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Tornado-ravaged obelisk repaired at Rose Hill Cemetery

Along the banks of the Ocmulgee River, an obelisk shoots some 28 feet into the air, just as it did before a killer tornado blew through in 1954.

The five-ton pink Scotch granite memorial to the Johnston family spent most of the past 60 years mired in mud near the train tracks skirting Rose Hill Cemetery.

Friday, crews re-assembled two broken pieces atop their pedestal overlooking the water.

“It was quite a project,” said Jeff Ellis, co-owner of Clark Memorials, which donated its services.

The twister of March 13, 1954, “screamed like a thousand banshees,” according to a Macon News report, as it killed six people, injured more than 50 others, tore apart 400 houses and wrecked 900 others.

Earlier this year, Friends of Rose Hill began soliciting help with the restoration project.

Before long, Lisa McClendon got the folks at Southway Crane Co. to donate their time and equipment.

The chunks of granite were removed in March and taken to Clark Memorials for them to be cleaned and 6-inch holes to be drilled in each half. A stainless steel rod and adhesive now join the pieces together.

Ellis said working around the weather and scheduling the crane took months to resolve.

“The biggest thing was, the crane that had the capacity to lift the stone had to be small enough to get in the gate,” Ellis said.

For decades since the storm, only the elaborately carved, 12-foot-tall base marked the 1887 grave of William Butler Johnston, the man who commissioned what is now known as the Hay House.

The twister hurled the obelisk down on the grave of family member George Washington Duncan, destroying his matching pink granite marker.

A note on Duncan’s white marble replacement slab commemorates the tornado.

About two-thirds up the pointed monument, the seam from the break serves as another reminder.

The Johnston tomb’s arches and columns rise up from the bank next to the nearly identical Bond tomb, which was immortalized on the back cover of the Allman Brothers Band’s first album.

A date for a re-dedication ceremony has not been set.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4223.

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