The following impressive account of a rock throwing poltergeist appeared in the Atlanta Journal of February 7, 1932. The article outlines strange events that took place at a farm near the township of Commerce, Georgia over two weeks in September 1864. The piece features the casual racism typical of the period.
Two-Weeks’ Shower of Rocks
How The Rocks At Their Childhood Home in Jackson County, Georgia, Suddenly “Came to Life” and Began to Fly Through the Air Is Told for the First Time in the Following Interview With Dr. R. B. Adair and Mrs Josephine Hudson, of Atlanta. The Phenomenon Has Never Been Explained.
A WEIRD natural or supernatural phenomenon that occurred In Georgia sixty-eight years ago – pebbles, stones and boulders rising from the surface of the earth and sailing slowly through the air, seemingly propelled by some mysterious power or impulse of their own – is recalled by Dr. R. B. Adair, 83, of 957 Virginia N. and his sister, Mrs. Josephine Hudson, 81, of 154 Dodd S. E.
Because of a promise made to their mother in childhood, Dr. Adair and Mrs. Hudson have never before discussed outside the family circle the two-week “rock shower” that occurred at their home in Jackson County, Georgia, in 1864, and the publication of this interview marks the first time that any record of the phenomenon has appeared in print.
Dr. Adair and Mrs. Hudson were born and reared on a farm still known as the old Adair place, which is located on the Hood Mill Road, formerly the Burns Mill Road, a small thoroughfare linking Jefferson and the Athens commerce highway. The farm is four miles southwest of Commerce which, in 1864, was known as Harmony Grove.
What caused the stones on the Adair farm to behave in such a strange fashion over a two-week period in September, 1864, neither Dr. Adair or Mrs. Hudson have any idea. The name of Dr. Adair, who retired from the practice of dentistry in Atlanta two years ago, is nationally known in dental circles, for aside from being a leading figure in his profession he won fame as a pioneer in the treatment of pyorrhoea, or disease. He is a scientist in every sense of the word, but nowhere in his life-long study of science has he found a solution to the mysterious flight of stones which he witnessed at the age of 15.
“It was in September, and fodder pulling time” said Dr. Adair, recalling the experience. “We had four negroes on the farm at that time, a man, a woman and two young girls, and early in the afternoon I had set them to gathering fodder in the bottom land just across the creek from our residence. After starting them to work, I saddled my horse and left for Commerce, then known as Harmony Grove, to get our mail; there was no rural delivery in those days, and with father and my three older brothers at the front, the ride to the post office was part of my daily routine. Upon my return home, some two hours later, I found that the slaves had pulled very little fodder. They were crouched in a silent huddle in the cornfield, and seemed to be badly frightened. Dismounting my horse, I strode toward them, demanding, to what they meant by idling away the whole afternoon. They explained that they had done no work because somebody had been throwing rocks at them ever since I had ridden away.
“Of course I scoffed at this excuse because I knew that no one in the neighbourhood would stone our darkies. But the slaves insisted that they were telling the truth, and assured me that if I’d wait a minute I’d see the rocks flying over. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before rocks began to whizz into the field from all directions, coming from the hills on each side of the bottom and from up and down the creek.”
At first Dr. Adair did not notice the peculiar flight of the stones. Like the negroes, he was inclined to believe that they were being thrown by several persons who were hiding in the brush surrounding the cornfield, and he determined to drive the offenders off the farm in short order.
“Telling the slaves to go ahead with their work”, he continued, “I went into the house and got my gun. Our watchdog was as big as a young lion and one of the bravest animals I’ve ever seen, and as I passed through the yard I commanded him to come along with me. He obeyed reluctantly, keeping close to my heels, with his tail between his legs and glancing fearfully at the whizzing stones. However, I did not learn until sometime later why he was unwilling to accompany me.
“The rocks were still flying from all directions as I crossed the cornfield, and they continued to drop around me as I searched the brush below where the negroes were pulling fodder. Finding no one hiding there, I forded the creek and worked my way up the opposite bank. Still the stones droned through the air and plopped among the bushes on all sides, but nowhere could I discover the persons were throwing them. Nor did the dog, who was very unfriendly toward strangers, make any sign to indicate that he scented an outsider. Directly opposite the cornfield was a stretch of stubble land from which the wheat had been cut a short while before, and as I reached it I witnessed a spectacle that was so startling it almost caused me to forget the flying stones.
