Fate June 2003
Smith Treadwell moved to north Georgia in 1840. There he married Polly Mobley, and the couple had two children while living in the railroad community of Tunnel Hill. After Polly’s death in 1851, Smith, with his first wife’s advance permission, married her sister Betsy, a union that provided eight ad- ditional offspring. Treadwell prospered in north Georgia, purchasing additional land in Murray, Floyd, Cass (present day Bartow), Whitfield, and Terrell counties. During the Civil War, Treadwell wisely moved his family to a Terrell County plantation, which was far from the war that ravaged northern Georgia. Al- though officially too old for active service, Treadwell volunteered for duty and served as a prison guard at the infamous prison camp located at Andersonville. In 1865, Treadwell moved to a two- story colonial home in Spring Place in Murray County, where he built and operated several water-powered wheat and corn mills. He died on February 20, 1893, and was buried in a cemetery on his prop- erty. Soon after his demise a marble mon- ument was placed at the grave—and there the mystery began. Streaks appeared on the stone, the markings forming a pattern resembling the face of Smith Treadwell.
The First Polaroid “I helped bury Mr. Treadwell,” wrote Levi Branham, a former slave, in his book My Life and Travels. “Within a year I noticed the picture. I think it resembles him very much. It seems to me that the picture becomes plainer every day.” The Dalton Daily Citizen News reported: “The face on the tombstone...is a wonderful likeness of the man who is buried beneath it. The marks in the marble out- line the face in a remarkable way.” Although a few relatives argued that the portrait did not resemble photographs of Treadwell, the image of a human face had undeniably developed on the stone. Over the years occasional publicity would send hundreds of people on a journey to examine this marble marvel. Visitors pestered owners of the property with questions and generally made nuisances of themselves. A natural question soon arose—had the picture manifested itself because Tread- well was a good man or an evil one? Those who had known Smith Treadwell considered him an honest, decent man, but rumors erupted. Treadwell had murdered his wife, a popular story maintained, and he was widely but falsely accused of being a bootlegger. Treadwell was also alleged to have been generally mean and dis- honest. In the 1930s, the Smith Treadwell monument was featured in the widely syndicated column,“Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.” A sketch of the monument and its mysterious face was accompanied by this de- scription: “The Tombstone Portrait—Spring Place, Georgia. A few years after the death of Smith Treadwell an exact likeness of him appeared on his gravestone.” The flow of visitors escalated to a flood after Ripley provided this national expo- sure. Curious travelers bothered the prop- erty owner at all hours, and vandals dam- aged the cemetery. It was almost a sense of relief that greeted the theft of the grave- stone in 1951. Years later it was found in Mill Creek near Dalton, but Treadwell’s de- scendants elected not to remount the stone. It remains in storage. By Jim Miles, a Georgia public school teacher for 28 years. He is the author of Weird Georgia (Cumberland House Press, 2000) and a series of Civil War books. He lives in Warner Robins Ga.