REMEMBERING THE GOAT MAN
Chess McCartney, without a doubt, is the most famous 20th Century folk icon of Middle Georgia and perhaps even the Southeast. For decades the wandering evangelist traveled with his tribe of goats all over the country, spreading the word of God and earning a meager living in the process. For all of us who lived along Highway 80, McCartney, known simply as "The Goat Man," we were privileged to see him on a regular basis. The really lucky ones got to talk to him and pet his goats.
Many people have read about "The Goat Man" in books and magazines. So, when I set out to tell his story, I enlisted the aid of my Facebook friends. These are their memories of the heavily bearded man who lived in a kudzu-covered ravine near the village of Fitzpatrick in northwestern Twiggs County and who walked along the highways and towns of America, including right here in Dublin.
When Barbara Lewis Barroso was five, she remembered hearing that the "Goat Man" was coming down Highway 80 near the VA. "All the kids on my block would run across the alley between our houses and through the yards of the houses behind us, cross the street and go to the edge of the highway," Barbara recalled. "I remember all the pots and pans hanging down from his wagon. I remember him talking to us, but don't remember anything he said." she added. He was a man ruff in appearance with his scruffy beard and clothes, but he had this magical charisma that charmed and delighted us. Those of us that had that experience were lucky that we lived in such a place and time that we were worry free. I think kids today would be afraid of him and run the other way. Tommy Martin remembered the pots and pan too, "He came down Mincey St. on a fairly regular basis with his old wagon, pots and pans hanging thereon, and of course, a herd of goats. We actually bought things from him from time to time."
Barbara's sister, Mary, recalled the time the "Goat Man" stopped at a gas station near their Highland Ave. home. "He and Mr. Brown were arguing because he wanted his goats to use the bathroom. It was memorable because two grownups were arguing and there were all these goats, and they were pooping all over his station," an amused Mary remembered.
The Whipple sisters, Suzanne Hagan and Jennifer Whiddon, had fond closeup memories of McCartney. Their father, Lucian, would take his family to see "Goat Man" whenever he was in town. Lucian, a prolific photographer, took many pictures. His son, Miles, took some and made them into a scrapbook. Whipple, also an adept conversationalist, talked to the folk icon as if he were just an ordinary person. Jennifer has never forgotten the banging noises of his clanging pots, which to her was as exciting as the ice cream man coming down the street. Suzanne had a more up close experience. "When I was in my first year of nursing school, about 35 years ago, I was assigned to him as a student nurse," she remembered. Weak and frail, Chess required delicate personal care. "When we were learning basic nursing cares such as giving a patient a bed-bath, I remember drawing up his bedside basin and I set it next to him on the table beside his bed. I explained to him that I was going to give him a bath. Well, he very distinctly told me that he didn't need a bath that day and refused it stating that he never bathed on any kind of regular schedule. My nursing instructor wanted me to be a little more assertive in this matter. Well, I tried again but he refused and that was that. However, he was very kind and friendly but simply was not interested in being bathed. Now, he could have used a clean bath as he had a long white beard and looked very rugged and smelled like his goats but in the end he won and did not have to take a bath that day."
Kim McCoy Wyatt also encountered McCartney in a Macon hospital. While visiting her aunt, Kim went down the hall to look for something. "I bounced right back into her room I thought!. There I was face to face with the Goat Man... I knew it was him the minute I saw him. Long white beard & hair.... I will never forget it. We were eye to eye... I said, 'I'm sorry. I'm in the wrong room.'He was very nice and sweetly said, 'that's all right child & smiled."
Dwight Stewart used to go by his house to hear him preach. " I went in the house and stood. I didn't want to sit down. His goats came in and out of the house as they wanted too," Dwight reminisced. Leaving the house and its pretty strong odor behind, Preacher McCartney got his Bible and from his podium preached a sermon to Stewart and his friend. To pay his bills, McCartney sold postcards to his admirers. "I bought two of them. I still have them." Stewart fondly remembered.
Kim Kirz and her family traveled from Dublin to Macon every Sunday for Sunday school. Whenever possible, the Kirz family would stop and visit. "The goat nursery under his wagon was our favorite thing to check out," Kim said. Lynn Alligood begged her daddy to stop by the "Goat Man's" school bus house every time they came back from Macon. Lynn also remembered seeing him across from the old drive-in theater. "People were lined up to get their pictures made with him," Alligood remarked. Jan Stanley Edwards also remembered the clanging pots and thought to herself that when she grew up, she wanted to be like the "Goat Man." Marilyn Freeman Dailey also visited the "Goat Man" at his home, but also remembered seeing him during a vacation on U.S. Highway 1 near Daytona.
Cindy S. Brown's daddy was in a bank in Dublin one day when the "Goat Man" came in to cash a check back in the early to mid 50's. "The 'Goat Man's check was for $500, a good bit of money back then. The banker called Macon to verify that the check was good and was told that his check is good up to fifty thousand dollars," Cindy recollected.
Connie Dominy wrote, "He used to camp out on 80 in the area right across from where Bank of America is. There is a car dealership there now. We use to go up and hang out with him. His wagon had car tags from different states all over it. He also had other things, like pots and pans hanging off the side. I remember he would straddle a goat, milk it and then turn the mason jar up and drink it. He would offer us kids some. Underneath the wagon was his nursery area for a better word. That is where the babies and sometimes the mama's would ride. He and the goats would sleep in the wagon. He would make a campfire and cook beans and stuff. He was a preacher and would always preach some. He was a gentle man and would take time with us kids. He would let us hold the little baby goats and of course pet the others. He would sit on an old bucket while talking to us. He had about eight goats that pulled his wagon and would tie others up to walk behind the wagon. I remember the look and smell. Once his son was with him. I remember the son went into the woods and came out smelling like baby powder. Every time he came through and stopped up there, we would all go up and hang out with him. As a kid, I was not afraid of him at all. He was so gentle. He used to tell us about places he had traveled. I also remember going up 80 and stopping at his house outside Jeffersonville. And his house had a school bus and little church on the grounds."
As for me, I wish I had the writing bug thirty five years ago, for I could kick myself all the times I drove by him as I was coming home from college. Let that be a lesson to us all.
If you have memories of the man we called, "The Goat Man," please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.