“Watermelon vines had grown up in the stubble, and a number of them bore young melons from as large as a teacup to the size of a man’s head. As I crossed the stubble field I observed several of these little melons detach themselves from the vine, roll along the ground for a short distance, and break all to pieces. I stood staring at the bursting melons, watching the undeveloped seeds plop out of the rind and scatter over the ground, until a yelp from the dog told me that he’d been hit by a rock and brought, my mind, back to the business at hand.”
Although puzzled at the odd antics of the watermelons, Dr. Adair does not recall that he was frightened; and as for the rocks, which were still falling everywhere, he was more than ever convinced that they were being thrown by human hands. Later, when he learned that the stones were traveling of their own volition, he tried to connect their flight with the bursting of the green melons, but without success.
Renewing his search, he combed both banks of the creek, thoroughly investigated the gullies and washes surrounding the cornfield, and then climbed a steep hill directly opposite the homestead. This elevation was known as Graveyard Hill because of a small private burying ground that was located on its crest, out of sight of the Adair residence in the valley below. Lest superstitious persons attempt to attribute the phenomenon of the flying rocks to whatever spirits may have Inhabited this little cemetery, both Dr. Adair and Mrs. Hudson emphatically deny that any of their family ever gave the slightest thought to the ghost stories that were so dear to the hearts of the old-time black slaves.
“If there were any such things as ghosts, they would have eaten us out of house and home, back on the old farm,” Mrs. Hudson pointed out. “For aside from the few graves on Graveyard Hill, there were Indian burial mounds an up and down Turkey Creek, and the ploughmen frequently turned up human teeth and bits of bone. Besides, she added smiling, ghosts are supposed to wait till midnight to start their pranks, and the stones began to fly in the middle of a bright afternoon and continued their antics for two weeks, day and night.”
But to return to Dr. Adair’s narrative. When he failed to locate any marauders on Graveyard Hill he went back to the cornfield and enlisted the aid of the slaves. Because the cornstalks in the field and the bushes covering the hills and the banks of the creek obstructed his view, it was difficult for young Adair to determine the exact direction from which the rocks were coming. Taking the slaves to a cleared field farther down the creek into which the stones were pelting in a veritable shower, he formed them in a circle, faces turned outward, and told them to keep their eyes straight to the front. In doing this, he believed that they would eventually locate the hiding places of the people who were stoning them.
“As we were taking up our positions,” he resumed, “I first noticed the peculiar flight of the stones. They seemed to be traveling very slowly, much slower than a flying bird, and most of them were following a horizontal course at a height of three to six feet above the ground. The negroes had already been struck several times, and upon reaching the open field a rock hit me on the elbow. It was about the size of an egg, but its impact was so gentle that it caused no pain, merely sending a tingling sensation through my funny bone. After striking me, it dropped to the ground at my feet. Giving the word to the negroes, we began to spread out, all of us searching the edge of the field with our eyes in the hope of finding the rock-throwers.
“Then it was that we discovered that they weren’t being thrown at all. In all parts of the cleared field rocks of different sizes were slowly rising out of the ploughed soil and flying through the air of their own volition.”
Needless to say, this uncanny situation was too much for the nerves of the youthful master and the slaves, and the five of them beat a hasty retreat to the house, dodging through the shower of slow-moving stones. In the detached kitchen behind the big house they found gathered the rest of the household, which, in the absence of the father and three older brothers, consisted of Dr. Adair’s mother and five younger brothers and sisters. Mrs. Hudson, the eldest of the children, was then a girl of 13.
“The children and the slaves were terrified, but mother assured us that there was nothing to be afraid of,” Dr. Adair said. “She was at a loss to explain what was causing the rocks all over the farm to rise up out of the ground and go sailing through the air for a short distance, but she scoffed at the theory that ‘ha’nts’ were the reason for the disturbance, as the darkies suspected. She remarked that she was supremely thankful that none of us had been injured, and cautioned us to remain indoors until the rocks stopped falling.”
Dr. Adair and Mrs. Hudson remember their mother as a woman who was absolutely without fear; in the absence of the men of the family, she frequently went out alone at night, carrying a torch and armed with an old pistol, to attend to the stock or investigate strange noises about the premises. She was a heroine of that, great corps of wives and mothers who so gallantly kept the borne fires of the south burning while their men-folk were at the front with Lee.
It is not surprising that Dr. Adair, upon reaching the house, learned that during his absence at Harmony Grove she had visited various parts of the farm in hope of learning what caused the peculiar flight of stones. The watchdog accompanied her on her tour of investigation and the fact that he was struck by several rocks accounts for his unwillingness to return to the danger zone with his youthful master.
