Monday, September 28, 2009

Deadly Events Impacted Our Lives

Editors Note: In many of our lives, stories that happened in our youth are factors for the rest of our lives. The following stories hppened and remain frozen in the depths of my memories.

At a recent luncheon with former classmates of mine—all of us, now seventy plus—the subject drifted to things which impacted our lives when we were young.
A young mind is very vulnerable. Perhaps the reasons can be debated, however I choose to think it is because the mind of the young is void of shocking experiences. Early in my youth, I was shocked when a policeman came through the mill village looking for dogs without collars. In those early days on the tail-end of the Great Depression, that was not like looking for a needle in a haystack. Most of us had dogs and most of us could not afford the extra money necessary for rabies shots.

The word spread quickly that a policeman was shooting dogs in the street. We had two dogs at the time. One was Spot and the other was Snowball. Like many others we tied our dogs in the hopes they wouldn’t become victims of the exorcism. In the case of Spot and Snowball, my brother tied them under the front porch of our rented small, frame, mill house.
It didn’t work. The policeman looked underneath our porch and shot both dogs. I don’t recall how young I was—probably under five—but suffice it to say that the horrible event impacted my mind for the rest of my life.
On another occasion when I was riding my bike on the village, I spotted a car driven by some Black men which had been pulled over. The policeman yanked the back door of the sedan open and yelled at one of the men. When he didn’t move, he was jerked from his seat and immediately hit on the head with a night stick. He crumbled beneath the force of the blow, and blood ran from his wound. I turned my bike around and sped away from the scary event.
To say these two episodes affected me in a negative way would be right on the money.
Not all of the things that happened in our youth had to do with police cruelty. Early one Sunday morning the news spread quickly as the Hamm family was preparing to go to Sunday School.

A young boy named Gene Hamm, brother of Mae Bennett was fatally killed when it was discovered that he had accidently pulled an electric heater into the tub of water where he was bathing. Death was by electrocution. He was so young, and the accident was so terrible, it left most of us who knew him shaken and with a feeling of vulnerability.
In the exciting days of outdoor theaters, better known to us as the Drive-in Movie, one night ended in tragedy. To say that most people attended the old M&T Drive-in in an automobile would be correct, however some of us rode our bikes from town all the way out to the drive-in, and sometimes it could get a little frightening. On one occasion, I recall a Greyhound bus moving over to go around me on my bike and when he “goosed” the big engine, something hit me in the eye. It wasn’t a rock. I still think it was engine residue from the big diesel. For certain, it caused a burning sensation. To remember that incident is to realize the danger in riding a bike on a dark highway, something I am sure is not done today.
Strange as it may seem, two teenaged boys who resided near each other on the north side of Hartford met accidental deaths. Both were students at Central High School and their deaths were unrelated.

One of the boys, Perry Babb, a son of Preacher Babb, a well-known minister and textile worker in Hawkinsville was walking toward the family’s rented home near the intersection of the Cochran Highway and Chicken Road after the drive-in closed. On the side of the dark, shadowy road, Perry met his death. Someone ran over him and his body wasn’t discovered until the following day. No one was ever arrested and no one to my knowledge was ever charged for the deadly incident.

The other boy named Billy Mullis whose family was living in the house across the road was helping to do some work on a shallow well behind their home when he was touched by the pipe of the well which had an electric wire touching it. Immediately hit with the full force of the electric charge, Billy was electrocuted. Both deaths touched the young people of Hawkinsville and impacted our minds.
There was a classmate, a country boy named Johnny Holder, who very much filled the role of being from the rural area. Johnny walked with long strides—no doubt gained from plowing a mule—and seemed to walk flat-footed. In playground football, he ran with that same stride. He was easily the fastest boy on the playground. Johnny was a humble boy and I really liked him a lot. Then one day, he was hunting in the woods and his shotgun fell discharging into his body killing him. All of the above seemed to take place within the first ten or twelve years of my life. It was a lot for a youngster to digest.
There were two deaths, very similar to each other that occurred near the Ocmulgee River, and both went unsolved. It seems that a group of men were drinking and playing poker somewhere near the old crooked bridge, and one of them, Wesley Bell was murdered and his body was
dragged later from the river. Several men were questioned, but no official charges were made in
the incident.
On another occasion, a group of men were involved in a drinking and a poker game and a tall lanky man named B. A. “Crook” Moore was killed and his body later was also dragged from the muddy waters of the river.

Perhaps one of the most infamous killings in the history of Hawkinsville involved then Chief of Police Tom Bragg on May 11, 1951.

A young Army paratrooper, Leon Passmore, just 27 years old, who was raised on the mill village, had gone AWOL from his base along with another buddy. Chief Bragg was informed that the young troops were AWOL and sought them out for arrest. According to the newspaper accounts, Bragg had the two men handcuffed in the front seat of his police car. In those days, there was no shortcut to Robins AFB, therefore Bragg and his two prisoners headed out on Highway 341 toward Perry where a road to Warner Robins intersected with 341 that would take them on to the Air Force Base. According to the law officer, he slowed down to make the turn and claimed the two men attempted to wrestle his gun from him. There was a struggle for the weapon with Bragg maintaining control of it. He discharged the firearm until it was empty and critically wounded the two soldiers. Someone pulled in behind him to offer assistance to the policeman, after which Bragg continued on to Robins AFB where he turned the men over to the military. Both died or were dead on arrival. Bragg was questioned in an inquisition about the incident and finally was cleared of any charges.
To this day, long after the killings, many believe it was cold-bloodied murder and many others felt it was justified.
The final results will have to be worked out somewhere else. All the people involved including Bragg’s son, Tommy, who lay sleeping in the rear seat are deceased. Dead men tell no tales.
The preceding incidents impacted our lives greatly during our youth.


Anonymous said...

I have memory of some of these but not all. I think Gene Hamm and I were about the same age and in the same grade. But the way I remember the incident was that he was standing in the tub of water and reached up to turn the overhead light either on or off and was electrocuted in the process. And yes we and the whole town was also shocked. You probably don't remember but Gene and our cousin Mary Nell were in 'Like'at the time. If the house is still standing I could point it out. It was only a house or two from Mrs. Jones' house and dairy before she bought Pearce's dairy and moved to the country. I remember us driving the herd of milk cows out to the country. Lot's of memories of the years working for the Jones'. That's a column for you to write sometime.
yo bro crow

blue04 said...

Perry Babb, an uncle I never knew, was my father's brother. My dad now lives in Eastman and is 76. I read your story which was great reading which I Thank you for! One person I remember, from Hawkinsville, is the blind guy that ran the store near the mill which was near my grandparents house. My grandparents were Preacher Babb known as Bigdaddy and Bigmama, his wife. Thanks for the history lesson. :)

blue04 said...

Perry Babb, an uncle I never knew, was my father's brother. My dad now lives in Eastman and is 76. I read your story which was great reading which I Thank you for! One person I remember, from Hawkinsville, is the blind guy that ran the store near the mill which was near my grandparents house. My grandparents were Preacher Babb known as Bigdaddy and Bigmama, his wife. Thanks for the history lesson. :)