Friday, February 25, 2011

25 February 1900: One Immigrant's Story

On this day in Athens, and throughout the week, Albin Hajos Gallery ran this advertisement in the Daily Banner:

Albin Hajos spent only a few years in Athens, but made quite an impression while he was here. He was born in Austria on 4 November 1867, and arrived in the United States on Christmas Day, 1886, on the S. S. Aller, just two months after the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. On his passenger list, his age entered as 23, and his occupation as "Merchant."

After three years in Ohio, Hajos moved to Tennessee. The same week he became a naturalized citizen in 1892, he applied for a United States passport for himself and his 20-year-old wife, Jennie. In the application, he is described as being approximately 5'5" tall with a high forehead, small nose and mouth on a round face with a fair complexion with dark brown hair and gray eyes. He listed his occupation as "Book keeper."

In April, 1896, Hajos moved his family, which by then included a daughter, Emily, and a son, Charley, to Athens, where he set up his photography studio and gallery above the grocery store of George Williamson at 31 East Clayton Street. According to the Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Athens from 1898, his office appears to be in the same location as Cillie's Clothing is today.

Hajos advertised regularly in the Athens newspaper, typically simple one or two sentence ads about sales or feature products, such as "photo buttons." He made many photographs of the buildings in Athens, and in 1901 published a book, Souvenir of Athens, featuring homes and businesses from around the city. The interior photos of the Lucy Cobb Institute may have been made for submission to the Ladies Home Journal in 1897, when they requested images for their series of the "different interiors" of 100 American homes. The book was reissued in 2001, noting that half of the structures Hajos had included had since been torn down.

In 1902, Hajos moved his family to St. Louis, Missouri, and by 1910, was living in Chattanooga, Tennessee again. For several years after he left Athens, the dentist who leased his old space on Clayton Street would list "Hajos Gallery" has his location rather than the street address. In the 1920 and 1930 United States censuses, he and Jennie are living in Atlanta, where he works for Kodak as an "xray man;" there are occasional mentions in the society section of the Athens newspapers after 1910s of his wife coming back to Athens to visit friends, or Athens friends staying with the Hajos family in Atlanta. By the 1935 Florida state census, he is living in Miami, and lists his occupation as retired. He died there in 1939.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011


On this day, we'd like to remind you to subscribe to our two Heritage Room newsletters. They will be delivered to your email Inbox, and are a great way to keep up with genealogy and history throughout the year.

Our Genealogy and History Events newsletter covers everything from historical re-enactments of the Underground Railroad and library book sales to free lectures about Mitchell's Thunderbolts and using DNA for your family history research. Our area has many fantastic educational and research opportunities, and we also let you know about distance learning opportunities with webinars and online courses provided by other historical and genealogical societies.

Our Genealogy Tips and News newsletter makes sure you will not miss out on newly available resources and discoveries. With information and links to new searchable collections of city directories and military indices to details about the 2012 release of the 1940 U.S. Census, we make sure you know what is new, what is available, and what can be helpful for the family researcher.

Click here (or either of the above newletter links) to read the current newsletter and subscribe to have them delivered. It couldn't be easier, and is a great time saver, so sign up today!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

20 February 1888: Aviator Ben Epps Is Born

On this day in 1888, Georgia aviation pioneer Benjamin Thomas Epps was born in Oconee County, the first of 10 children. After dropping out of Georgia Tech in 1904, he came to Athens and started a garage business at 120 E. Washington Street, where he repaired bicycles and automobiles, worked as an electrical contractor, and began to design and build airplanes.

In 1907, just a few years after the Wright Brothers' flight in North Carolina, Ben Epps took his first flight, believed to be the first in Georgia.  He was 19 years old. The plane had a 15-horsepower engine and a 35-foot wingspan. Epps launched the plane off a hill, and flew between Prince Avenue and Boulevard, approximately 100 yards at an altitude of 50 feet.

Over the years he would continue to build planes as a hobby while running his garage business, which had the first filling station in Athens.  He was married to Omie Williams Epps, and the father of 10 children; due to his family commitments, he was not drafted to serve in World War I.  

In 1917, he opened the Epps Flying Field, the first civilian airport in Georgia. He started the Rolfe-Epps Flying Service with L. Monte Rolfe, offering charter air service, aerial photography, and flight lessons to the general public. Epps also performed in airshows.

All of his sons, and most of his daughters, learned how to fly. Sometimes he would let his oldest daughter, Evelyn, skip a day at the Lucy Cobb Institute to buzz downtown Athens in his latest plane. When his oldest son, Ben, Jr., was the youngest person to fly solo at age 13, father and son were invited to the White House to meet President Herbert Hoover

Though he had several crashes, or "crack ups" over the years, nothing could dissuade Epps from flying. As his wife told a WPA interviewer less than two years after his death, "He was doing this before we married--how could I change him?" His children were largely cut from the same adventurous cloth. 

