New Hope, GA has seen its fair share of bounders, rounders, and hooligans seeking their fortune. Ever since the bloody Battle of New Hope Church in May of 1864, every conceivable type of grifter has drifted into town, searching for the gold rumored to be hidden in a tunnel beneath that historic church. The Sons of the Confederacy have witnessed them come and go over the decades, but they have all left empty handed. None have been able to sneak past the Ghost Sentry, that intrepid soldier who has guarded its entrance for over 150 years. But there was one cunning desperado, a man of immense wealth and taste, who came very close indeed.
He called himself an “Alienist,” and he arrived from Boston, MA, in 1904. He claimed to be a professor of parapsychology, and proclaimed that he had come to investigate the ghosts, phantoms, and other spirits that were rumored to inhabit the area. He brought the most up-to-date equipment with him, and boasted that he would uncover any and all existing paranormal activity. He sported a wooly beard and dressed like a Victorian dandy – but he appeared to be a bit of a spinner, and quite mad in the head.
He was accompanied by his daughter, an exquisite and precocious young girl that he doted upon in the extreme, but when folks inquired about the mother, he had an excuse for every occasion. He was also a skilled landscape artist, and took the girl with him wherever he went, painting each house on the battle site, peering into every basement from every possible angle, always with a sharp eye for the unexpected detail.
But he grew tired of the charade, and his behavior grew increasingly desperate, dark, and erratic. He became convinced that the only way to find the tunnel was to provide a distraction to the Ghost Sentry – and then subvert him. And the only way to accomplish that was to create a monumental diversion that would give him time to locate the tunnel, enter the hidden chamber, and then leave with the gold. The solution? He would burn the historic New Hope Church straight down to its foundation. It would be a magnificent finale!
He planned the fiery event for May 25, 1904, exactly four decades after that bloody Civil War battle. The Alienist had just completed his masterpiece, a glorious depiction of the the original New Hope Church, painted by special request from the pastor’s wife. After many years of searching, he strongly suspected that he would find the entrance to the tunnel in the basement of the church, and he meant to smoke the sentry straight out. But then his meticulous plans went horribly awry.
Fire and Smoke
He had gone back to his cabin to gather the oil rags and matches, and left his daughter out back. But when he entered, he saw that the windows had been sealed and the cabin was filled with lethal kerosene fumes – his glowing cigar quickly ignited the fumes into a massive explosion. He stumbled outside, horribly burned, when he heard his daughter let out a blood curdling scream. He raced around back and saw her clambering into the cabin through a broken window, hysterical and frightened out of her mind.
She called out his name and then jumped into the raging blaze. He yelled for her, but it was too late. As she fell into the burning house, he rushed to the window and vaulted in after her while red hot cinders cascaded over his head. The neighbors heard him shouting in desperation as he swung headlong into the flames. And then…awful silence.
When it was finally over, the house and all of its contents had been devoured by the fiery inferno. The only thing that survived was the girl’s baby carriage, horribly twisted from the searing heat. But the mortal remains of the Alienist and his young daughter were never found – it was as if they had simply vanished into the fire and smoke.
–The Origins of New Hope Church–
New Hope, GA