Jim Miles has produced some unusual lessons in Georgia history.
A high school history teacher at Peach County High School in Fort Valley, Ga., Mr. Miles moonlights as a chronicler of UFO sightings, the paranormal and the flat-out bizarre in his latest book, Weird Georgia (452 pages, Cumberland House).
There are reports of swamp things, sea serpents in the Altamaha River, ghostly goings on, spontaneous combustion, Roman-era coins dug up on Piedmont farms, mesmerizers and the odd meteorite. Mr. Miles uses a just-the-facts-ma'am writing style, drawing from historical documents and newspaper clippings, leavened with a bit of sly humor.
"With a book like that, you have to have a good time with it," he said in a telephone interview.
Fox Mulder of The X-Files would have been a star pupil in Mr. Miles' classroom. Several chapters deal with UFO sightings in Georgia, from "phantom airship" reports in the 1890s, into the 1990s.
Augusta has not been immune to weirdness. The book includes reports of a UFO in 1952 over the Savannah River Plant, seen by a hundred plant workers and dignitaries attending a ceremony outdoors. "A glowing green glob about one-fifth the size of a full moon" darted about the sky for some two minutes over the plant.
There were sightings in 1948 in downtown Augusta of a "wingless mystery plane" and in 1997 by a 13-year-old in Hephzibah of a diamond-shaped UFO that split into two triangular crafts.
Mr. Miles said he had his own encounter with the unknown in 1967 while on a Boy Scout camping trip in Crawford County. Sort of. The boys saw a bright-orange light but decided to call it a night. "We didn't have the guts to investigate, unfortunately," he said.
His favorite phenomenon is known as the Surrency Horror, a brick-throwing bogeyman that terrorized a prominent family in the southeast Georgia town of Surrency in the 1800s.
It was an untidy phenomenon: "Chairs, shoes and clothing were tumbled about the house, as if the hand of veritable witch or unseen devil was present," according to one account.
News of the spirit spread, attracting reporters from across Georgia. Excursion trains were set up to tote tourists to the home of the poor family dealing with the poltergeist.
There are also stories of blood-dripping walls in a suburban Atlanta home; visions of Jesus in a tree in Columbus and in a billboard for spaghetti in Atlanta; panthers roaming south Georgia; and huge birds, twice the size of buzzards, soaring over west Georgia.
More conventional oddities include chapters on natural phenomena such as sink holes; Georgia's sandhills; Fort Mountain, a stone ring across a mountaintop in northwest Georgia; and "magic hills" where cars seem to defy gravity and coast uphill.
Mr. Miles is working on a book on Georgia's Civil War ghosts. For more conventional history buffs, he has produced a seven-book series on Civil War history that also provides a driving tour of the sites. The books include Fields of Glory: A History and Tour Guide of the Atlanta Campaign, and To the Sea: A History and Tour Guide of Sherman's March.
But it's Weird Georgia that has sparked the interest of his high school students.
"They think it's fascinating," he said. "After the seven Civil War books they say, `Hey, a book we'll actually read.' People will go after a fun book."
Reach Tharon Giddens at (706) 823-3347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
|By the book|
Title: Weird Georgia: Close encounters, strange creatures and unexplained phenomena
Author: Jim MilesPublisher: Cumberland House
The basics: 452 pages, $16.95, paperback