“A Forgotten Hero of Southern Airways Flight 242: New Hope Volunteer Fire Chief John R. Clayton” – by Clifford B. Davids

John Clayton

John Clayton in 1997

All of the chiefs in the Paulding County Volunteer Fire Department knew something had to change. The county had no formal fire protection program in place, and many of the men who volunteered as fire fighters needed more extensive training. Funding was difficult to come by, so many of the stations were supported in part through local barbecues, church raffles, turkey shoots, and door to door donations. Personal phone calls would serve as the notice to gear up for a fire. Not surprisingly, the volunteers would often reach into their own pockets to pay for badly needed fire equipment and other required provisions.

Danny Echols, the first chief of the Paulding County Fire Chiefs’ Association, said the central communication system at the time was located at the Sheriff’s Department, Continue reading

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“Jayne Mansfield and her Long Lost Navy Photograph” – by Clifford B. Davids

Sophia Loren (left) and Mansfield at Romanoff's in Beverly Hills

Sophia Loren (left) and Jayne Mansfield having dinner at Romanoff’s in Beverly Hills, CA

Jayne Mansfield was the classic Hollywood sex symbol during the 1950’s. In her prime, she was pursued by a voracious army of reporters and photographers quietly praying that one of her flimsy outfits might strategically slip off, or perhaps bust apart at the seams. Her bold antics were stimulating, and her iconic figure (40D-21-36) inspired the Rev. Billy Graham himself to proclaim, “This country knows more about her statistics than the Second Commandment!” Throughout the era of the blonde bombshell, she and her studio rival Marilyn Monroe ruled the roost. Continue reading

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“An Aerial View of the Southern Airways Flight 242 Crash Site in New Hope, GA” – by Clifford B. Davids

Southern Airways Flight Crew (Photo ca. 1974)

Southern Airways Flight Crew (Photo ca. 1974)

The intersection that marks the commercial heart of New Hope, GA looks perfectly unremarkable – at first. You can get an old fashioned shave at Pete’s Barbershop before picking up a few groceries down the street at Publix, or perhaps enjoy the cowboy stew at Rodney’s BBQ after a tough day at work. On Sunday morning you can attend services at the New Hope First Baptist Church, which stands across the street from the Civil War era cemetery. I traveled there recently, hoping to find the location of the old Southern 242 crash site, the worst aviation disaster in the history of the state of Georgia. But after driving up and down the main drag, I couldn’t find a thing. Continue reading

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“The Battle of New Hope Church and the Tragic Crash of Southern Airways Flight 242” – by Clifford B. Davids

Southern Airways Flight 242 Memorial Service in Dallas, Georgia on March 24, 2013

Southern Airways Flight 242 memorial service in Dallas, GA on March 24, 2013

The rural community of New Hope, Georgia has been the unwitting victim of catastrophic mayhem twice in the past. In 1864, it was caught directly in the path of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman as he pitched and fought his way from Chattanooga, TN to Atlanta, GA. The ensuing battle at New Hope Church cost both sides over 2,000 total casualties.

More than 11 decades later, New Hope was also the site of the worst aviation disaster in the history of the state of Georgia – a fiery plane crash on the afternoon of April 4, 1977 that claimed a total of 72 lives. Many of the witnesses described how the flaming debris from Southern Airways Flight 242 was strewn across the old battlefield, once again drenching the community in blood. Continue reading

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“The Splendid Eliada Family Portrait” – by Clifford B. Davids

Reverend Lucius Bunyan Compton

Rev. Lucius Bunyan Compton

The group portrait below was one of the very first photographs I found in the Eliada archives, and it ignited the fire that fueled my need to tell their story. To this day I don’t fully understand why it had that effect on me, and it doesn’t really matter. I carried it with me wherever I went, and I showed it to almost everyone I met. I promised myself that I would try to identify each individual who appeared in it, and for the most part, I have. Practically every person whose story appears here was staring back at the camera that day. The photo was taken from behind the little girls’ dormitory, and in one instant it captured the essence of the Eliada family. Continue reading

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“A Full And True Eliada Orphan” – by Clifford B. Davids

Furman Williams, Jr.

Janie Carlysle Hargrave, widely known in Lumberton, N.C. as “the first lady of religious work,” sat down at her desk one evening in December of 1939, burdened by the series of tragic and unfortunate events that had over taken young Furman Williams, Jr. Both of his parents were now dead, and he was living as a ward of the state in the custody of the Community Home for Children. He had just become a full and true orphan.

His problem had also become her responsibility, and there was no solution in sight. But Miss Janie hoped she could find the boy a good home – the time had finally come to call in a huge favor from a old friend who lived in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Continue reading

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“To Protect and Defend” – The Legal Maneuverings of James G. Merrimon – by Clifford B. Davids

Grace Green with a new arrival from Faith Cottage

Grace Green showing off a new arrival from Faith Cottage

James Gibbon Merrimon was born into judicial royalty. He was the son of renowned Judge James H. Merrimon, and the nephew of Augustus S. Merrimon, chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. A stalwart member of the Asheville legal community for over six decades and a pit bull in the court room, J.G. Merrimon also had an uncommon passion for flowers, and was proud of his honorary membership in the local garden club.

