Von Gammon

Von GammonRichard Vonalbade “Von” Gammon played on some of UGA’s earliest football teams. He quarterbacked the team in 1896, then played fullback and on defense for the 1897 team. That team won their first two games against Clemson and Georgia Tech. The third game was against the University of Virginia, played in Atlanta on October 30. Early in the second half, Von Gammon charged into a large group of players in an attempt to make a tackle. When the play was over and the players unpiled, Gammon lay motionless on the ground. Several teammates tried to communicate with him, but he was unable to speak. He was carried to the sidelines, where he began vomiting. Two doctors in the stands came to Gammon’s aid and injected morphine into his chest in an attempt to revive him, but they soon determined that he had a severe concussion. He was rushed to Grady Hospital in an ambulance, but there was nothing more the house surgeon could do. Von Gammon died from his injury early in the morning of October 31. The Macon Historic Newspapers Archive includes an article from The Macon Telegraph that reports the events of October 30.

The Macon Telegraph, Oct. 31, 1897
October 31, 1897

News of his death spread throughout the state causing shock and outrage. There were accusations that the Virginia players had been intentionally rough on the play, but this was quickly denied by players of both teams. In fact, the Virginia players were as devastated by the news as were the citizens of Georgia. As a result of the incident, every college in Georgia with a football program voluntarily disbanded their teams (this included the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Mercer). The Georgia General Assembly was in session at the time, and on November 1, 1897, a member of the House of Representatives introduced a resolution outlawing football in the state; it passed by a vote of 91-3. The Senate followed with a vote outlawing football on November 18; it passed 31-4. The bill only needed the signature of Georgia governor William Y. Atkinson to become law and end football in the state. Several articles from the Athens Daily Banner, available in the Athens Historic Newspapers Archive address the status of football at the University of Georgia.

Other newspaper editorials supported the movement to end football in Georgia, whether by legislation or voluntarily on the part of the players, such as this one from The Macon Telegraph.

The Macon Telegraph, Nov. 21, 1897
November 21, 1897

It was at this point that Von Gammon’s mother, Rosalind Burns Gammon,  intervened. Despite her grief at her son’s death, she did not want the sport outlawed. She penned a letter to her local representative, which said:

It would be the greatest favor to the family of Von Gammon if your influence could prevent his death being used for an argument detrimental to the athletic cause and its advancement at the University. His love for his college and his interest in all manly sports, without which he deemed the highest type of manhood impossible, is well known by his classmates and friends, and it would be inexpressibly sad to have the cause he held so dear injured by his sacrifice. Grant me the right to request that my boy’s death should not be used to defeat the most cherished object of his life. …

After learning about the letter and Mrs. Gammon’s feelings, Governor Atkinson vetoed the resolution on December 7, 1897,  and ended the movement to ban football in Georgia.

The Athens Daily Banner, Dec. 8, 1897
December 8, 1897

Mrs. Gammon is now revered in Georgia lore as the woman who saved college football for the state. In 1921, surviving members of the University of Virginia football team presented a plaque to the University of Georgia in honor of Von Gammon and his mother when the two schools met to play on November 5.

The Red and Black, Oct. 28, 1921
October 28, 1921
October 28, 1921
October 28, 1921

On October 30, 1997, one hundred years to the day after the game in which Von Gammon was fatally injured, the University of Georgia’s student newspaper The Red and Black ran a story on him and his mother; it showed UGA’s senior linebacker Greg Bright reading the plaque presented by members of the Virginia football team in 1921, and the written plea from Mrs. Gammon to Governor Atkinson to keep Georgia football alive.

