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Georgia Natural Wonder #233 - Tupelo/Gainesville Tornado - Hall County. (Part 4) 154
Georgia Natural Wonder #233 - Tupelo/Gainesville Tornado - Hall Co. (Pt. 4)

Natural Wonders take many forms. In this Forum I have featured Man Made Wonders because of their grandeur or historical significance, military consecration. State librarian, Ella May Thornton, included the Long Swamp Valley Marble Vein in her original listing of the 7 Wonders of Georgia:

Allatoona Pass GNW #155 / Longswamp Valley Vein GNW #1 / Sandersville Kaolin Belt GNW #198 / Elberton Oglesby Granite Belt GNW #200  Quarries/Excavations 

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Allatoona Pass - Long Swamp Valley Marble Vein - Kaolin Belt - Oglesby Granite Belt

Ettowah Indian Mounds GNW #158 / Ogmulgee Indian Mounds GNW #66 (Part 1) / Kolomoki Indian Mounds GNW #172 / Rock Eagle GNW #207  Indian Sites

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Ettowah - Ogmulgee - Kolomoki

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Rock Eagle - Rock Hawk

Euharlee GNW #159 / Watson Mill GNW #126 / Poole's Mill GNW #180  Covered Bridges

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Euarlee - Watson Mill - Poole's

Dead Angle GNW #138 / Fort Tyler GNW #208 / Fort McAllister GNW #37 / Fort Pickens GNW #46 (Part 1)  Battlefield Earthworks

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Dead Angle - Fort Tyler - Fort McAllister - Fort Pickens

The Wonders posted so far have been all Physical Viewable Wonders. Today, in looking for a 4th post on Hall County so I can tangent on the enormous list of notable people, I turn to the Natural Wonder of weather. It's been a while since Georgia suffered a direct blow Hurricane. Researching some of those early Coastal Wonders. Georgia has suffered only one known Category 4 Hurricane back in 1898, it is also called the Sea Island Hurricane and had a death toll of over 2,000 folks. San Francisco Earthquake killed 5,000 and Galveston Hurricane killed 8,000.

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Brunswick images 1898 Hurricane.

Georgia has had two other Category 3 Hurricanes in 1854 and 1893. They did not name Hurricanes back then. One they did name hit Georgia and South Carolina in 1881 and killed 700 people. Some sites call this the Georgia/South Carolina Hurricane.

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1881 Hurricane damage somewhere Georgia or South Carolina

Georgia has suffered flooding especially in Rome, Albany and Augusta. We have had recent fires in the Mountains and down in the Okfenokee Swamp. We've had fires that have burned major portions of cities, mostly Yankee or British origins.  Angry   Plane crashes, explosions, tornadoes have all been touched on.

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Fires AND Floods Augusta

Natural Disasters become Natural Wonders like with the Toccoa Falls Dam break (GNW #19)

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Toccoa Falls College Flood

Today we recount the two deadliest Tornadoes in Georgia history as they are the only two Georgia Tornadoes ranked in the top 25 for all time in America. Both struck Gainesville and the 6/1/1903 Tornado is ranked 17th in US history with 98 deaths. The main focus of today's post is the 1936 Tornado that killed 203 people and ranked 5th worst in American history. The same storm system struck Tupelo Mississippi the day before and caused the 4th worst Tornado in US history with 216 dead.

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This is such a heavy post and this is a Georgia Bulldog Forum. So I am bringing in a little TRD Nugget with the Tornadoes Surf Band. You can play this as you peruse the post, however inappropriate. First the Georgia Tech contribution ...

Severe weather

While Gainesville does not sit in Tornado Alley, a region of the United States where severe weather is common, Supercell thunderstorms can sweep through any time between March and November, being primarily concentrated in the spring. Tornado watches are frequent in the spring and summer, with a warning appearing at least biannually, occasionally with more than one per year. Georgia's peak is spring, the same time the 1936 storm hit. When cool air mixes with warm, thick clouds can gather and begin to rotate.

Tornado activity in the Gainesville area is above Georgia state average and is 108% greater than the overall U.S. average:

Gainesville was the site of a deadly F4 on June 1, 1903, which killed 98 people.

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Gainesville was the site of the fifth deadliest tornado in U.S. history in 1936, in which Gainesville was devastated and 203 people were killed.