After he passed at 89 years old in 1948, his obituary discreetly noted that he had served as chief counsel for an unnamed orphanage for many years – a work it was said he performed with quiet devotion. The article stated, “His reward was in the knowledge that he had served the little ones well who had no one else to fight their battles. It was from this work, of which he rarely spoke, that he received some of the greatest satisfaction in his life.” The orphanage referred to in that obituary was Eliada Homes, and its founder was the renowned mountain evangelist Reverend Lucius Bunyan Compton. Continue reading

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“The Art of Comptonology and the War of Northern Aggression” – by Clifford B. Davids

Miles Calvin Compton

Miles Calvin Compton

I learned a great deal about the tumultuous life of Lucius Bunyan Compton during my three years at Eliada Homes. In his youth he was a rascal and ne’er-do-well, spending his days smoking tobacco and drinking bootleg whiskey. After he was saved at 20 years old, he spent the rest of his life helping the unfortunate children he called “the last, the lost, and the least,” and established an orphanage and a rescue home in Asheville, North Carolina. When asked later in life how he found salvation, he cited his father Miles Calvin Compton, the man he credited with giving him the strength to overcome the many adversities he encountered during his challenging journey. Continue reading

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“Walking the Sawdust Trail” – The Burden of the 1950 Billy Graham Crusade in Columbia, S.C. – by Clifford Davids

Billy and Ruth Graham holding hands during the 1950 Columbia Crusade

As 1949 drew to a close, the Reverend Billy Graham was a man seven-times-blessed. He was 31 years old with a beautiful wife and a growing family. His preaching at the Youth for Christ gatherings had reached thousands of young people. In 1947 he had been named President of Northwestern Schools in Minneapolis, MN, and he had just recently published a book entitled “Calling Youth for Christ,” which was being read by devout readers worldwide.

But his driving passion wasn’t a career in academia – it was to deliver his own vivid and Continue reading

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“Brother Lost, Brother Found” – by Tracy Rose

Private Furman Williams, Jr.

(This cover story appeared in the Mountain Xpress, Vol. 8, No. 15: Nov. 14 to Nov. 20, 2001.)

The last time Carmable Revels saw her little brother, he was a red-haired, freckle-faced 6-year old. That was not long after their mother died in 1934–a family tragedy that sent the siblings first into different homes, and then into separate lives.

More than 60 years later, Carmable is finally learning what became of the child she affectionately called Sonny Boy, thanks to the efforts of a persistent oral historian at Eliada Homes in Asheville, N.C. –and a bit of luck. Continue reading

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“From the Bricks of Ben Lippen to the Friday Night Drums” – The Evolution of Pritchard Park in Asheville, North Carolina – by Clifford B. Davids

The old Asheville Post Office, built in 1892, sits on what is now Pritchard Park. Haywood St. is on the right, Patton Ave. on the left. (Photo ca. 1900).

On any given Friday night in downtown Asheville, N.C. you can hear the rolling sounds of congas, tom toms, and bongos echoing through the streets. Long-time residents or frequent visitors to the city know the sound to be the Friday Night Drum Circle at Pritchard Park, a tiny triangle of land wedged into the heart of the city. The drum circle has become an integral part of the city’s vibrant scene.

On its most energetic nights, hundreds of Continue reading

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“A Strange and Subversive Time” – Eliada Orphanage during World War II – by Clifford Davids

Lucius Bunyan Compton

Lucius Bunyan Compton

I was lucky enough to get a private glimpse into the heart and mind of Lucius Bunyan Compton, the founder of Eliada Orphanage – but only with a little help from one of his orphanage daughters. She had been among his very favorites, and I was drawn to this woman in the same way he had been over a half-century before. I only met her once, but during our many phone conversations I grew to understand why he referred to her as his “queenly daughter” – she had a sharp sense of humor and spoke with grand assurance. One of the most successful of the many children who grew up there, she also possessed a collection of highly personal letters that Compton had written to her in the years before he died. Continue reading

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“Concerning The Fiery Trial” – The State of North Carolina vs. Lucius Bunyan Compton

The Buncombe County Courthouse

(This posting was edited from a series of four articles which appeared in The Asheville Times from Oct. 20-23, 1943.)

Asheville, N.C.—A Buncombe County jury on Thursday afternoon cleared the Reverend Lucius Bunyan Compton, former head of Eliada Orphanage, of charges growing out of an investigation into alleged misconduct toward young girls in the institution.

The jury returned a verdict of not guilty in the first of four cases, which had originally charged assault with intent to commit rape. After the not guilty verdict had been returned, James S. Continue reading

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“Things as They Were at Eliada Orphanage” – as written by Reverend Lucius Bunyan Compton

Compton in Cincinnati, OH (Photo ca. 1895)

“My mind is directed today to look back upon the earlier days of my life. I was born in Haywood County, North Carolina, on April 21, 1875, in a one room log cabin, with a clap-board roof and a slab floor. This was the home of father, mother, and six children. I was the youngest of the family.”

