Curse blamed on angry preacher

By Aimee Edmondson

Little-noticed remnant of Augusta's past stands on the sidewalk at the intersection of Broad and Fifth streets.

It's tall, dark and haunted, some say.

It's a pillar, all that's left of the farmer's market that straddled Broad Street at Center (now Fifth) Street from 1830 until Feb. 7, 1878, when it was destroyed by a rare winter tornado.

The pillar, unmarked and about 10 feet tall, now stands next to several empty buildings on Broad Street and catty-cornercq to the Augusta Police Department's Mounted Patrol station.

The ``haunted'' part is a local legend.

``Everyone who grew up here always learned about the pillar as part of Augusta's history,'' said Aquinas High School graduate David Bradberry, 31. ``It's a tale with mystique to it.''

Move the pillar, try to destroy it or even touch it and you die, legend goes.

It's made enough of an impression on Mr. Bradberry. He started Haunted Pillar Records to promote local bands and local lore.

That lore attributes many sources to the curse. According to one story, a traveling preacher was denied permission to evangelize at the market and put a curse on the bazaar.

The preacher stood in the middle of the square, and ``... threatened that a great wind would destroy the place except for one pillar and that whoever tried to remove this remaining pillar would be struck dead,'' according to the Year Book of the Cit y Council of Augusta, Georgia of 1977.

The storm is said to be the result of the preacher's curse.

``Clear tones of the market bell were heard for the last time as it struck 1 a.m.,'' say accounts of the time. ``The cyclone narrowly missed Richmond Academy, uprooting a large china tree in the rear and knocking down a brick wall.''

Judging from stories in The Augustad Chronicle the following week, people were glad to see the building destroyed.

``Now that the Market House is in ruins, we think it may be opportune to suggest that it never be rebuilt upon the same spot. It was, at best, an unsightly edifice and marred the grand boulevard upon which it was mistakenly located,'' an article opined .

The stories of the haunted pillar have been passed down through generations, but its ominous reputation might be greatly exaggerated.

In 1935, an automobile struck the pillar and ``reduced it to a pile of brick and cement,'' according to The Chronicle. The driver was unhurt and the pillar was rebuilt by a local market owner.

The column was moved a year later to the southwest corner of Broad and Fifth streets. On a Friday the 13th in 1958, the column was toppled by an oversized bale of cotton on a passing truck. The driver was not injured.

Afterward, it was moved eight feet back from the curb, which should help keep it around for Augustans like Mr. Bradberry.

His Haunted Pillar Records gained notice in 1993 when Mr. Bradberry released Haunted Pillar Presents. It's a compilation of tunes from local bands such as 100 Year Sun and Burning Bush.

Mr. Bradberry is continuing his marriage of local music and history with a compilation of regional bands to be released in May in a benefit for the endangered, historic Butt Memorial Bridge in Augusta.

Problem is, while wayward drivers have suffered no ill effects from encounters with the pillar, musicians may not be immune to the curse, Mr. Bradberry said with a grin. A number of the bands on the Haunted Pillar Presents compilation have broken up si nce the original recording, including Smile and Blah.

``It really has done well for everyone involved,'' Mr. Bradberry said. ``Bands may have broken up but those people are still playing music.''

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