda for next spring, but there’s a challenge.
I was asked to talk about our area’s funniest moments, and history is rarely that humorous. But I’m trying.
Take the civil war. Augusta saw no battles and after the war began to spread the story that they weren’t attacked because famed (and despised) Yankee Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman feared them.
The story grew through much of the 1880s, until Augusta Chronicle editor Pleasant Stovall decided to get the truth from the warhorse’s mouth. He wrote to Sherman and asked, and Sherman answered in perhaps the most famous letter to the editor in Chronicle history. He said he didn’t attack Augusta because he didn’t have to. It suited him just fine that every available man with a gun between him and his objective – the coast – would all collect in one spot, Augusta, and not delay his march. But then, Sherman being Sherman, he offered to come South immediately and burn the town.
“... If the people of Augusta think I slighted them in the winter of 1864 they are mistaken ... with the President’s consent, I can send a detachment of 100,000 or so ... who will finish up the job ...”
Then there was Charles Lindbergh who piloted the first solo nonstop airplane crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, prompting Augusta to celebrate the achievement uniquely.
“Thousands of Augustans who visit the business district of the city after 2 o’clock,” The Chronicle reported, “will see a series of stunts, one of which will be performed by an Augusta girl . . . swinging from a flying airplane, suspended by a pair of silk stockings.”
The young woman, Agnes Holliman of Wheeler Road, was a 90-pound waitress who earned $50 for her feat.
Silly? Perhaps, but a crowd of 10,000 watched it all along Broad Street that Saturday afternoon.
But the funniest thing I’ve found so far was Augusta’s elaborate celebration of its 200th birthday. In May 1935 Augusta held a weeklong bicentennial extravaganza.
There were pageants, parades, dances and even an official poem. Central to the event was a dramatic re-creation of founder James Oglethorpe’s arrival two centuries before sailing a boat up the Savannah River and greeted by Indians.
Everyone who remembers the event, enjoyed it, but as Augusta’s celebrated historian, the late Ed Cashin, liked to point out, not only did Oglethorpe come by horseback, not boat, but we celebrated the 200th anniversary the wrong year.
Augusta was officially chartered (by Oglethorpe) on June 14, 1736.