“My earliest recollections were of poverty and great privation. When I was five years of age, I became a cripple with bone white swelling in my left leg. Another affliction I possessed, equally painful to me, was a stammering tongue, and I was unable to speak without great difficulty.  My crippled condition had Continue reading

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“Another Glorious Eliada Camp!” – by Lucius Bunyan Compton

Rev. Compton standing next to the newly enlarged dining hall, getting things ready for the Camp Meeting in August of 1921.

“Another glorious Camp Meeting has come and gone. We convened on the evening of August 11th with a grand opening Rally and a record-breaking audience, and closed Sunday night, August 20th, with another wondrous victory. At no time in our past did we have so many people come on the first night of Camp, and they kept coming until the very last service.”

“This Camp has gone into history, but it has not gone from our hearts, our memory, or from our souls. The shouts of the saints are heard as they were during the earliest days. We had with us people from California to Canada, and from the Gulf to the Lakes, all who gathered on this “Beauty Spot” to hear from God’s book the Truths that are forever settled in heaven.” Continue reading

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“Ruby Cogburn Fullbright: An Eliada Orphanage Tragedy” – by Clifford B. Davids

Ruby Cogburn Fullbright (left), and her sister Gladys at the Eliada Orphanage Reunion in the summer of 1955

I only spoke with Gladys Murray a handful of times, mostly at the Eliada Orphanage reunions. I knew that she supported my oral history project, but I never convinced her to sit down for an interview. Her orphanage sisters told me that she was private, and Gladys knew that if she spoke with me I would ask her about Ruby, her younger sister. Ruby had murdered her husband in cold blood and then drowned herself and her eight-month-old son Timothy in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina one Sunday morning in the fall of 1962. What happened on that tragic day would clearly not be a topic that was open for discussion. Continue reading

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“The Prodigal Son of Eliada Orphanage” – the interview with John David Carter

John David Carter

John David Carter

I was fortunate to know John David Carter for well over a decade before he passed away in 2013. His friendship was fully entertaining, and the many stories he told me about his life made for a fascinating tale of triumph and tragedy. He had a sharp wit, a wry sense of humor, and an enduring love for the many brothers and sisters he grew up with at the Eliada Orphanage.

David’s life was defined by two people: the mother who gave him away as an infant, and Lucius Bunyan Compton, the founder of Eliada. He spent his entire life wondering how things might have been if his mother hadn’t abandoned him at birth, but he never doubted for a moment that Eliada was his true home. – CBD Continue reading

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“They Call Me Lillie Peaches” – a Conversation with Maye Westmoreland Wiggins about Eliada Orphanage

Maye Westmoreland

My name is Maye Wiggins, and I was born in July 8, 1945. My Mom had me at a place called Faith Cottage in Asheville, North Carolina. I found out later it was a home for unwed mothers. I didn’t know then what “unwed” meant, and I didn’t know what “illegitimate” meant. I found that out later. But my mother went there and she had me, and then she gave me away.

She sent me four miles straight up the road to Eliada Orphanage. She sent me straight up there when I was two months old. Miss Rath, my matron at Eliada, was the one who told me later on who I was, and what I was. She was the one who took care of us babies. I Continue reading

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“A Clean, Beautiful Life” – the June Saylor interview

June Saylor in front of Old Main

June Edith Saylor passed away in April of 2009 at the Hillcrest Nursing Home, Knoxville, TN. Her enthusiasm for life’s small victories, eternal optimism, and daily devotions are sorely missed by her church family at Sevier Heights Baptist Church, her many orphanage brothers and sisters from Eliada, and the rest of us who knew her during a long and blessed life.

One of her closest friends, Clem McDaniels, wrote me the following note after we first met: “June’s story is truly one of God’s amazing grace. He alone can take a simple life and make it a masterpiece. After she asked Jesus Christ to come into her heart she was no longer a ‘bastard.” She now had a heavenly father and was part of God’s family.”  – Clifford B. Davids Continue reading

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“The Homecoming of Beth Garrett Fisher” – by George Sieburg

Beth Garrett Fisher

In 1923 Beth Garrett was living with her aunt in the wake of a family tragedy.  On a chilly January day, only a month after the death of her mother and the incarceration of her father, Beth was removed from her aunt’s care by an evangelical preacher turned orphanage master named Lucius Bunyan Compton.  “Dad” Compton and his wife “Mama” Edith personally drove 35 miles down US Highway 25 to Saluda, North Carolina, to pick Beth up and take her to the Eliada Orphanage in Asheville, N.C.  Beth was 8 months old.

At the time of her death in 2011 at 89 years old, Beth Garrett Fisher still lived within an hour’s drive of the orphanage  (the home she did know), and only 20 minutes from the home she never knew, the place Continue reading

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