A Masonic apron on display periodically at Dahlonega's Gold Museum has a century-and-a-half story behind it.
It originally belonged to Pat Logan when he was initiated as Master Mason in the Blue Mountain Lodge in Dahlonega. It is exquisitely hand-painted and sewn and remains in excellent condition, encapsulated in plastic.
The story goes that Logan took the apron with him when he left the Auraria gold mining area to find more fortune out west. Talitha Whelchel, Pat Logan's niece, gave her version of the story to The Times 50 years ago.
Logan's Auraria mine was about worked out, she said, and he and his brother, Lawrence, and others set out for California, sailing from Charleston, S.C. They reached their destination in the summer of 1850, Pat Logan with his Masonic apron in his pack.
At summer's end, the miners were housed in tents in Greenwood Valley. One night, the wind knocked a tree into one of the tents, killing several of the prospectors, including Pat and Lawrence Logan. The tragedy caused the remaining miners to head back to Georgia.
A man named Davis carried Logan's Masonic apron with him. Masonic tradition is for the apron to be buried with the deceased member, but Pat Logan had made it clear before his death that he wanted it returned to his wife in North Georgia if anything happened to him.
Davis dutifully toted the apron with him. Yet another tragedy, however, struck the group several days out to sea from San Francisco. A storm sent the ship aground on an isolated Pacific island.
As the crew and passengers left the ship, cannibals surrounded and captured them. The islanders began fattening up their prey for a series of meals, the story goes, but Davis is said to have refused the food, delaying his demise until he was the only survivor of the group. While wandering the island one day, he sighted a ship and waved the Masonic apron to get its attention.
After his rescue, Davis eventually made it back to Georgia with Pat Logan's Masonic apron. He returned it to Mrs. Logan, and over the years it was handed down to various relatives, ending up with Miss Talitha Whelchel. Two of her brothers, Jim and Homer Whelchel of Hall County, donated it to the Dahlonega Gold Museum in 1968, according to Robin Glass, interpretive ranger with the Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites.
Miss Whelchel was a great-aunt of Ralph McCrary, retired principal of Lumpkin County High School, who lives in Hall County. One of her brothers was his grandfather, Ralph Alfred Whelchel. His great-aunt left him a book of family history, in which she relates the incident in California where the Logan brothers, sleeping in the same tent, died when the tree fell on them.
She said they were buried in the valley Sept. 19, 1850.
Blue Mountain Lodge, to which Pat Logan belonged, is one of the oldest in Georgia, having been chartered Nov. 6, 1844. Legend has it the Blue Mountain name came from the lodge's original blue building that faced the Blue Ridge Mountains.
One of the founders and first worshipful master was D.H. Mason, who came to Dahlonega from Philadelphia to become a coiner for the Dahlonega Mint. He also was a Presbyterian minister and held services downstairs in the lodge building. The Russell brothers, prospectors and miners, were said to be members of the lodge and gathered other Masons to meet during their stays in the western gold fields.
Blue Mountain's present lodge hall is at North Meaders and East Main streets in Dahlonega.
The Masonic apron is on exhibit upstairs in the Gold Museum except when there are special exhibits, Glass said. Other artifacts include a metal tube in which the apron was kept, Logan's diploma when he became a Master Mason and paperwork showing Blue Mountain Lodge's original organization.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.