Ben Epps, Sr., was killed in plane crash in 1937 at the Athens airfield in a plane he'd built seven years earlier while giving a test ride. Mrs. Epps said that "his death has had no effect on us as to our belief in aviation. We are as interested in it now as we were in his lifetime. I am sure if Ben had known that was his last flight, he would have been happy to know he died or was killed in what he loved best, no matter how far he had to fall."

In 1989, Ben Epps was one of the inaugural members of the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame. A replica of his 1912 monoplane is on permanent exhibit at the United States Air Force Aviation Museum in Warner Robins, Georgia. 

The Athens Airport is on the same site as his Flying Field, and was later named the Athens-Ben Epps Airport. His grandson is raising money for a statue of Ben Epps, Sr. on Washington Street, across from his old garage, where the club 8e's is currently located.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

17 February 1922: Six Chances to See Pitroff the Miracle Man at the Palace

On this day in 1922, the Athens Daily Banner ran the following advertisement:

The previous week, the Colonial Theatre had featured a magician, but not one who did this particularly startling new illusion of sawing a woman in half. The performance was offered as a bonus feature to the real attraction, a comedy-romance silent movie titled Lessons in Love starring actress Constance Talmadge.

The Daily Banner included an article republished from a national weekly about "Pitroff, the Miracle Man," that began

Magic--the Black Art--never seemed any blacker than when Pitroff, master of bewildering mysteries declared that without sheding [sic] any blood he could cut a person in half and put him together again--alive, none the worse for the experience.  People gasped and mumbled their astonishment. Was he crazy? Surely the law would intervene.

The piece goes on to describe Pitroff's selection of a young woman from the audience, gaining her permission to saw her in half, promising to pay her nearest relative $10,000 if she were killed during the illusion. 

Pitroff likely did not have $10,000 to give anyone. He had started out as an escape artist vaudevillian, similar to Harry Houdini, but on a much smaller scale. As vaudeville gave way to moving pictures, there were fewer opportunities for his style of entertainment. The "sawing in half" illusion was not his invention. It was first done publicly in the United States in 1921 by magician Horace Goldin, who later patented his method for the trick.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Learn How to Use DNA in Genealogy

On this day, we'd like to invite you to learn about using DNA in your genealogy research on Saturday, February 19th at 2pm in the library auditorium.

Terry Barton, a pioneer of in the field of genetic genealogy, will give an overview of the different types of DNA testing available, what it can or cannot tell you, and how to apply it to your genealogy research. Barton is president of the Barton Historical Society and co-leader of the 250+ member Barton Genealogy Project.

This program is free and open to the public, and is co-sponsored by the Clarke-Oconee Genealogical Society and the Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room. A reception will follow in the Small Conference Room.

For more information, contact the Heritage Room via email or call (706) 613-3650, ext. 350, or the Clarke-Oconee Genealogical Society at We hope to see you there!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

13 February 1900: The First Meeting of the Athens Humane Society

On this afternoon in 1900, the Athens Humane Society had their first official meeting since their charter was granted on January 30th in a Special Term of Superior Court.

The group had applied for a charter in October, 1899, to form an organization that would work "to prevent cruel treatment to children, protect them from vice and excessive or dangerous labor, and to aid in the enforcement of the laws of said state enacted for the protection of dumb animals from cruel treatment, and the prevention of all cruelty by humane education in the houses and schools and otherwise."

They also asked for power to sue, as well as be sued, and "to do all other acts as are necessary for the legitimate objects of the association." Charter members of the society were E. I. Smith, H. M. Edwards, Rev. Troy Beaty, Simon Michael, Mrs. L. D. DuBose, Mrs. Billups Phinizy, Mrs. E. T. Brown, and Miss Louise DuBose. In the 1900 U. S. Census and the 1889 Athens City Directory, Dr. Orr is listed as the town's Sanitary Inspector.

Though children are mentioned in the charter, it seemed understood that the organization's primary goal was the protection of animals. The day after their charter was granted, the Athens Daily Banner noted that "the attention of merchants and the owners of hacks is called to this organization and they are requested to notify their drivers to be careful in the observance of the laws touching the treatment of animals." 

The paper also stated that "It is expected that this society will exercise a very wholesome influence in Athens."

In their first few months, the organization took a stand against a Clarke County law that required dogs to be muzzled. Especially in hot weather, when there were flying insects about, the committee believed "muzzles would have a tendency to irritate dogs to a point of madness." However, the Council preferred to establish the law, rather than impose a tax on dog owners to register their animals. As the daily papers for 1900 are largely absent after May, it is unclear if they were able to change the law that year. 

Today, Athens is a dog-friendly city, where it is not unusual to see people dining at sidewalk tables outside cafes and restaurants downtown with dogs lying at their feet, happily panting and people-watching. Some establishments, like Big City Bread, offer bowls of water to their canine patrons on their patio. Local companies, such as Pawtropolis and Z-Dog Bakery, cater to the needs of Athens pet population, as well as sponsoring adoptions through their own and the many other rescue organizations in town, such as Athens Canine Rescue and CatZip Alliance, as well as the Athens-Area Humane Society

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Start the Year by Getting Started with Genealogy!