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In April 1974, an F4 tornado 22.6 miles away from the Gainesville city center killed six people and injured thirty. The April 3-4, 1974 Super Outbreak affected 13 states across the eastern United States, from the Great Lakes region all the way to the Deep South. In all, 148 tornadoes were documented from this event, of which 95 were rated F2 or stronger on the Fujita scale and 30 were F4 or F5. Aside from all the castastrophic damage they left behind, the tornadoes resulted in 335 deaths.

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On March 20, 1998, an F3 tornado impacted the Gainesville metro area early in the morning, killing 12 people and injuring 171 others.

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Another F3 tornado later that day killed 2 other people and injured a further 27 people in the Stoneville area.

1903 Tornado

On Monday, June 1, 1903, a catastrophic tornado struck the city of Gainesville, Georgia, killing at least 98 people and injuring 180 or more. The tornado is retrospectively estimated to have been an F4 on the modern-day Fujita scale. The tornado, which was of very brief duration relative to its intensity, lasted approximately two minutes, and struck a trail roughly 4 miles long. According to tornado researcher Thomas P. Grazulis, the Gainesville tornado was one of the shortest-tracked F4 tornadoes on record. It skirted the south of the city, starting in the southwest and proceeding northeast, passing through a natural depression roughly 100 feet lower than the city itself. 
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The area, which included cotton mills, reported about 50 deaths and incurred the worst damage; in this area the intensity of the damage was equivalent to low-end F4 status. Unlike a similar event in 1936, the 1903 tornado missed downtown Gainesville. The tornado, initially appearing along the train track, was at first thought to be smoke from a train. 

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Photograph showing the path of the wind from the tornado of June 1, 1903, Gainesville, GA, as it passed over the railroad, immediately south of the depot. The Piedmont Hotel was badly damaged.

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It struck a cotton mill at 12:45 p.m. local standard time, ripping off the top floor where a number of children were working, many of them numbering among the fatalities. 
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The power of the tornado ripped an iron cupola from an approximately 40-foot-wide standpipe, crushing a number of people when it fell down. The tornado also damaged the Gainesville Iron Works and track, signals and freight cars of the Southern Railway Company, before destroying approximately 70 of the 120 workers' cottages at the Pacolet Mills in New Holland, where young children and elderly were located at the time. In total, at least 98—and possibly as many as 104—people were killed and at least 180 injured, with some reports indicating up to 190 injuries. The number of people harmed was reduced due to many workers attending picnics away from the site when the tornado struck.
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Almost 33 years later, on April 6, 1936, another violent tornado struck Gainesville, claiming at least 203 lives. Gainesville is the only town of its size to be so devastated twice by tornadoes in its history.

1936 Tupelo–Gainesville tornado outbreak

On April 5–6, 1936, an outbreak of 14 (or more) tornadoes struck the Southeastern United States, killing at least 454 people (with 419 of those deaths caused by just two tornadoes) and injuring at least 2,500 others. Over 200 people died in Georgia alone, making it the deadliest Tornado disaster ever recorded in the state.

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Although the outbreak is often centered on the violent tornadoes in Tupelo, Mississippi (with an estimated F5 rating), and Gainesville, Georgia (estimated F4 rating), there were other destructive tornadoes in the cities of Columbia, Tennessee; Acworth, Georgia; and Anderson, South Carolina. One long-track F4 tornado killed six people in rural parts of Tennessee, and two other long-track tornadoes (rated F3) killed an additional 13 people in southern Tennessee and northern Alabama. Another pair of F3 tornadoes touched down in Mississippi, claiming an additional eight lives.

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This is the second deadliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history (after that of the Tri-state tornado in 1925) and the only one in which two separate tornadoes killed more than 200 people each.

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Tri-state tornado 695 deaths 1925 - a record for a single tornado. 234 deaths in Murphysboro - a record for a single community from such a disaster.


Around 8:30 p.m., April 5, 1936, the Tupelo tornado, the fourth-deadliest tornado in United States history, emerged from a complex of storm cells and touched down in a rural area approximately eight miles outside of the city. Making its way toward Tupelo, the massive tornado killed a family of 13 as their house was swept away, and injured many more before reaching Tupelo's west side.

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Retroactively rated F5 on the modern Fujita scale, it caused total destruction along its path through the Willis Heights neighborhood. Dozens of large and well built mansions were swept completely away in this area. Although missing the business district, the tornado moved through the residential areas of north Tupelo, destroying many homes, and killing whole families. The Gum Pond area of Tupelo was the worst hit. Homes along the pond were swept into the water with their victims. The majority of the bodies were found in Gum Pond, the area which is now Gumtree Park. Reportedly, many bodies were never recovered from the pond.

