by: Lorene Flanders

Note: Today's Pieces of Our Past is written by Lorene Flanders, formerly of Laurens County. Lorene, a daughter of Fred and Martha Flanders, is Professor and Dean of Libraries at the University of West Georgia. Also a historian and a former librarian at GCSU, Lorene has served as Bibliographer for the Georgia Historical Society since 1999, co authoring the bibliography of Georgia history published annually in the Georgia Historical Quarterly.  (Photo at left by Scott B. Thompson, Sr.)


In the cemetery at Carters' Chapel in eastern Laurens County, a marble angel standing before a flower-wreathed cross marks the small grave of Edith Flanders, born June 6, 1910. Edith died December 20, 1911, from burns suffered when her clothing caught fire as she knelt to pick up her doll. Edith was the first child of Mamie Carter Flanders, 1880-1946, whose father and uncles built Carters' Chapel, and John Flanders, 1875-1944, a native of Wrightsville.

Mamie Marie Carter and John Wesley Flanders were married June 22, 1904, a few years after Mamie graduated from LaGrange Female College. John trained for two years under his father, Dr. James Washington Flanders, in preparation for attending medical school, before taking up farming and construction for a livelihood. John built a house next door to his parents when he and Mamie married, but the couple sold it and purchased a farm in Dooly County, Georgia, about four miles southwest of Vienna on the Drayton Road. In addition to farming, John built houses, including a new home and tenant houses on the Dooly County farm. He also helped build a gin and cottonseed oil mill for Howell and Eggleston, a project that reflected southwest Georgia's strong pre-boll weevil economy.

By 1910, when they welcomed their first child, the couple was well established, growing cotton, and raising hogs, cows, and chickens. Dapp (Mary) and Charlie Gilbert and their son Gideon lived on the farm, as did a number of tenant families. Dapp did house work for Mamie, while Charlie worked for John on the farm. Mamie's garden, just outside the kitchen, was enclosed in a neat picket fence.

Mamie and John named their daughter Edith for Mamie's paternal grandmother, Edith Calhoun Carter, 1812-1897, who died when Mamie was seventeen. The name appears in Mamie's family as far back as the thirteenth century. A photograph taken when baby Edith was a few months old shows the family in front of their new house with Edith's nurse. A driver holds the reins to a horse hitched to a fine buggy.

John Wesley Flanders

Edith's brother Fred, who was born in 1914 nearly three years after her death, wrote of his parents' recollections of their daughter. "She turned out to be a rather small blonde little girl who was never sick and walked and talked very soon. She soon learned to feed my dad grains of rice on her finger. She would follow dad to the oak tree where he milked his Jersey cow twice a day. She had a blue and white enameled cup she wanted filled fresh from cow to cup. She would drink as much as she wanted and put her cup behind her back on her finger and go humming back to the house. She thrived and must have been my parents' little darling from what they spoke about her." Edith sometimes called her mother "Coot," a nickname Mamie acquired when she fell off a log into a cooter (duck) hole on Pennahatchee Creek, which ran close to the farm.

On a cold Tuesday morning in December, 1911, John was at work on the farm and Mamie was preparing to cook dinner over a big fire in the fireplace. She put on a coat, got a pan, and ran out in the cold wind to the sweet potato banks. As she started back to the house, she heard Edith scream and the child ran to Mamie with her clothes on fire. Mamie grabbed her daughter, rolled in the dirt to extinguish the fire, and took Edith inside. Desperate to summon help, Mamie ran back outside and began ringing the farm bell, becoming aware that her hands were badly burned as she frantically pulled the rope.

John and the farm hands came running. Alerted by the bell, nearby tenant families also came to the house. The women did what they could for Mamie and Edith, while others summoned more neighbors. John harnessed up his mule Stogen, and the white buggy horse, and raced to Vienna to get a doctor. According to an account by Fred Flanders written in 1988, Dr. Fred Williams and his registered nurse sped to the farm in the doctor's car, followed by Dr. Fred Mobley. Eventually, the doctors took John aside and told him how seriously both Edith and Mamie were burned. During the afternoon and evening, the doctors came and went, while their nurses ministered to Mamie and Edith. Despite heroic medical efforts, Edith passed away about 6:00 a.m. the following morning.

John returned to Vienna to make funeral arrangements. He placed calls to his and Mamie's parents and sent telegrams to family members who did not have phones. That afternoon, John and Mamie, accompanied by a nurse, took Edith's remains by train from Vienna to Macon, where they transferred to the Macon, Dublin, & Savannah Railroad for the journey to Dublin. Fred Flanders wrote that Mamie "was very grieved, and in much pain." The Vienna News reported that the couple's grief at the loss of their only child was "beyond human expression."

Mamie Carter Flanders

Mamie's father George Carter and her sister Joanna met the train in Dublin. John's cousin, Laurens County sheriff J.J. Flanders, took charge of the entourage as it made its way to the Carter farm some twelve miles east of Dublin. Joanna Carter, who had served as the family's chauffeur since 1908, when her father purchased his first car, was too upset to drive. Sheriff Flanders stayed to assist with funeral preparations. Edith was buried at Carters' Chapel on Thursday, December 21, with relatives, and many of John and Mamie's friends, including the Davis and Morgan families from Dooly County, in attendance.

Due to the severe burns to her hands, Mamie was unable to feed or dress herself for some time. Her mother Ocala Odom Carter, Joanna, and John's mother Sarah Hightower Flanders took turns staying with the couple when Mamie returned home some months later.

Jordan and Hart Campbell,
Children of Lorene Flanders
at the grave of
Edith Flanders
Carter's Chapel Church
Laurens County, Georgia.

In October, 1914, Mamie gave birth to her second and last child. She and John named the baby George Frederick for his grandfather George Carter, and Dr. Fred Mobley, who delivered him, and who had cared for Mamie and Edith after the tragic fire. Fred Flanders wrote of his mother's lifelong grief, "She never really got over losing her little daughter, as I could 'read' the signs so well."

          Lorene Flanders, niece of Edith Flanders