On this day, we'd like to remind you about our Getting Started with Genealogy class on Thursday, February 17th, 2011, from 2-4:30pm in the Heritage Room.

In this free, informal session, we'll walk you through the basics of researching your family history. The class is designed to help you begin the construction of your family tree, and to teach you about the resources available in Athens that will be useful to you. The class includes handouts, and is useful even if you aren't looking for relatives in Georgia.

Free and open to the public, but registration is required. Call (706) 613-3650, ext. 350 or email us at to register.

Monday, February 7, 2011

7 February 1917: Guarantee Purity and Insure Cleanliness "In a Bottle Through a Straw"

On this day in 1917, this Chero-Cola ad appeared in the Athens Daily Herald:

Chero-Cola was the predecessor of the Royal Crown Cola available today. It was originally created by Columbus, Georgia pharmacist George Hatcher, and proved so popular at his soda fountain, that bottling the drink became the family business.

The company later introduced ginger ale, root beer, and strawberry-flavored soft drinks, and became Nehi when Coca-Cola sued over their use of the word "cola" in their name. The drink was discontinued in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but was brought back in 1934 as Royal Crown Cola. The company is now owned by the Cadbury-Schweppes Corporation. 

The emphasis on purity and quality of the drink was part of the "pure food movement" of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when revelations about conditions in slaughterhouses, and the toxicity of preservatives used in America's foods became a national issue. The Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906 brought much-needed regulation and transparency to the nation's food supply as it became more industrialized. Terms like "purity" and "wholesome" were undefined but popular selling points during the Progressive Era, similar to the use of "all natural" on food labels today.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

3 February 1922: Relics of a Love Story

On this day in 1922, the Athens Daily Banner ran the following announcement on their Society page:

Poet John Howard Payne, most famous for penning the lyrics to the song Home, Sweet Home,  was "an actor, a playwright, an editor, a cosmopolitan, a peripatetic man of the world," who came to Georgia in 1836 to meet with Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, John Ross. Georgia authorities, who were suspicious of Payne's intentions, arrested him and put him in prison in Spring Place. Payne carried with him a letter of introduction to General Edward Harden of Athens, who had him released from prison and insisted Payne stay at his home rather than take a room in a local inn. 

The Harden family was known for their hospitality. Formerly of Savannah, they had entertained General Lafayette during his famous 1824 tour of the United States, and "brought from Savannah all the graces of that city's social life" when they moved to Athens the following year.

During Payne's time in the Harden home, he apparently became enamored with General Harden's daughter, Mary Eliza Greenhill Harden, who was in her mid-twenties at the time. Though some believed the story of their courtship "has been often told and oftener exaggerated," letters between them indicate that Payne did later ask Mary to marry him. Her reaction to the proposal is unknown, but the couple never married, and it was believed that General Harden "knew Payne was a rolling stone; and while he admired the poet's genius he may have doubted his ability to support a helpmate." 

Mary never spoke publicly about her relationship to John Howard Payne, though it was known he sent her a handwritten copy of his poem, Home Sweet Home, at her request. Neither Payne nor Mary ever married. Payne died while acting as American Consul to Tunis, North Africa, in 1852 at the age of 60; Mary lived another 35 years, spending her whole life in Athens, and was buried in Oconee Hill Cemetery, next to her mother, in 1887. 

Though Mary Harden kept her relationship to Payne private, her cousin's daughter, Evelyn Harden Jackson, eventually came to inherit the Harden home, and strongly promoted the legend. In 1918, she even published a small booklet, Souvenir of the Harden Home, with portraits, photographs, and short articles from newspapers and magazines about Payne, the Harden family, and the rumored love story. She also hosted events like the one above as fundraisers for charitable causes.

Learn More:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Heritage Room Newsletters Open the Door to a Great Research Year!

On this day, we'd like to remind you to subscribe to our two Heritage Room email newsletters. They will be delivered to your email Inbox, and are a great way to keep up with all that is going on in genealogy and history throughout the year.

Genealogy and History Events newsletter covers everything from author events and genealogy classes to historic exhibits and battlefield tours. Many societies are commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and this newsletter makes sure you won't miss any of the great learning opportunities available.

Genealogy Tips and News newsletter makes sure that you will not miss out on new resources and discoveries, even as your schedule picks up speed with the new year. With news about new online collections from large organizations like Family Search and Ancestry to smaller groups like genealogical and historical societies, dates for summer genealogical research vacation cruises, and restructuring of government resources so you will always know where to look, it's an indispensable resource for the family researcher.

here (or either newsletter link above) to read the current newsletter and subscribe. It couldn't be easier, so sign up today!