Sunday, April 27, 2014

Connecting with Landmarks:Creating a Tour of Rose Hill Cemetery, Macon, Georgia (Part 1)

Entrance to Rose Hill Cemetery
by Dianne Dent Wilcox

(Guest Blogger Dianne Dent Wilcox is an expert on the history of Macon and Central Georgia.  She is currently the Humanities department Chair at Georgia Military College.  She and her family reside in Macon.)

Welcome to Rose Hill Cemetery, opened in 1840. I began doing tours here around 1995. Teaching high school in private schools, I had more flexibility with curriculum issues than many of my public school colleagues. Because I taught English, which includes research writing, I wanted my students to feel that their research had meaning – that completing the assignment was more important than just checking off a task that they had to complete for school. I decided to connect the students’ research to the area’s history, culture and heritage. In 1989, my eleventh grade American literature students began researching Macon’s War of 1812 Fort Hawkins. Later, in looking for a middle school research project, I learned that the Washington Memorial Library’s genealogy room had files on prominent Macon citizens. The files provided a narrowed research field accessible to middle school students. So, the project developed this way. On a planned field trip day, I brought seventh graders to Rose Hill Cemetery. Upon arrival, I divided the class into three member teams and had each team draw a card from my hand on which they found the name of someone buried at Rose Hill.  Then, carefully placing chaperones on the tops of the hills here, we released the students into the cemetery to gather as much information about their subject as possible. Because I matched the research subjects to the files in the Genealogy Room, I knew, in advance that each student would be able to locate the materials he needed to write the required 2,000 word MLA research paper.

Students loved exploring the cemetery and finding information about their subjects. Some found historic markers; others found only names, birth and death dates, and a select few found only the Woolfolk, etched in stone at a burial site. (Today that site has nice new markers with names and dates on them.) However, when each student went to the library, he found the remaining information to write his paper. We started with classes on twenty-five, and then as the school and the project grew, we began bringing fifty to seventy-five students at the time.

These students have now graduated from college, and when I see them, they still mention the Fort Hawkins and Rose Hill Cemetery projects and tell me how that real research experience increased the value they put on their education, their community and their heritage. I benefited greatly, too. In reading and grading twenty-five to seventy –five Rose Hill research papers per year, I learned a great deal about Rose Hill Cemetery and Macon history. I’m now the Humanities Division Chair for Georgia Military College.  Our largest Rose Hill tour was Spring 2007, when we had 114 people participate. 

We’ve now adopted Shiloh Cemetery, started in 1831 for reclamation, restoration, protection, and student research. My Facebook page, Dianne Dent-Wilcox, is all Georgia history and folklore, all the time.  I invite you to join in the adventures.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Sweetest Onion in All the Land

By Jeff Burns

It’s almost that time of year again!  Each April, onion lovers throughout the world eagerly await the arrival of the new crop of Vidalia Onions, and two separate festivals are celebrated.  This year, the Vidalia Onion Festival is slated for April 23-26, and the Glennville Onion Festival will be on May 9.        

As a native Vidalian (How do you recognize a native Vidalian?  He/She doesn’t pronounce the “L”.  It’s “Vi – day –ya.”), I got used to the usual question asked when I told somebody I was from Vidalia:  “Oh, does your family grow onions?”  Actually, no.  We never grew onions; most people don’t.  We did eat our share, going through hundreds of pounds a season, and we attended the festivals.   And we have relatives who grow onions, but we didn’t.  It was always fun, though, to see mentions of Vidalia in the media.  And there is one other family connection that I found out in my teens when my mother offhandedly said, “You know your Aunt Juanita was the first Onion Queen?”   (More on that later.)

What is so special about an onion that excites gourmets and chefs around the world, has teenage girls vying annually for the title of “Miss Vidalia Onion,” and was officially proclaimed Georgia’s State Vegetable in 1990?  It’s a not uncommon hybrid yellow granex variety of onion, but it is uncommonly sweet when grown in the sandy southeast Georgia soil around Vidalia, a phenomenon thought to be due to an unusually low sulfur soil content among other factors.  By legal definition, onions can only be called “Vidalias” if they are grown in one of twenty specific counties, and they are generally available in spring and early summer, although, special cold storage facilities now extend the season by several months.

In the 1920s and 1930s, farmers around Vidalia were in a similar predicament to farmers throughout the South.  Long years of dependence on cotton and tobacco had led to depressed prices and poor soil conditions.  Then, the boll weevil added insult to injury, destroying cotton crops.  Farmers started looking for other crops to grow, and some experimented with growing vegetables.  Mose Coleman decided to try onions in 1931, and he noticed that his onions were exceptionally sweet tasting.  Word spread, and soon he was selling fifty-pound bags for the astoundingly (at the time) high price of $3.50 a bag.  Neighboring farmers jumped on the bandwagon, and when the state of Georgia built a state farmers’ market in Vidalia in the 1940s, lots more Georgians and tourists alike discovered the delicacy and carted off bags of Vidalia onions.

Coleman and the other farmers realized they had something and started developing modest marketing strategies.  That’s where my Aunt Juanita Burns entered the story.  In 1950, Coleman personally selected her to be the first Vidalia Onion Queen.

Juanita Burns, Vidalia Onion Queen

In the 1970s, national distribution of  the onions began in part because  Vidalia was the headquarters of the Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain at the time. The Vidalia and Glennville Onion Festivals were inaugurated then as well.  Yumion became the official onion mascot in 1980.

Now, Vidalia onions are marketed worldwide, and they are the most famous “brand“of vegetables in the world.  At the beginning of the twenty-first century 14,500 acres of Vidalia onions were grown. Vidalia onions represent about 40 percent of the total national spring onion production and have an estimated value of about $90 million in annual gross sales. Today you can enjoy Vidalia onions with recipes like these or visit the Vidalia Onion Museum for a different experience. 


"America’s Favorite Sweet Onion." America’s Favorite Sweet Onion. The Vidalia Onion Committee, n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.

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