“Annette Snell: Soul Diva aboard Southern Airways Flight 242” – by Clifford B. Davids

Annette Snell in NYC

Annette Snell in NYC

It was late in the morning on April 4, 1977, when a jubilant Annette Snell returned to the building at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama.  She had spent the past week there recording her first album, and all of the guys at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio assured her the new songs would power straight up the Billboard 100. She knew they could make it happen too –  they had done it a decade earlier with a singer named Aretha Franklin, helping her to become the undisputed queen of soul by jump starting her stalled career with monster hits like “Respect,” and the classic “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”

She took one last look around, and then hurriedly left the studio with just enough time to grab her things Continue reading

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“Shock and Awe: William V. Gudaitis and the Military Secrets aboard Southern Airways Flight 242” – by Clifford B. Davids

Werner von Braun and JFK at Redstone Arsenal in 1963

Werner von Braun and JFK at Redstone Arsenal in 1963

On April 4, 1977, William V. Gudaitis boarded the ill-fated Southern Airways Flight 242 in Huntsville, AL as he headed to a meeting at Raytheon Co. in Lexington, MA. He was a top scientist for the Redstone Arsenal, and his briefcase bulged with top-secret documents that detailed a revolutionary new missile design – one that would completely change the existing paradigm. It was called the “Patriot Air Defense Missile System,” and the plans he carried would soon become the prototype for the next generation of guided missile defense. He did not survive the tragic crash in New Hope, GA, but his briefcase did. Once again, Redstone would ride triumphant.

Redstone Arsenal has always served as ground zero for the U.S. Army’s missile and rocket programs. Originally built in 1941 as an assembly plant for the manufacturing Continue reading

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“Hanging Mary and the Haunted Asheville Orphanage” – by Clifford B. Davids

Hanging Mary and her cat “Shadows” posing in the Little Girls’ Dormitory

Hanging Mary and her cat “Shadows,” posing in the Little Girls’ Dormitory

Mary’s last hanging was darkness and beauty as she slowly swayed from the third floor balcony of the orphanage dormitory. The carefully tied noose was flawless, and it fit perfectly around her slender neck. She quietly peeked from underneath her hood, hoping that the children watching on the stairs below would never forget her every twist and turn.

The orphans were mesmerized. A few of the older children recalled her past hangings, but the little ones had only heard the stories. They could all recite the rhyme about her first “collaring” down at the dairy barn 15 years earlier, and they sang it over and over as she swung: “Hanging Mary stole some rope, climbed upon a box of soap, tied a knot down at the dairy, slipped and fell, poor Hanging Mary…” Continue reading

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“The Alienist, his observant Daughter, and the Hidden Treasure of New Hope Church” – by Clifford B. 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. Continue reading

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“The Daughter of Southern Airways Flight 242’s First Officer Finally Speaks Out” – by Clifford B. Davids

Lyman W. Keele, Jr. returns home from Vietnam

Lyman W. Keele, Jr. returns home from the war in Vietnam

Lyman W. Keele, Jr. was a natural born aviator. After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1966, he joined the U. S. Navy and received his flight training at the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. He was assigned to the carrier USS Hancock, and he flew over 100 combat missions during the war in Vietnam. He also provided air support for both ground combat forces and troop rescue operations. Keele earned numerous bronze and gold Air Medals for his prowess, as well as a Navy Commendation Medal for “heroic achievement as a pilot of jet aircraft while attached to Attack Squadron 212 aboard the USS Hancock.” The man could flat-out fly an airplane. Continue reading

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“The Ghost Sentry and the Secret Tunnel Under New Hope Church” – by Clifford B. Davids

Church and Flag and grave

New Hope Church

Some time ago I found myself visiting Dallas, GA, riding along with the sons of the Confederacy as they refreshed the flags on their ancestors’ graves. They were a dedicated group of guys, and our journey took us into the most remote corners of Paulding County. At the end of the day we found ourselves in the parking lot of the New Hope Church, site of a bloody Civil War battle in 1864. They had finished their task and called it a job well done, so we celebrated with a cold coke and handshakes all around. As we spoke, they pointed out the monument and flag across the street, a testament to the hundreds of Confederate soldiers who died in that bloody battle. Continue reading

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“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 volunteer jakes often reached into their own pockets to pay for badly needed fire equipment and required provisions.

Danny Echols, the first chief of the Paulding County Fire Chiefs’ Assn., told me that the central communication system at the time was located at the Sheriff’s Department, Continue reading

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