While the family was gathered in the kitchen, several big rocks rose from the terrace just outside the door and thumped down on the floor of the porch. One of a them, a flat piece of shale a foot and a half in diameter and weighing twenty-five pounds, Dr. Adair recognized as a stone from the the walk; he carried it to the yard and found that it fit snugly back into hole from which it had been flung.
Several hours passed without the rock shower showing any signs of abating, and as darkness settled down it became imperative that Dr. Adair take the hands into the open and finish up the farm work. With stones flying all around them, they hauled several loads of bundled fodder to the barn and stored it in the loft, working to the weird patter of the falling pebbles. They were making syrup on the place that day, and long after dark, as he tended the fire, Dr. Adair heard the clatter of small stones striking against the kettle.
Next morning the stones were still whizzing back and forth, although they did not seem as numerous as during the preceding afternoon. The phenomenon continued for ten days or two weeks, the flights of the rocks becoming shorter with each passing day. The Adairs grew so accustomed to seeing stones leap into the air and thud back to earth that they actually failed to note the day on which the pebbles and boulders on the place began to behave as boulders and pebbles are supposed to behave.
Mrs. Hudson substantiates her brother’s story in every detail, although she points out that she was not an eyewitness to the rock showers that occurred on distant parts of the farm. In a naturally soft voice to which eighty one years have added clarity and sweetness, she describes the phenomenon as she viewed it from the vicinity of the big house and the kitchen.
“Being the eldest of the girls I was 13 then it was my duty to look after the younger children and help mother with the housework.” she explained. “I remember we were all terribly frightened when the rocks first began to fly, but, as no one was hurt, we gradually became accustomed to them. After the first day or two the large stones in the houseyard didn’t jump around anymore, and I was not afraid to take the babies out to play. We kept away from the fields and the creek banks, where smaller stones were continuously buzzing through the air.
“Many of the pebbles that fell in the yard or struck the house were wet, proving they had come from the bed of the creek several hundred yards away”, Mrs. Hudson continued. “These, as well as the stones of larger size, seemed always to fly toward us at about the height of a man’s waist. I do not remember seeing any rocks high in the air, although one night a big rock did fall down the kitchen chimney. I was especially frightened that same night when, as I started to carry the baby Into the house to put him to bed, a huge rock jumped into the hall ahead of me. Brother Ben came and rolled it into the yard, placing it back in place in the little terrace that bordered the walk.”
Dr. Adair and Mrs. Hudson explain that their mother, when the rock shower first began, suspected some clever trickery on the part of an unknown enemy who wanted to drive them from the farm. But later, when it became obvious that no human could be responsible for the stones pushing their way out of the ground and soaring off through the air before the eyes or several persons, the little family agreed that they were witnessing a new and uncanny freak of nature. In those autumn days of 1864 the war was drawing to a close, and far-sighted Mrs. Adair realized that, with the freeing of the few slaves, the little farm would be her family’s only asset.
Afraid to call the attention of neighbors to the flying stones lest they spread the story that the property was haunted, she extracted promises from the children and the negroes that they would never tell what they had seen. No doubt she hoped to have the mystery cleared up when the father and the older sons returned from the army; but the father died immediately after arriving home, two of the sons had been buried on the battlefield, and the home-coming of the third boy, who was a prisoner in Illinois, was so long delayed that the mystery all but been forgotten. Later, when the farm was sold and the family scattered, the children continued to keep the affair secret, mainly because they realized how utterly incredible their story would sound to an outsider.
Both Dr. Adair and Mrs. Hudson presented the writer with signed accounts of the phenomenon as they witnessed it, and the facts given in this article are taken from these papers. Before consenting to make the story public, Dr. Adair made every effort to locate at least one other witness beside himself and his sister. But letters sent to relatives and former neighbors in the vicinity of Commerce and Hoods Mill elicited the information that the former slaves are long since dead, as are most of the white people for whom the darkles worked following their emancipation and to whom they may have related the tale.
Oscar Adair, 90, a brother of Dr. Adair and Mrs. Hudson, was in a northern prison camp near Chicago at the time of the occurrence and can only recall the facts as they were given him in contemporary letters and upon his return home, long afterward.
Geologists have no explanation of the strange behavior of the stones to offer, nor do historians recall having heard of a similar occurrence in this or any other part of the country. The sixty-eight-year-old mystery, related for the first time, threatens to remain a mystery.