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Bigfoot not the first strange tale out of North Georgia’s hills

POSTED: September 4, 2008 5:00 a.m.
For The Times/

The front of one of several Dare Stones believed to be the only documentation of what happened to the lost colony in Roanoke, Virgina in the 1580s.

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The dense North Georgia woods seem to lend themselves to the kind of mystery that breeds tales of the supernatural.

The hills in the forest gently slope, as if bent with age, lending the backdrop to many timeless local legends.

Some people claim to see monsters and ghosts, shrouded beneath the thick summer air, wandering aimlessly between this world and another.

Recently, two Georgia men, Matt Whitton and Rick Dyer, claimed they found the corpse of Bigfoot in the woods of North Georgia. The story went on to gain national publicity, but the "body" was exposed as a hoax — some human blood, a gorilla suit and possum skin.

No one can seem to get their hands on any concrete evidence to prove these legends, so why do people hold on to believing these tales?

"Myths and stories give us meanings and answers to things that scare or fascinate us that we can’t otherwise explain," John O’Sullivan, a Gainesville State College professor, said in an e-mail. "And even with the expanse of science and empirical explanation, there will always be a realm of existence that we cannot answer as human beings.

"We are drawn to the supernatural in part because we do not have a choice; the universe is filled with unknown features and myths, and stories help us explain, cope and provide meaning."

The Bigfoot hoax is only one of the most recent strange tales to filter down from the mountains; there have been many others.

The monster of Billy Hollow

In the summer of 1975, Bimbo Brewer was working for The Times when he was sent to cover a very unusual story.

He and a staff artist went out near Blackburn State Park, located near Cleveland, to investigate what one family said was a monster lurking by their home.

Brewer, who is now the director of the Victim-Witness Assistance Program for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, said the family described the monster as a "humanoid" that would run naked through the woods, making strange noises at night.

But Brewer thinks this monster, like the latest Bigfoot incarnation, may have been hoax.

Brewer said the artist’s rendering of the monster was eerily similar to a portrait of a relative hanging on a wall of the trailer.

"I happened to look past him on the wall and there was a very close resemblance to what he was drawing. We’ll never know for sure, but the monster of Billy Hollow that would run naked through the woods at night making strange sounds looked very much like one of the relatives living there," Brewer said.

After he met the man, who he remembers as a nephew of the family that owned the mobile home, he sensed there was something creepy about him.

"He was strange within his own right. We met him that day," Brewer said. "He didn’t have a lot of social skills but looked like the kind that might run naked through the campground screaming at night. Jerry (the artist) and I left there, as rapidly as we could by the way, feeling almost certain that the monster of Billy Hollow was a guy named Cecil. But we’ll never know for sure. That’s just our spin on it."

A Times article from 1980 recounted the monster as a three-toed, ape-like critter rather than a humanoid, as Brewer heard it. But Brewer believes people may have had time to embellish the creature by the time the second article ran.

"I suspect that may be one of those legends that may be more fun to let it grow on its own," Brewer said.

The Dare Stones

In the heart of Gainesville at Brenau University lies what some believe is the key to a mystery that is older than the United States itself — the lost colony of Roanoke — and what others consider one of the greatest hoaxes of all time.

Around 50 rocks, some weighing upwards of 60 pounds and collectively known as the Dare Stones, were brought to Brenau in the 1930s by then-Vice President Haywood Pearce Jr. They are said to be messages from America’s first colonists, who settled on Roanoke Island near present-day North Carolina in the 1580s.

The governor of the colony, John White, returned to Roanoke from a voyage to England, only to find the colony completely deserted.

To this day, no one is sure exactly what happened, but in the 1930s, people found what was believed to be evidence pointing to some possible answers.

The story goes that Eleanor Dare, the daughter of John White, inscribed messages in the stones, hoping to fill her father in on what had happened during his long voyage to England and back.

And a lot had happened.

Eleanor’s husband, Ananais, and daughter, Virginia, died, and the colony of more than 100 people was abandoned.

"This is a message chiseled in the stone purportedly from Eleanor Dare to her father saying if you find this, tell Gov. Dare this is what happened to us," said David Morrison, a spokesman for Brenau University.

The man who found the stone brought it to Emory University in Atlanta, where Pearce was also a professor. When Emory did not express interest in the stone, Pearce purchased it for $1,000 to keep at Brenau University, thinking "this is just the thing to put us (Brenau) on the map," Morrison said.

