On Aug. 20, the McDuffie Museum acquired the original headstone from the grave of Blind Willie McTell.
David Fulmer notified the museum a few weeks earlier that he was moving to a new house in Atlanta, and didn't want to move the 75-pound headstone. He originally planned to donate the marker to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, but when that museum closed, he decided to send it back home to the museum.
Fulmer is a freelance producer and author of seven novels. His 2007 book, titled The Dying Crapshooter's Blues , was inspired by the lyrics of the Blind Willie song of the same name. Fulmer is in the process of sending the library a copy of his 1996 documentary video Blind Willie's Blues.
In 2010, the museum was host to a reading by the author of the book Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell. During the two-hour presentation, Michael Gray read selections from his book, and told sidelights about his visits to Thomson. Here are portions of his book in which he describes the circumstances relative to the tombstone that was recently donated to the museum:
"At the homely crossroads where Happy Valley Road meets Highway 17, small and ancient signposts for competing churches lean exhaustedly against the fence across the road from the crumbling wooden building and gas station that is the Happy Valley Store.
"We take a right and ride along past farmland, where sheep and mules share a field...until suddenly, in a clearing to the left, there's the little white church....
"Between the church and the road lies a little cluster of gravestones.... The church is open, and a service is in progress, which I don't want to interrupt....
"The church is no longer clapboard, but has been rebuilt in concrete, and Willie's original, accidentally pseudonymous gravestone is gone. His cousin Eddie 'Bo-Rat' McTier had commissioned it and it arrived bearing Eddie's name in place of Willie's.
"It must have been a little creepy for Eddie to see it, but they went ahead and used it anyway. It was a pleasing, simple stone, with unpretentious lettering, that read EDDIE McTIER 1898-AUG 19 1959 AT REST....
"Kate (Rutha K. Williams whom Willie married on Jan. 11, 1934) said 'I brought him home, and buried him in Happy Valley, at Jones Grove Cemetery. His grave is marked Edd McTier but it is Blind Willie McTell. The family sometimes spelled the name McTier. Only I put the slab on it.' "
Fulmer, while researching his book in 1996, personally paid for a new, correct tombstone for Blind Willie, and traded it for the original.
Blind Willie is known as the King of Georgia Blues Singers. On Sept. 22, 1990, Blind Willie McTell was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in the posthumous category.
For information, call (706) 595-9923. Or visit www.mcduffiemuseum.com.