“The Alienist, his observant Daughter, and the Hidden Treasure of New Hope Church” – by Clifford Davids

“The Alienist”

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 watercolorist, 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.

A Confederate soldier's gravestone in the New Hope Church cemetery

A Confederate soldier’s gravestone in the New Hope Church cemetery

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. Afterwards, he picked himself up, 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 window, looking for him 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 ran 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.

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–The Origins of New Hope Church–

New Hope, GA

Defensive works after the battle of New Hope Church, New Hope, GA. Note the sightseers in the horse driven carriage in the back.

The remains of the defensive entrenchments after the Battle of New Hope Church in May of 1864. Note the sightseers in the horse and buggy at the top of the road. (Photo by George N. Barnard)

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New Hope First Baptist Church was struck by lightening and destroyed by fire on August 2, 1958

This is the second New Hope Church building, constructed sometime in the 1870’s. It was built after the original church was destroyed during the Battle of New Hope Church in May of 1864. The church building shown here was struck by lightning and destroyed on August 2, 1958.

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New Hope First Baptist Church in 1978

The present day New Hope First Baptist Church (Photo ca. 1978)

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10 Responses to “The Alienist, his observant Daughter, and the Hidden Treasure of New Hope Church” – by Clifford Davids

  1. My name is Barry and I love history. I am also in the SCV. I searched several records about New Hope Church and found none where it burned in 1904. If you had some more specific names I could confirm and possibly look at the census. Great story but need more evidence.

    • cbdavids says:

      Barry: You are right, the second New Hope Church building was never torched by the Alienist – it was struck by lightning and destroyed in 1958. The building that burned that day in May of 1904 was the small cabin that was being used by the Alienist and his daughter.

  2. georgiamilitaryorderofstarsandbars says:

    Sorry, you need some real names to confirm. Quite a story.

  3. Alice says:

    Here’s a thought. My calendar tells me that Saturday is the 25th, and if I read correctly the New Hope Church battle took place in 1864. Since the event happened on May 25, 1904, perhaps little girl’s cry can still be heard on the anniversary of this event…I’d want a twilight moment at the church that night. That would make quite a story!

  4. Robin says:

    Bodies never found? Maybe there were no bodies to be found! Perhaps this was just his way of making a dramatic exit. To go to his next location for paintings in exchange for free dinners! I suspect that this strange man and his child found a new place (or back to Boston) to weave their strange tale!

  5. R. Davis says:

    It would be cool to find one of those old watercolor paintings floating around in some antique store…

  6. This is a request to reprint two of your articles. Our publication is “Southern Historical News” and we print a tabloid size historical newspaper throughout the southeastern United States. Our paper is free to the public, and we have been in business for 33 years. The stories we would like to reprint are: “The Alienist, his observant Daughter, and the Hidden Treasure of New Hope Church” as well as “The Ghost Sentry and the Secret Tunnel under New Hope Church.”

    Permission would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you,

    Diane Robinson
    Southern Historical News, Inc.
    1-800-422-4478

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