After Brenau acquired the original Dare Stone, nearly 50 others were discovered and subsequently purchased by the university.

And all was well until the stones were debunked as a hoax in a Saturday Evening Post article.

"The Saturday Evening Post article kind of shot holes in everything," Morrison said. "Pearce Jr. was a historian of some repute himself and was very highly respected. He was pretty well convinced they were accurate. The Post just barely stopped short of accusing him of participating in the fakery," Morrison said.

And though the validity of the stones has been largely disproved, Morrison said Brenau is not ashamed of the stones at all.

"People are interested in them, they’re oddities for sure," Morrison said. "It’s not anything the University’s embarrassed about. The Pearces brought people in to look at them and they thought they were pretty good."

The stones still rest at Brenau today, kept underground in a broiler room beneath the amphitheater.

The Ghost of Agnes

Many of the women studying at Brenau University have likely been told the story of Agnes, the ghost of a former student who haunts Pearce Auditorium. And though some may pass it off as a story meant to scare incoming freshman, Kathy Amos, the director of the Center for Lifetime Study at the university and a professional storyteller, believes that the ghost exits.

There are a few different versions of what actually happened to Agnes, but it is generally believed that she committed suicide by hanging herself in Pearce Auditorium.

Amos has done extensive research into the story of Agnes, and has debunked a few of the rumors and come up with some theories of her own.

"Do I believe there’s something in Pearce Auditorium? Absolutely," Amos said. "And I’m a big skeptic in a lot of ways."

Amos said she thinks the best known version of the ghost story is that as a student at Brenau, Agnes fell in love with a music instructor, who later jilted her. She was so heartbroken that she hung herself from the diving board of a pool that was under the auditorium.

However, Amos said her research proves that there never was a swimming pool at that location.

In another version of the story, Agnes is a ballet dancer was so distraught over not getting the lead role in a performance that she hangs herself from the president’s box in the auditorium. Yet another version is that Agnes kills herself after being rejected from the sorority of her choice.

But Amos doesn’t think any of those are very likely.

"There’s too much I’ve disproved, I know there was no pool," Amos said.

Amos’ findings have even shown that there likely never was an Agnes at the school during the 1930s that committed suicide at Brenau.

The most likely possibility was a woman named Agnes Galloway, who only attended the university for one year before her death. But Amos said this Agnes died and was buried in her home state of North Carolina, not at Brenau.

Amos strongly believes there is a ghost in Pearce Auditorium, and has come up with some ideas that she thinks are more likely.

The Dare Stones showed up at Brenau right about the same time the Agnes story started, and Amos thinks that is no coincidence.

"I believe the name Agnes actually probably came from the Dare Stones," Amos said.

Eleanor Dare, whose husband, Ananais, and daughter, Virginia, died on Roanoke Island, is said to have married an Indian chief after the colony was mysteriously deserted. Dare and the chief had a child together, who was named Agnes, according to legend.

After exploring the auditorium with ghost hunters, Amos also collected new information that led her to a radically different idea of who the ghost of Agnes might be.

"I don’t think it’s a woman," Amos said. "I also believe there’s a possibility there’s more than one ghost."

Amos said ghost hunters use recording devices to try to hear ghosts’ voices, because they cannot be picked up by the human ear. This process, known as Electronic Voice Phenomena, or EVP, allowed Amos to hear a man’s voice in the auditorium.

"We’ve heard two different voices," Amos said. "One is a man’s voice and one is a woman’s."

She said she has an idea of who the male ghost may be, but wants to do more research before she can say definitively.

And Amos said she has done everything she can to insure the sounds are legitimate, including listening to the tape before they start recording and checking to see if anyone is in the auditorium.

"Am I being hoaxed? Possibly. The ghost hunters fully believe in what they believe in," Amos said. "And I keep trying to disprove what they’re saying. So far I’ve not been able to disprove it."

Brewer said while he enjoys legends and ghost stories, he doesn’t think any of the mythical beings exist.

"I’m afraid we’re alone," Brewer said. "I don’t think there’s a Yeti and I don’t think there’s a Nessi. I wish all these things would be there because the world be so much more interesting and so much more fun. It’d give us something to jump at when things go bump in the night."



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