“I’ve been to Georgia on a fast train, honey…”
–Billy Joe Shaver

Don Rhodes ranks as a first-rate storyteller. I called him on Tuesday January 24, 2023, at his office on Broad Street in Augusta, Georgia. His music column “Ramblin Rhodes” has been published every week for the last fifty years.

“Ramblin’ Rhodes made its debut on Halloween day, October 31, 1970, in the Savannah Evening Press,” Rhodes told me. “I continued it with the Augusta Herald. Then it moved to the Sunday Edition of the Augusta Chronicle until the entertainment section stopped around Covid. By that time it hit its 50th Anniversary. I’m still writing it. I’ve also started a column for Augusta Good News–it’s more of an odds & ends kind of thing. It won’t be just music.”

Rhodes has published six books: Ty Cobb: Safe At Home, Entertainment in Augusta & the CSRA, Mysteries And Legends of Georgia: True Stories of the Unsolved And Unexplained, Georgia Icons, Legendary Locals of Augusta, Georgia and Down Country Roads with Ramblin’ Rhodes.

He is a hard-boiled professional of the highest order who’s been nominated several times to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in the non-performer category. Name an American musician, and chances are Rhodes knew or wrote about them. He’s been named “Media Person of the Year” by the Greater Augusta Arts Council three times and has received the Louis C. Harris Media Person of the Year award.

I’ve known Rhodes since 2018. He and I spoke for over an hour about his books, Augusta and his latest ongoings. Rhodes knew and worked with my old hero Paul Hemphill (see Insured Beyond The Grave) back in the 1960s and they remained friends until Hemphill died in 2009. He’s crossed paths with Minnie Pearl, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, James Brown, Dolly Parton and a long list of others.

Rhodes informed me he will appear in a documentary produced by Mick Jagger and QuestLove about James Brown that comes out on May 3, 2023. More on that later…

For this call we focused on his fascinating book Mysteries and Legends of Georgia. Rhodes provides his inspiration for the book in his Preface: “[T]he fun of those mysteries is that they stay unsolved for future generations to ponder and explore.”

I asked Rhodes about the book’s fourteen inimitable stories based on strange and historical facts that transpired in the Peach State. “The book came out in 2010 and then again in 2015. It went to second printing. For some reason they slightly changed the name to Georgia’s Myth’s & Legends. They had me add two more chapters and a revised introduction.”

Some of the chapters in the book include “Elberton’s Stonehenge and Dutchy”, “Jimmy Carter and the UFO”, “Savannah’s Waving Girl”, “Who Built Rock Eagle and the Mounds?”, “Pasaquan and Other Unusual Places”, “A Hollywood Star in Carrollton” and “America’s First Wonder Woman”.

The Jimmy Carter chapter is one of my favorite’s. Rhodes revealed, “That was a cool story. When the second version came out I received a letter from a guy named Carl Justus. He came up with the explanation of what Carter saw. It turned out it was the release of Barium clouds from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. He proved the dates they released the clouds and where Carter saw them. He wanted to get in touch with Carter to tell him what he really saw. I put him in touch with the Presidential Library in Atlanta.”

Another great tale in the book revolves around the Georgia Guidestones, which were destroyed last year. Rhodes spoke about the eerie story surrounding the spot in Elbert County, Georgia: “Some people perceived those guidestones as some evil deal or anti-religious. But it’s like these people who throw paint on world famous paintings. Why are they doing that? People who can’t make art criticize those who do.”

I asked Rhodes to name his favorite tale from the book. “I’d say, ‘The Waving Girl of Savannah’. The mystery is nobody knows why she started waving at ships. She just did it. There were always theories that she had a lover lost at sea. She would never say. Yet, day and night she’d be out there waving at ships. She was famous all over the world to these merchant ships and commercial ships that traveled to Savannah.

“People would go back to their country and talk about this lady who waved to them. She lived with her brother who worked at the lighthouse. When he quit they never saw her again. That really fascinated me. She didn’t make money doing it. She just did it. It was one of the purest stories of doing something just because you love it.”

Don Rhodes’ work should be explored. Mysteries and Legends stands as a good place to start for any reader possessing a sense of wonder. Rhodes shines a light on weird facts. “It’s always a compliment to me when people read something of mine, and say, I never knew that…”

(Don Rhodes & Dolly Parton photo courtesy of Savannah Morning News)