Whenever election season rolls around, the topic of "Goat Rock" emerges amid the blather of political pollution.
Goat Rock is the mythical mourning place for election losers. Whether or not it was founded by the late J.W. (Jake) Tolbert, a profound politician of the highest order, his name is forever associated with it. He was the self-proclaimed mayor of the Rock, joking that he deserved it because he had spent more time there than anybody. Tolbert was a justice of peace who wasn't bashful about testing deeper political waters. His second home was Hall County Courthouse.
Jake used to tease losing candidates they would have to take up residence at Goat Rock. They teased him back when he lost an election.
Charlie Langford as a child remembers his father, Woody, attending coffee gatherings at Dixie Drugs or Whatley's Pharmacy to talk football, politics, or whatever the season was. Other regulars included Howard James, Howard Overby, Bud Wofford, Jeff Wayne, Joe T. Wood Sr. and Tolbert. If someone didn't show up for coffee after an election, Charlie says his dad told him, they would say he had gone to Goat Rock.
Joe Wood recalls Tolbert claiming a place called Goat Rock actually existed. Supposedly it was off the Atlanta Highway in the vicinity of where Chicopee Woods Golf Course is today. Or maybe it was somewhere near Little Giant Grocery Store at the Chicopee Bridge.
There are some genuine Goat Rocks in Texas, California, Alabama and north of Columbus, Ga., Goat Rock Reservoir, a power plant on the Chattahoochee River.
A.O. (Red) Healan, retired broadcaster, had fun with Jake at WGGA radio station. He and announcer Jim Hartley would jaw back and forth about politics when elections were more fun than they are today. Healan said on one occasion, when Tolbert had lost a run for office, he suggested Jake make a recording of his ramblings about the Rock. Jake agreed, and Healan made a tape of his discourses.
Shirley Price, Tolbert's daughter, has two 45 rpm records Ja-Lu Records cut, with Jake telling stories on both sides of each with guitar-picking in the background. They are reminiscent of the recording Forsyth County's Junior Samples made to launch him to fame on such television shows as "Hee-Haw."
Healan introduced Tolbert on each recording and kidded Jake that he never even got a cup of coffee for his part on the records. But, he said, he thinks Jake sold only 40 or 50, never threatening the Top 10 or parlaying them into a television career.
On the records, Jake roasted politicians in that era, everybody from Gov. Lester Maddox to Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. When Maddox proposed a tax increase, Jake suggested he place a tax on ax handles, which the governor had used as symbols to defy desegregation of his Pickrick Restaurant in Atlanta.
Tolbert also burned state legislators, calling the General Assembly a waste of time and hoping "they could find their way home" after the session ended. "There are no pensions at Goat Rock," Tolbert said, referring to a controversy in the legislature at the time concerning pensions for retiring elected officials.
Jake regretted the introduction of voting machines. "They look more like a slot machine," he said on one of his recordings. "But I sure didn't hit the jackpot ... I got more out of a bubble gum machine."
He invited fellow defeated candidates to load up his 1957 Chevrolet and pool their money to buy gas at Martin and Reed Service Station. He had to rent a U-Haul-It to carry one rather rotund runner-up. And he noted that another losing candidate could ride all the others in his school bus.
Goat Rock had everything you needed, Tolbert suggested, including radio, television, refreshments, even a cook to prepare food.
After one losing election, Jake said he set out for Goat Rock "just like I do every time. I was hoping I wouldn't have to go anymore ... (but) ... I'll dance every set."
J.W. (Jake) Tolbert died at age 71 in 1983. Goat Rock survives him, but the place isn't as fun anymore without the wit of its presiding mayor.
Today's elections could use a Jake Tolbert to loosen up some of these uptight politicians and their overwrought campaigns.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.