The seventh annual production of one of the biggest events in the state, Tales of the Altamaha, accompanied by the noted River Rat Band, is in the works for spring 2011 at the Blue Marquee (the former Pal Theater) in Lyons, Ga. Our long-time friend Laurie Jo Upchurch, scriptwriter for the popular show is already working day and night to get ready for the event, which promises to be the best yet. Laurie Jo lives not far from the Altamaha River on the Appling County side.
The Altamaha is one of the most majestic rivers in the Southeastern United States. Its greatness is hidden in its humble origins. In the central and western parts of Georgia, small creeks and streams combine to form her waters. Eventually, the Ocmulgee River is created. East of the Ocmulgee, other streams form the Oconee River. These two rivers, constantly joined by other waters, flow south almost parallel to each other. They flow rapidly at first until they reach the Fall Line, once a seacoast eons ago when ocean waters covered the entire coastal plain of the place, which in time became Georgia. The Fall Line produces the last rapids on the two rivers and south of these rapids the two rivers assume a more leisurely pace on their way to form the Altamaha. The Altamaha meanders through southeast Georgia and emerges into the Atlantic at Two-Way Camp and Mudcat Charlie’s Seafood Restaurant near Darien, Ga. Along this river is found the genesis of the Tales of the Altamaha.
I grew up in the boondocks of Toombs County, Ga. About eight miles from the Altamaha River as the crow flies and in my younger days, I knew personally Attorney T. Ross Sharpe, the author of the Column “Tales of the Altamaha.”
T. Ross Sharpe was truly southern in every sense of the term. He was tall, handsome, keen of wit, humorous, a great storyteller, a writer but above all an astute lawyer in great demand.
The roots of the play T. Ross Sharpe’s Tales of the Altamaha were a succession of intermittent articles published in the widely read Toombs County weekly newspaper, The Lyons Progress between 1955 and 1965. Col Sharpe was, in the vernacular of South Georgia folk, “born and raised” on the banks of the Altamaha. He knew the river, land and people and delighted in telling the stories he had heard as a boy and passing on some of his own.
Many of the “Tales” deal with “humorous happenings of by-gone days”. Nonetheless, Tales of the Altamaha is much more than an assortment of amusing stories. They portray folk life, folk lore, social relations, economic development and the local history of the Altamaha land that T. Ross Sharpe loved.
The Tales are written in the style of a master storyteller and cover a span of more than 150 years from the arrival of the pioneers to the advent of a nuclear power plant on the majestic river. The Tales offer an insight into the world first discovered by Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Miller in her 1934 novel Lamb in His Bosom. Presently, the lovely and talented playwright Laurie Jo Upchurch adeptly captures the original style and spirit of the Tales and passes them on with a wonderful cast of about forty gifted characters that make up and present the fabulous Tales of the Altamaha.
Make a note of the 2011 production of the Tales of the Altamaha and plan to get your tickets as soon as they are published. Remember, it is a popular show and people come from all over to see it. This year, additional showings had to be added to accommodate the crowds.
B. J. and I have missed only one of the presentations since the show began. We always leave room on our calendar for the Tales.
“The old-timers who lived along the Altamaha were the salt of the earth. They were pure granite in the face of adversity, emotional in sorrow, gracious in their homes, honest in their dealings...That their good works, loves, laughter and peculiarities may not be entirely lost to memory, and with the fond hope that some clippings of their history may find themselves in scrapbooks to be read seventy-five or a hundred years from now, the writer has in a feeble and inexperienced way recorded a few of his memories.” - T. Ross Sharpe: “Why Tales of the Altamaha”