The Red and Black, Oct. 30, 1997
October 30, 1997

Digital Library of Georgia resources used for this blog entry:

Macon Historic Newspapers Archive

Athens Historic Newspapers Archive

The Red and Black: An Archive of the University of Georgia Student Newspaper

GeorgiaInfo Von Gammon Page


Georgia’s Hidden Historic Gems

If you plan on going for a drive to enjoy the fall foliage, why not take a look at some of these historic Georgia sites? From colonial forts and vibrant theaters to Savannah museums and prehistoric Indian mounds, chances are, with Georgia’s rich history, you can find a cultural resource that anyone in the family will enjoy. So buckle up and take a (virtual) road trip, starting with these sites.

Kolomoki Mounds State Historic Park, located on a tributary of the Chattahoochee River in Early County, contains seven preserved prehistoric mounds that were occupied from 1000 BC to AD 900. The mounds were likely used for various ceremonial and mortuary rites by the indigenous Swift Creek and Weeden Island cultures. At the height of Kolomoki civilization, it was possibly among the most populous settlements north of Mexico. The mounds were excavated between 1894 and 1897, and again from 1948 to 1953. The results of these excavations, such as the kneeling ceramic figure (left), can be viewed by the public in a museum built on the park property. The museum’s exhibits present patrons with a history of the site, while also allowing them an interior view one of the mounds. More information about the Kolomoki mounds, as well as other Georgia state parks, can be found in the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Established by General James Oglethorpe in 1735, Fort Frederica is located on St. Simons Island. The site served as a British colonial military base; the star-shaped fort was strategically located on a high bluff, offering both protection and a superior view of the surrounding waterways. In 1742, the Spanish launched a siege to take possession of the fort after British forces failed to overpower Spanish possession of the city of St. Augustine during the War of Jenkins’ Ear.  Despite being outnumbered, the British, led by Oglethorpe, forced a Spanish retreat after a two-week skirmish at Bloody Marsh. This was the last time the Spanish threatened English holdings in the area,  and the British regiment disbanded in 1749. Nine years later, a fire reduced much of the fort to ashes; however, its ruins (pictured above) have been retained as the Fort Frederica National Monument, a reminder of the military struggles of the colonial era. More images of Fort Frederica can be viewed in the Vanishing Georgia collection.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Springer Opera House in Columbus was built in 1871 by Alsatian immigrant Joseph Frances Springer, who wished to establish a European-style theater in the American south. The Springer Opera House quickly established a reputation for being one of the finest opera houses in the country. In its heyday, the theater boasted a diverse series of lectures and performances from renowned figures that included politicians William Jennings Bryan and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth, and Georgia blues singer Gertrude “Ma” Rainey. However, the theater fell into disuse after the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent decline of Columbus’ commercial district. Community support saved the Springer from demolition in 1964, and it reopened in 1965 after a series of renovations (see above image). Today, the expanded Springer Opera House serves as the official state theater of Georgia and is home to a thriving theater community. To view more images of the Springer Opera House, check out related items in the Vanishing Georgia collection. More information about the history of the theater and current showings can be located at the Springer Opera House website.

Originally constructed in 1818 by Savannah mayor James Wayne, this Federal-style “Savannah box” home was sold to the Gordon family in 1831;  Juliette Gordon Low was born here in 1860. In 1911, Low met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the worldwide Scouting movement; their meeting inspired her to become involved with the Girl Guides of Great Britain. Recognizing the need for a similar organization for American girls, Low returned to Georgia and founded the Girl Scouts of the United States of America; the first registered members were located in Savannah. She dedicated the rest of her life to scouting. In 1925, two years before her death, there were over ninety thousand Girl Scouts active in America. Today, the Wayne-Gordon house (see image on right), is a museum dedicated to the history of the Girl Scouts and the memory of their founder; the home has become a congregating point for modern-day Girl Scouts all across America. More images of the Wayne-Gordon House can be found in the digital collection  Historic Architecture and Landscapes of Georgia: The Hubert Bond Owens and John Linley Image Collections at the Owens Library. Further information about the house’s history and tours can be found at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace website.

These sites are just a few of Georgia’s historic gems, why not hit the road this fall and discover them?