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Walking where history was made

By Walter Geiger For many years, the annual Georgia Press Convention was held on Jekyll Island. We’ve rarely missed it, often traveling to and from the coast via Hwy. 341 as I much prefer the backroads and their backdrops to the monotonous interstate. We always went past ‘˜Miss Mit’s House’ south of McRae just east of where the highway crosses Sugar Creek. We always slowed to look at the house where Gene and Herman Talmadge lived. Both father and son were Georgia governors. Herman also served many years in the U.S. Senate. Gene Talmadge may have been the most colorful governor Georgia ever had. He was a staunch opponent of FDR’s New Deal and hosted huge rallies fueled by barbecue and corn ‘˜likker’ at which he assailed the president and his societal blasphemy. Ole Gene wore red suspenders. A dark forelock would fall across his forehead as he worked himself and the crowds into a lather. His rants always included this line, ‘The poor dirt farmer ain’t got but three friends on this Earth; God Almighty, Sears Roebuck and Gene Talmadge.’ He was called The Wild Man from Sugar Creek for the small waterway near his home. Sadly, the brick facade of the home deteriorated and the trees and brush grew up until it was no longer visible from the road. We knew where it was and always looked. Then a historic marker sprung up marking the place. All that changed when our friends Jim and Ann Wooten bought the home and acreage two years or so ago and began restoring it. Jim spent years editing the editorial pages at the Atlanta Journal and then the combined Journal Constitution. Jim is from Telfair County. He has also bought back most of the land that was once in his family and built a cabin there. The Talmadge house, which had sat empty since 2001, presented a challenge but the Wootens were up to it. We got to tour it last week with an entourage of newspaper folks and it was quite the enjoyable evening. The restoration is masterful. There was whole hog barbecue, libations and much story telling about the colorful Talmadges. I shared this one Herman told not long before his death at an event in Roberta. He had been invited by President Johnson to deer hunt at the LBJ ranch. The night before the hunt was filled with merriment and the senator had a hangover when a liveried porter knocked at his door before dawn to announce, ‘Senator Talmadge, breakfast will commence in 45 minutes and the hunt in an hour and a half.’ Herman gathered himself and arrived at the breakfast table in his camouflage only to find the president and his attendants in business suits. ‘Huhman, we don’t wear camouflage when we hunt here on the ranch,’ the president drawled. After breakfast, the hunting party loaded into an armored presidential limousine for a long ride down a dirt road on the expansive ranch. LBJ finally ordered the limo to a halt alongside a field filled with deer. ‘Pick one out,’ he told Herman. Confused, the senator pointed at a buck and said, ‘Well, that’s a nice one’. The limo driver pressed a button and the retractable roof opened. Herman was handed a handsome Weatherby rifle. He stood up in the limo, aimed and downed his trophy buck. The party returned to the ranch for Bloody Marys. Packed in dry ice, the venison arrived at his home before Talmadge did. Later, the mounted head was also shipped. That may be a tall tale but it is as Herman related it. Being at his home where he and the dirt farmer’s friend spun many such tales was like walking where history was made. You, too, can walk there. Sugar Creek Plantation is now a wedding venue and place for business meetings. You can also take a tour. Jim and Ann would love to have you. Visit Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette.

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