Weird Georgia Gravestone Face
Smith Treadwell was born on March 4, 1818 and lived in Henry County until 1840, when he moved to newly created Murray County and acquired land. He married Polly Mobley and they had seven children while living around Tilton and Tunnel Hill. After Polly's death in 1851, Smith, with his first wife's advance permission, married her sister Betsy, a union that provided eight additional offspring.
Treadwell prospered in north Georgia, purchasing additional land in Floyd, Cass (present day Bartow), Whitfield, and Terrell counties. He served as a county court justice and state senator. During the Civil War Treadwell wisely moved his family to a Terrell County plantation, far from the war that ravaged northern Georgia. Although officially too old for active service, Treadwell volunteered for duty and served as a prison guard at the infamous prison camp at Andersonville.
In 1865 Treadwell moved to a two-story colonial home (which burned in 1976) in Spring Place in Murray County, where he built and operated several water powered wheat and corn mills and bridges at Tilton, Cohutta Springs, and on the Conasauga River. He moved several times, living at Tilton, Rome, and Spring Place.
Fortunately, Treadwell had given away much of his land as each of his children married, because heavy rains caused a mill dam to burst and harm neighboring property. For restitution, he gave land to those affected.
Treadwell died on February 20, 1893, and was buried in a cemetery on his property. Soon after a marble monument was placed at the grave, the mystery began. Streaks appeared on the stone, the markings forming a pattern resembling Smith Treadwell, at least according to some.
"I helped bury Mr. Treadwell," wrote Levi Branham, a former slave, in his book, My Life and Travels, although he initially saw nothing unusual about the gravestone. "Within a year I noticed the picture. I think it resembles him very much. It seems to me that the picture becomes plainer every day."
The Dalton Daily Citizen News reported: "The face on the tombstone...is a wonderful likeness of the man who is buried beneath it. The marks in the marble outline the face in a remarkable way."
Some relatives argued that the portrait did not resemble photographs of Treadwell, a face had undeniably appeared on the stone. Over the years occasional publicity would send hundreds of people on a journey to view this marble marvel. Visitors pestered owners of the property with questions and generally made nuisances of themselves.
A question soon arose-had the picture manifested itself because Treadwell was a good man or an evil one?
Those who had known Smith Treadwell considered him an honest, decent man, but rumors erupted. Treadwell had murdered his wife, a popular story maintained. He was widely but falsely accused of being a bootlegger-he legally distilled whiskey. Treadwell was also alleged to have been generally mean and dishonest.
When asked why the image appeared, Branham said, "I was not able to tell them. One man asked me if the picture came there because Mr. Treadwell was a good man...or a bad man...I told him...a good man. I had...always found him to be an honest man. He attended to his own business and let other folks' business alone. That's what it takes to be a good man."
In the 1930s the Smith Treadwell monument was featured in the widely syndicated column, "Ripley's Believe It Or Not." A sketch of the monument and its mysterious face was accompanied by this description: "The Tombstone Portrait-Spring Place, Georgia. A few years after the death of Smith Treadwell an exact likeness of him appeared on his gravestone."
The flow of visitors became a flood after this national exposure. Curious travelers bothered the property owners at all hours, and vandals damaged the cemetery. It was almost a sense of relief that greeted the theft of the gravestone in 1951. Years later it was found in Mill Creek near Dalton, but Treadwell's descendants elected not to remount the stone. It remains in storage.Many of the details of this unique tale were related by Tim Howard in his paper, "Stories from the Treadwell Cemetery."
Jim Miles is the author of two Weird Georgias and nine books on the Civil War. See Jim's books.