by Jim Miles
Motorists and pedestrians who pass the corner of Fifth and Broad Streets in downtown Augusta, Georgia, invariably notice the lone column standing on the southwestern corner. The artifact, two feet in diameter and ten feet in height, is composed of brick covered with concrete. It is the “Haunted Pillar,” and there are many who believe death awaits any who touch it. Eerie events are said to occur around it.
The pillar is all that remains of the Market, two large sheds about 200 feet long and 100 feet wide, that once occupied the center of Broad Street from 1830 until 1878. Known as the Upper and Lower Markets, the citizens of Augusta flocked there daily to purchase food from farmers, grocers, and butchers.
In the late 1800s an itinerant evangelist visited the city. The eccentric preacher was described as an elderly, white-haired, stately looking man whose clear voice was “incisive even to the piercing of the human heart,” one witness declared. It is variously argued that no church would host his services or that he disdained organized religion. It seems that he preached in the Lower Market for some time and that the managers refused him permission to speak or that he was run out of town by unbelievers. Whatever the circumstances, this Old Testament-style speaker proclaimed that a storm would soon destroy the Market, either to punish the people of Augusta for their transgressions, or simply to prove that he was a prophet of God. Only the southwestern column would survive the storm, the preacher declared, and anyone who attempted to move it would be killed.
The curse came to fruition at 1:10 a.m. on February 8, 1878, when a tornado touched down in Augusta. It remained on the ground for half a mile, tearing a 200-foot-wide swath through Augusta from Ellis to Market. Two people were killed and several houses were knocked down. The Lower Market was “totally destroyed,” noted the Augusta Chronicle & Constitutionalist, leaving “a mass of ruins, timbers broken, and masonry piled in utter confusion.” It was reported that the Market bell rang a single time before the destruction commenced.
The second part of the curse did not kick in until later, when the city council elected to rebuild the Market on its original site. The surviving pillar was carefully moved to the corner of Fifth and Broad, which is where the legend of its being haunted began. Early in 1879, Theodore Eye, whose Lavasseur & Eye firm was a grocery, paid workmen 50 dollars to move the column across the street. They rigged cables and had started the moving process when a mischievous boy lit a big firecracker and ran. The shaken workers abandoned the effort, and by some accounts vacated the city permanently.
Reportedly, when the street was later widened, two workmen who attempted to move the pillar were struck by lightning or otherwise caused to die. Another version has a bulldozer operator dying of a heart attack while advancing against the column. However, a man who managed a liquor store across the street for 50 years denied the story, saying the pillar had “been moved (without injury to workers) several times because it was too close to the street.”
It does seem at least to be haunted. Late at night visitors near the column have reported hearing whispered conversations between phantoms and the footsteps of invisible beings pacing alongside them. When contacted by a reporter on the Halloween beat, local police revealed that 11 traffic accidents had occurred at the intersection between January and October one year. The pillar seems to attract its own bad luck. It has twice been struck by lightning and was hit by one errant car.
The pillar remains a great tourist draw, attracting individuals, buses, and walking tours.
Read this and other great articles in the February 2008 edition of FATE! Purchase the e-edition here.
Jim Miles, a retired teacher, has written two books: Weird Georgia and the eight-volume Civil War Explorer series. He lives in Warner Robins, Georgia, with his wife Earline.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.