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Reports were that the winds were so strong, pine needles were embedded into trunks of trees. As the tornado exited the city's east side, the large concrete Battle of Tupelo monument was toppled to the ground and destroyed. 

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Two nearby brick gate posts were broken off at the base and blown over as well. East of town, granulated structural debris from the city was strewn and wind-rowed for miles through open fields. According to records, the Tupelo tornado leveled 48 city blocks and between 200–900 homes, killing at least 216 people and injuring at least 700 others. The tornado destroyed the water tower and produced numerous fires in its wake, though overnight rains which left knee-deep water in some streets contained the flames.

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Though 216 remained the final death toll, 100 persons were still hospitalized at the time it was set. Subsequently, the Mississippi State Geologist estimated a final, unofficial death toll of 233. Notably, among the survivors were one-year-old Elvis Presley and his parents.


After producing the Tupelo tornado, the storm system moved through Alabama overnight and reached Gainesville, Georgia. On April 6, 1936 at about 8:15 a.m. an F4 tornado landed in Hall County southwest of Gainesville and began to destroy homes and infrastructure as it moved northeast. A second funnel was spotted west of the city moving almost due east. At 8:27 the funnel paths met in downtown Gainesville, heading towards the Catholic Church on Spring Street. The edifice was spared when the combined tornadoes miraculously veered around the church, then returned to its original path, taking dead aim on the square in downtown Gainesville.

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Causing wreckage to pile 10 feet high in some places.  According to Ted Fujita, this early morning tornado was a double tornado event: one tornado moved in from the Atlanta highway, while the other moved in from the Dawsonville highway. The two merged on Grove Street and destroyed everything throughout the downtown area.

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Unlike the Tupelo tornadoes, which mainly affected the city's residential areas, tornadoes in Gainesville attacked the business and commercial district reducing fourteen blocks to debris and trapping hundreds of citizens in the wreckage.

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One of the most tragic scenes played out at the Cooper Pants Factory. The worst tornado-caused death toll in a single building in U.S. history was at the Cooper Pants Factory on Broad and Maple streets. 

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There was a long push to get this Historical marker placed.

The multiple-story building was then filled with young workers, who had just arrived to work. Employees at the factory, who were mostly poor young women from the country and children. They went into the basement of the factory for protection from the tornado. Unfortunately, the building collapsed and caught fire, trapping many of the employees. Depending on whose estimates you're looking at, it killed between 40 and 125 workers who were trapped inside. Some bodies were never identified. The official death toll is documented at 70.

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Looking through Cooper Pants Company some remains only ashes. Garland Reynolds Jr. said: "From published accounts, cremated remains of the (victims) were found clumped together in the burned-out stairway and lower level where they had attempted, in vain, to exit the building's blocked doorway,"

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"My father worked in the butcher shop just around the corner," he said. "He would remember going by there and hearing the women scream. It affected him all his life."

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This photo, taken April 16, 1936, from the south side of the square shows masses of debris and wreckage in the center of Gainesville Square. 

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The remains of the beautiful oak trees stand as bare and ravished specters of what had been the beautiful circle in the center of Gainesville's Public Square.

A third storm, which skirted the city a few minutes before the double tornado, headed northeast doing additional destruction around and to the Pacolet Mills building in New Holland. At the Pacolet Mill, 550 workers moved to the northeast side of the building and survived. Remarkably, no one in the mill was injured, as the workers saw the storm coming and evacuated from the upper floors, then ran to the building’s northeast end which remained intact after the tornado struck. (They knew where to take refuge as a result of an earlier tornado which struck in 1903, killing about 50 people in the mill.) After extensive repairs, Pacolet Mill resumed operation.

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Many people sought refuge in Newman's department store; its collapse killed 20 people. In addition to the complete destruction that occurred throughout downtown Gainesville, residential areas throughout the city were devastated as well, where 750 homes were destroyed and 254 others badly damaged.

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The National Guard sets up tents to help tornado victims in Gainesville. Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution photographers were there to document the aftermath.

