What has happened to the state historical marker recalling the 1856 Augusta visit of British author William Makepeace Thackeray?
For 60 years, it snuggled up to the front of the former Richmond Hotel in the 700 block of Broad Street, providing the description of antebellum Augusta offered by the writer best known today for his book Vanity Fair.
When a reader called to ask about the marker across the street from The Augusta Chronicle’s News Building, reporters began asking around.
Had the plaque – probably containing more than 100 pounds of metal – been stolen by scrap metal thieves hoping to convert it to cash? The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office had no reports or knowledge of such.
Had the city taken it down or perhaps moved it for safety reasons?
City Administrator Fred Russell said he was unaware of such a plan, and neither was Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell.
Had the Richmond Summit housing complex, which now takes advantage of the old hotel’s 130-plus rooms, removed it for some reason?
Calls to its out-of-town answering service were not returned.
But then Erick Montgomery, the executive director of Historic Augusta, shared a curious story.
At a meeting Friday of a state history association in Macon, Ga., someone mentioned that one of the old historic markers in Augusta had been removed because someone – described as coming from Washington, D.C. – found its language about slavery offensive.
The Thackeray plaque certainly might qualify. The text of the missing marker contained this:
“Nice quaint old town Augusta, rambling great street 2 miles long, doctors and shopkeepers the society of the place, the latter far more independent and gentlemanlike than our folks, much pleasanter to be with than the daring go ahead northern people. Slavery no where repulsive, the black faces invariably happy and plump, the white ones eager and hard. I brought away 60 Guineas for 2 hours talking, a snug little purse from snug little Augusta.”
If that was the case and the marker was removed by a state authority, it might have been undertaken by the Department of Natural Resources, which seems to have inherited some responsibility for hundreds of old history markers across the state.
When Morris News Service called DNR officials Tuesday morning to ask about the markers, however, no one seemed to know about picking up one in Augusta.
So the mystery continues.
And the marker is still missing.