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  Our Town

History comes home
By: Susan Walworth - Tribune staff writer 07/22/2005
For visitors to Shorter Mansion she is a beautiful oil painting hanging over a mantel.

But Mary Mollie Shorter was a real person. In fact, she was once her daddy's little girl. A letter recently donated to the Eufaula Heritage Association by an anonymous donor from North Carolina brings that fact to life.

In a letter written Tuesday, Nov. 9, 1858, the man best known as Alabama's Civil War governor, John Gill Shorter, who was the uncle of Eli Shorter, builder of Shorter Mansion, penned a poignant letter in Talladega. The letter was to his daughter Mollie to wish her a happy 15th birthday.

My Dear Daughter,

The first thought I had this morning on awaking was - this is the birthday of my own dear Mollie. And I felt devoutly thankful that God has given me such an affectionate and dutiful child, and had spared her until her fifteenth year.

I send you, my daughter, a father's love, and a father's blessing. May our heavenly father shelter you beneath his protecting wing, and throughout life's pilgrimage guide you amid the storms which may threaten and the perils which may (block) your pathway; and when life's fitful fever is over may you enter into the saint's everlasting rest.

Your devoted father,

John Gill Shorter

Mollie lived until 1922 and is buried in the Shorter Cemetery on the Bluff.

A copy of the letter has been placed on display on the mantel below Mollie's portrait, breathing life into a two-dimensional work of art. The antique script is not easy to read. "His handwriting was not great," Heritage Association Executive Director Glenn Kasper, said. But the letter has been deciphered, all except one word, that no one to date has been able to figure out. Kasper invites all the visitors to Shorter Mansion to try their hand at deciphering the word, and is willing to offer a life-time free pass to the mansion to anyone who is successful. The mystery word has been replaced with (block) in the typewritten translation of the letter also displayed on the mantel.

The letter is only one of several items of historical significance related to Eufaula that have been donated to the Heritage Association since March.

Portrait in the Trash

About 10 years ago, William Russell noticed a picture that had been placed by the road along with a pile of trash on Doren Drive. Thinking he could use the frame for something else, he picked it up, took it home and stored it in a shed.

Recently, while looking through a pile of items in the shed, he noticed a card under the picture identifying the subject as James Barbour, the man for whom Barbour County was named. Russell thought it was something the Heritage Association might be interested in and he and his wife Elizabeth decided to donate it. Barbour, who owned a horse farm in what became Barbour County, also owned a large plantation in Barboursville, Va. He was governor of Virginia from 1812-1814, a U.S. senator from 1815-1825 and an envoy to Great Britain from 1828-1829. Barbour is buried in the Family Square in Barboursville, Va.

The portrait Russell found is not an original but a reproduction of a portrait by Chester Harding. Although the framed portrait's origin is a mystery, it could have hung in a school at some point since a card underneath the portrait gives historical information about Barbour.

Sparks Letter

Another letter recently donated to the Eufaula Heritage Association by an anonymous Eufaula resident dated May 23, 1960, is from a man who had already served a term as governor to a woman who would make history as Alabama's first and to date, only woman governor.

Eufaula native Chauncey Sparks, who served as Alabama's governor from 1943 to 1947, wrote the letter to Lurleen Wallace after learning that she had been hospitalized in St. Margaret's hospital in Montgomery. In the letter, Sparks wishes for her recovery so they can go fishing. Sparks also adds, "Regards to George."

Eufaula Hero

When Trish and Jeff Thorne of Eufaula visited the Halifax Historical Museum while on vacation in Daytona Beach, Fla., they had no idea they would become couriers of history. When the museum office manager Marianne Campbell asked where they were from they replied Alabama. When she asked where in Alabama they replied, it's a small town you've probably never heard of it. But the museum worker was persistent. When the Thornes said Eufaula she told them, "I have something for you to take home with you."

That something was a packet of newspaper and magazine clippings about a Eufaula native who has been described as one of Alabama's greatest heroes, Brigadier General Carl H. Seals. The packet also contained ribbons and stars from Seals' uniform pinned to a piece of construction paper. Campbell said the museum often donates items to other museums when the items are relevant to a particular town.

Seals started his military career while still in his teens when he joined Alabama National Guard's Company G, known as the Eufaula Rifles. Seals moved to Birmingham where he worked with First National Bank of Birmingham and later the Traders National Bank of Birmingham. Seals served with his guard unit during World War I and after, engaging in a series of battles in France was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

When World War I ended, Seals stayed in the Army and was stationed in Washington, Atlanta and served two tours of duty in the Philippines. His third tour there would become a living hell. Seals was adjutant general of the Army's Far Eastern Division under General Douglas MacArthur, who promoted Seals to brigadier general after the attack on Pearl Harbor. A Time magazine article from that time, included in the clippings, describes Seals as MacArthur's "closest friend."

Seals was serving in the Phillipines when the Japanese attacked. After the fall of Bataan and Corregidor, he and his wife and a few nurses retreated to a hospital in the mountains, but they were later captured. Seals was separated from his wife and never saw her again. He was imprisoned in Manila, and later transferred to Formosa in 1942, where other generals were held until they were transferred to Manchuria. The men were liberated by the Russians in 1945. Seals received the distinguished service medal for his heroic service.

Joe Wheeler Letter

Just last week the Heritage Association acquired another historical document of "untold historical significance."

A letter written by Confederate General Joseph Wheeler was donated by M.H. Mitchell, Inc., a non-profit organization founded to "assist various local historical groups by furthering their abilities to educate and generate interest in history," according to founder David Mitchell.

Wheeler wrote the letter in 1888 during one of his terms representing Alabama in the House of Representatives and it details the arrangements for a post office appointment.

Wheeler was elected to Congress in 1884 and served successive terms until 1898, when he stepped down to volunteer for military service in the Spanish-American War.

Wheeler won fame as a cavalry officer during the Civil War, where Robert E. Lee called him one of the two great cavalrymen in the War Between the States. Wheeler commanded in 127 battles and participated in more than 500 skirmishes.

The letter will be displayed in Shorter Mansion next to a similar letter written by John Gill Shorter in 1858.

Kasper said the Heritage Association has applied for a preservation assistance grant to get a conservator to come to the mansion to give advice on preserving all the treasures there in addition to the ones recently added.

Tribune intern Eric Betts contributed to this story

©Eufaula Tribune 2005

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