Minutes after the attack, numerous fires erupted throughout the Public Square and downtown area. Because the water system was knocked out of commission, and nearly all major roadways were blocked, fighting fires like the one at the Cooper Pants Factory became an extremely difficult task for fire crews. Rescuers dynamited buildings to control the rapid spread of fire.

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The power grid, water system and communications systems were completely disrupted during the incident, which caused several immediate problems. Those who were not in Gainesville did not know about the destruction caused until citizens went to other nearby towns to use their phones.

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The final death toll could not be calculated because many of the buildings that were hit collapsed and caught fire. A death toll of 203 people was posted, though at the time 40 people were yet missing. Most experts feel the death toll was much higher saying the Cooper Fire may have been as high as 125.

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Carrying bodies out.

One of the most unusual things was that the Confederate statue survived in the Town Square while destruction was all around.

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Letters from Gainesville were blown about 70 miles away, to Anderson, South Carolina. The Gainesville tornadoes have been rated as F4's on the Fujita scale and together constituted fifth-deadliest tornado-related disaster in U.S. history. They caused nearly $13 million in damage, equivalent to over $200 million in 2011.

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“We were talking about how dark it had become,” then teenager John “Rudy” Rudolph remembered many years later. “My friends and I stopped in front of a store in downtown when the owner came out and told us to take cover. I really didn’t understand what he meant. It was daytime, but the sky was as dark as night."

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Spring breeds strong storms, and this one happened to hit a populated area, the meteorologist with the National Weather Service said.

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"Almost 100 people were killed between just two buildings ... that contributes to the higher mortality rate," reports say. "Whereas maybe had it been a less densely populated area there wouldn't have been as many people in one place."

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But the tornado was abnormally strong, too, probably an F-4, Garcia said. The strongest storms are ranked as F-5's. In the days following the tornado disaster, an army of 2000 relief workers converged to haul away the millions of tons of debris in the city’s business section.

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But the 1936 tornado, the fifth deadliest in U.S. history, was just one tornado that hit Hall County. Gainesville was also the site of another deadly F4 on June 1, 1903, which killed 98 people but did not affect the central business district; the Pacolet Mill was hit by both tornadoes. No other small town of similar size (population 17,000 in 1936) in the United States has experienced such devastation twice in its history. As a series of twin tornadoes generated by a single storm, both members of which occurred simultaneously. The 1936 event was similar to some of the tornadoes that occurred on April 11, 1965, near Goshen and Dunlap, Indiana exhibiting multiple F4 mesocyclones at once.

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The Hall County Courthouse was destroyed.

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City Hall too

The remains of a statue of Col. C.C. Sanders resides today inside the Northeast Georgia history Center in Gainesville. 

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The marble statue used to reside alongside the Federal Courthouse at the corner of Green and Washington Streets until it was destroyed in the 1936 tornado. Sanders was a Gainesville resident who served in the Army of Northern Virginia of the Confederate States of America.

[Image: XZkXf6V.jpg] Head was blown off.

Gainesville Times

The air closed in on Gainesville. And as the townspeople arose on April 6, 1936, they shared an unsettling bond, an awareness that time was too still, the skies were too dark, the heart was too restless.

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I can't place it, survivors say today. It just didn't feel right.

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They could sense but not prepare for the biblical devastation that would barrel through the small town of Gainesville at 8:27 a.m.

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When it was over, the city lay shattered, a bustling town turned to a war-torn nightmare by three twisters that were here and then gone in a moment. More than 200 lay dead or dying amid the rubble. Survivors wandered the streets in a lifeless daze, cried out for their children, pulled glass from their hair and arms as buildings caught fire.

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One story from that hell is still today spoken of with hushed tones and red eyes.

Quote:"A young boy was trapped beneath a fallen beam in one of the downtown hardware stores. Oils and paint cans ignited. As the flames licked his back, he begged his father for death. The man couldn't pull the pistol from his side. He watched as his son perished, pleading for the end as it came upon him with agonizing delay."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived in Gainesville on April 9, after the devastating tornado struck the town a few days earlier. He spoke from his railroad car’s observation platform to a crowd of about 2,000, where he conveyed his condolences and assured them that the federal government would help.

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He later returned in 1938 to rededicate the courthouse and city hall after a massive citywide rebuilding effort. Of the rebuilt city he stood before in 1938, he noted:

Quote:“You were not content with rebuilding along the lines of the old community. You were not content with throwing yourselves on the help that could be given to you by the State and by the Federal Government."

