The Meriwether Historical Society met on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at the Meriwether Courthouse to accommodate the large crowd there to hear author Dot Moore. Moore’s first work, Oracle of the Ages: Reflections on the Curious Life of Fortune Teller Mayhayley Lancaster, received the Georgia Historical Society’s 2002 Lilla M. Hawes Award for the best book of Georgia county or local history published the year before. Today, the hardback edition is sold out. Her latest work, No Remorse: the Rise and Fall of John Wallace is an exciting and thought provoking biography which includes Wallace’s early life through his trial and execution.
Moore, who attended Alabama State College for Women and earned her Masters at Auburn University is not slowing down in “retirement” and has traveled and talked extensively since she finished the Wallace book. She brought with her Wallace’s pistol, Bible, and pocket watch which many viewed and photographed.
She began by answering the question most asked to her: how did she get interested in the Wallace story? She came to John Wallace through Mayhayley Lancaster, she said. She had read Murder in Coweta County by Margaret Anne Barnes and decided to write about Mayhayley who lived right up the road from her in Coweta County.
Lancaster, Moore said, was an informer-she turned people in who came to her to ask their fortune and if they would be caught at what they did. John Wallace was one who believed Mayhayley’s stories. Moore working with John Wallace’s letters and courthouse records knew that Barnes story of the murder had its errors. She also read A. L. Henson’s Confessions of a Criminal Lawyer which portrayed a different version of the trial. Henson was Wallace’s attorney. The crime and trial were covered by the Atlanta Journal, the Atlanta Constitution, the LaGrange Daily News, Newnan Times, and Columbus Ledger-Enquirer-all telling different accounts.
Moore began by explaining some of the background of Wallace who was born in Chambers County, Alabama, in Glass. From a prominent family Wallace’s father died when he was eleven surprising the family by leaving behind overwhelming and embarrassing debts. He and his mother were helped by her Meriwether County relatives, the Stricklands. Wallace later attended Gordon Military Academy then Young Harris. He was drafted in 1918 but had the Spanish flu, a sweeping epidemic that killed more than World War I did. He spent the war recovering in Auburn or Ft. Meade, Maryland and received an honorable discharge after World War I.
Wallace and his mother built a home on Wallace Road near Pine Mountain or Chipley as it was known then. Wallace was known to be generous and have many friends. He acquired property and farmed. Making moonshine during Prohibition sent him to the Atlanta Penitentiary for two years where his cell mate was his Uncle Mozart Strickland. He meets and later marries Josephine at the resort at White Sulphur Springs on New Year’s Eve 1931. Wallace was 35 and Josephine was 18.
The murder story begins in 1948 when Wallace and his friends were looking for cows that had been stolen. Wilson Turner was arrested for the theft. Moore turned to A. L. Henson’s book Confessions of a Criminal Lawyer to learn another side of the story from the one Barnes presented.From her research, Moore is convinced that when Herring Sivell and John Wallace caught up with the fleeing Turner at the Sunset Tourist Camp in Coweta County, and were seen beating him and putting him in Sivell’s truck, he was alive when taken back to Meriwether County. If this was indeed so, Coweta County should never have been the site for his trial as the murder would have happened later in Meriwether. The body was to have been burned in a well one night which assumption most say could not have been done so quickly. Such fascinating but conflicting “facts” fill this story and make for a great read as Moore has done her research well.
Moore is helped in piecing together the story becasue Wallace was an excellent writer and sent many letters from jail. She has his letters to and from relatives in Texas, to Josephine and Dorothy Dunlap. From Coweta, Wallace went to the federal penitentiary where one Wallace letter admitted, “it’s up” and he made his funeral plans that were remarkably different from usual post execution procedure which gave rise to the story he was not executed. He told Atlanta Journal Constitution writer Celestine Sibley he found religion before his execution.
Moore autographed her book after answering questions from the audience. Several in the audience knew Wallace, knew of his brutal but also generous ways and told their stories.
Before Moore’s program, the historical society held its business meeting. The Greenville United Methodist Church donated $1000 toward the parking lot paving and graveling at the society’s headquarters as the church uses the facility frequently. The heating and air conditioning problems were discussed with plans to further investigate what was needed. The society will again be selling Honey Baked Hams at Thanksgiving.
President Mabon recognized Sally Neal, Linda Wilburn, and Sally Estes and thanked them for their work on the Greenville Streetscapes. Phase I is finished and Phase II funds are being procured to complete the west side of the square and the courthouse retaining wall. The group has to raise 20% of the $375,000 to match the $300,000 grant. Wilburn noted there will be more pavers sold as Phase I raised over $20,000 on the sales which have been popular as many people walk the sidewalks to read the pavers.
Wilburn was asked to explain her private venture into Greenville’s downtown development as she has bought and renovated the Charles Jones Print Shop to be an art museum for local county artists. Toots Hobson and Sally Neal explained that the first exhibit opening in November is called All Things Christmas and will be open for school tours and to the public. The exhibit features Christmas customs and traditions from around the world and features over seventy Nativity scenes, varieties of Christmas trees and decorations, Santas, Nutcrackers, snowmen and more. Mabon thanked the Wilburns for embracing our community and investing in it.