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Trunk full of memories returns home

POSTED: April 18, 2010 1:00 a.m.

Sometimes you find treasure within a treasure that you weren't even looking for.

Pat Scroggs of Gainesville recently recounted such an adventure in St. Luke Church's newsletter.

She had bought two old trunks at a yard sale seven or eight years ago and set them aside for refinishing, projects that kept being put off because of moving, grandchildren and assorted other priorities.

Pat finally got around to restoring one of the trunks during last winter's long spells of inclement weather. It worked out so well she was inspired to take on the second one.

This steamer trunk was wood, rusty and covered in a canvas-like fabric. She took it into her shower, propping the top open because the hinges didn't work. She scrubbed out the mildew and dirt, restored the wood and tin and vacuumed the interior.

Pat had taken the contents of the trunk out to peruse at her leisure. Books, old photographs, negatives, magazines, letters, a school report card and postage stamps provided a smorgasbord for insects, but she found envelopes with the former owner's name on them: Cadet Thornton A. Burns. There also was some correspondence with Gordon Military College in Barnesville.

A history buff and naturally curious, Pat wanted to know more about Cadet Burns and the interesting trunk that apparently once belonged to him. She poked around the internet on her computer, found a Web site for Gordon Military College and spotted Thornton A. Burns' name on the front page of the alumni list.

She contacted the school's public relations office, which contacted Burns, who shortly e-mailed Pat. Burns told her he had bought the trunk for $2 to store his treasures in when he was a boy. After sending him a list of the contents, Pat heard from his wife Sue Burns, who asked if she and her husband could retrieve the trunk.

Their son-in-law drove them from Forsyth to meet Pat and her treasure. Thornton Burns told Pat he graduated from West Point, served in the military around the world, and retired as a full colonel after 30 years. His service included two tours in Vietnam, where he was a victim of Agent Orange, a defoliant that is linked to several diseases.

Col. Burns has his trunk back filled with the memories it holds. Pat Scroggs has her mystery solved and curiosity almost, but never quite satisfied. Neither knows how the trunk ever made it to Gainesville. Col. Burns had left it with his grandmother, but after she died, nobody knows what became of it. They're trying to solve that riddle now.

Pat looks at her adventure as a visit from an angel in the guise of an antique trunk and a retired military man. Col. Burns instead probably would say Pat is the angel, not to mention quite the detective.

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Hall County isn't exactly Hollywood East, but a scene from the movie "Hall Pass" shot at the Gainesville Days Inn last week revives memories of others made in this area. One of the stars, Christina Applegate, was in the local scene. Owen Wilson also stars in the movie.

The most memorable movie shot in this area, perhaps, is "I'd Climb the Highest Mountain," starring Susan Hayward, William Lundigan and Rory Calhoun and featuring numerous locals from White and other counties, including Hall. The 1950s film was based in Cleveland, but filmed in other mountain locations.

Then there was the famous 1972 movie "Deliverance," starring Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Jon Voight and shot mostly along the Chattooga River in Rabun County. It, too, features numerous mountain folk.

"The Great Locomotive Chase," a Walt Disney film starring Fess Parker, was filmed along the old Tallulah Falls Railroad in Habersham and Rabun counties in 1956. Many of the cast and crew either stayed in or visited Gainesville much of the time.

Parts of the original "Smokey and the Bandit" movie were shot on that picturesque curvy stretch of Ga. 75 along the Chattahoochee River north of Helen and at Unicoi State Park.

Hall County was the site of a world premiere movie, "Birthright," filmed in the Harmony Hall community in 1952. The old Ritz Theater on Bradford Street just off Gainesville's downtown square showed the movie before it opened in New York City. Several locals had parts in that movie.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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