Published Saturday, February 18, 2012
CORNELIA, Ga. – This is where baseball immortal Ty Cobb lived out his last days. He had planned to build a house on nearby Chenocetah Mountain, but ill health brought about his demise before he could fulfill his dream to enjoy his final years near his birthplace in Narrows.
Whenever I come this way, I think of the three-hour conversation I had with Cobb when I was writing sports for the Athens Banner-Herald while enrolled at the University of Georgia in the early 1960s. To make the appointment, I had to use the office phone and remember the long distance call cost about 50 cents. I had to reimburse the newspaper and also paid for my gasoline for the round trip to Cornelia.
None of that was a concern, however. It was the mission of a lifetime to enjoy an extended interview with the man, many consider the greatest baseball player of all time. He was very accommodating. While I can't be certain, I think I am, perhaps, the last person to interview him at his residence, Probes apartments.
In recent years, I generally only pass through Cornelia but sometimes make a stop to visit with Jimmy Harris, who owns a small business here in addition to Unicoi Outfitters which is just South of Helen. There have been times when I have visited with Cliff Kimsey, Georgia's oldest living football letterman, a gentleman who enjoyed success as a coach, teacher and banker. Stopping downtown, as I did recently, and observing the big red apple, which weighs 5,200 pounds is always a reminder that Cornelia is in the heart of Georgia's apple growing industry which may not what it once was -- but I prefer to remember the past.
Cornelia is located in Habersham County, and it is easy to become charmed by the name Habersham. Named in honor of Major Joseph Habersham of Savannah, Habersham County is one of several places in our state identified with his name. In Atlanta, there's Habersham Road, one of the most prestigious residential addresses in our capital city. In nearby Clarkesville, there is Habersham Lake and in Savannah, there is Habersham Street and in Chatham County, Habersham Creek. Major Habersham was a patriot of the Revolution and served as Postmaster General in President George Washington's cabinet.
The history of Georgia towns and places is fascinating and alluring, but there is one sad footnote about this beautiful section of our state. Our forebears took the land from the Creeks and Cherokees. We stole their lands, literally, and drove them out of the state. Even when the United States government told the settlers, they couldn't take the Indian lands, they did it anyway. Of all the injustices that gave occurred in this country, our treatment of Native Americans, stands as one of our most deplorable acts.
Legend has it that the first white man to pass this way was the gold seeking explorer, Hernando de Soto. There is no record of him taking anything from the Indians. If the Indians had had any gold, who among us would think the explorer would have negotiated with the red man with magnanimity? On the other hand, we know what Ty Cobb did when he accumulated a fortune from Coca-Cola and General Motors stock -- he established a scholarship fund to educate needy boys and girls in Georgia.
We hear a lot about the irascibility and temperamental ways of the legendary Cobb when his Hall of Fame baseball career is recalled. His scholarship fund is, perhaps, more impressive -- certainly more important -- than any of his baseball feats.