“On the contrary, you determined in the process of rebuilding to eliminate old conditions of which you were not proud; to rebuild a better city; to replace congested areas with parks; to move human beings from slums to suburbs. For this you, the good people of Gainesville, deserve all possible praise.”

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Roosevelt Park and monument where he spoke is now in front of Hall County Courthouse.

That was a hard post to recount. My pop lived in Jefferson and remembered this day as a young boy. But this is our 4th post on Hall County and I wanted to post the enormous list of Notable people. 

We present the Georgia Bulldog oriented TRD Nugget as this post lightens up a bit from the Tornado. Click and play for rest of post.

There was debate on the 4th actual Natural Wonder as part of me wanted to use the Atlanta Botanical Gardens at Gainesville. But I went with the Tornadoes as discussed at the beginning of this post. Just for the record though, I do want to mention the Gardens and include a few images to lighten the post a bit.

Gainesville Botanical Gardens

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Renowned plant collections, beautiful displays and spectacular exhibitions make the Atlanta and Gainesville Botanical Gardens the loveliest place in the city to visit. 

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The Gainesville location, opened in 2015, celebrates years of planning and development of one of North Georgia’s most beautiful landscapes aimed at connecting visitors with both the natural world and cultural amenities. It is home to the largest conservation nursery in the Southeast.

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1911 Sweetbay Drive, Gainesville, GA 30501

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Notable people

Tommy Aaron, professional golfer, 1973 Masters champion.

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Mariah Paris Balenciaga, drag queen and television personality.

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Ashley D. Bell, American politician.

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Jodi Benson, voice actress for Princess Ariel in Disney's The Little Mermaid.

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Roy D. Bridges, Jr., astronaut.

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Casey Cagle, Former Lieutenant Governor of Georgia 2007–2019.

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Rod Cameron, actor.

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Allen D. Candler, Governor of Georgia.

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Cris Carpenter, former Major League Baseball pitcher.

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Daniel Carver, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon.

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John Casper, astronaut.

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Doug Collins member of the United States House of Representatives.

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Jason Cross, professional wrestler.

[Image: YOtFcEE.jpeg] Welsh Wizard.

Henry Crowder, professional jazz musician.

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Jody Davis, professional baseball player.

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Nathan Deal, 82nd Governor of Georgia, grew up in Millen.

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Dexter Fowler, Major League Baseball center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals.

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Jentezen Franklin, Pastor.

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Chan Gailey, former head coach of various NFL and NCAA football teams.

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John Driskell Hopkins, bassist for the Zac Brown Band.

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Corey Hulsey, football guard for the Detroit Lions.

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Tasha Humphrey, Washington Mystics basketball player.

[Image: Z3u2dUz.jpg] 2nd leading scorer Georgia history.

Andrew Jannakos, singer-songwriter, known for "Gone Too Soon".

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A.J. Johnson current Denver Broncos linebacker; former University of Tennessee linebacker.

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T.J. Jones, current Detroit Lions wide receiver; former University of Notre Dame wide receiver.

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Sung Kang, actor.

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Brad Keller, baseball player.

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James Longstreet, Confederate general and Gainesville postmaster.

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Reg Murphy
, former president of National Geographic Society and publisher//editor.

[Image: 3B1e5e5.png]Loran Smith article Murphy

Phil Niekro, pitcher, MLB Hall of Fame.

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Alexander R. Nininger, World War II Medal of Honor recipient, Battle of Bataan.

[Image: y5jLiDJ.jpeg]1st Medal of Honor World War II

Micah Owings, Major League Baseball pitcher.

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Randy Pobst, professional racing driver.

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Robert Prechter, financial forecaster (1980s "Guru of the Decade").

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Connor Shaw, football player.

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Blake Sims, former University of AlabamaQuarterback.

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James Milton Smith, Governor of Georgia.

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AJ Styles, professional wrestler signed to WWE.
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Deshaun Watson, American football quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.

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John-Allison Weiss, singer songwriter.

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Margaret Woodrow Wilson, daughter of US President Woodrow Wilson.

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Mike Wilson, former Georgia Bulldog and National Football League offensive lineman.

[Image: qnZ6S93.jpeg] "Moonpie"

Today's GNW Gals were an easy Google. Weather chasing or artistic, Tornado women.

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Try to have fun with these post, but God Bless the Pacolet and Cooper girls. Remember them always and take Tornado Warnings serious when you get one.
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