Tuesday Terror: The Curse of Lake Lanier

Updated on  
Tuesday Terror: The Curse of Lake Lanier

Forsyth County, Georgia, home of Lake Lanier, has a violent and tragic history.

In the 1830s, its Cherokee inhabitants were expelled from their ancestral lands and sent away west along the Trail of Tears; more than 4,000 Cherokee died on the genocidal journey.

And eighty years later, in 1912, a still-unsolved murder of a white woman sparked a frenzy of anti-Black violence that led to the lynching of three innocent Black boys and the expulsion of every single Black resident from the county. 

In 1956, the US Army Corps of Engineers flooded 60 square miles of Forsyth County, including the town of Oscarville, to create Lake Lanier. Under the water went lush farmland, homes, shops, even a stadium... and the town cemetery.

And more than 500 people have died in Georgia's deadliest lake since then.

The Drowned City

Oscarville, Georgia was a bustling Southern town in the 1940s. It had shops, businesses, churches, historical landmarks, the Looper Speedway racetrack, and acres upon acres of farmland outside of town. To create Lake Lanier, the US government needed the land. Those who were willing to sell, the government paid (unlike the Black and Indigenous residents who had been evicted from their land many years earlier.)

Buildings that could be moved were moved - and many family cemeteries had their remains disinterred and relocated. But buildings that were too difficult to move were left behind, as were countless unmarked graves, and a few abandoned cemeteries. The stadium seating from the Looper Speedway emerges like a ghost from the water during droughts. 

So there is a drowned city at the bottom of Lake Lanier - and it's filling up with drowned people, too.

The "Lady of the Lake"

The Lanier Lake deaths began in 1958, when Delia May Parker Young and Susie Roberts took their car for a joyride and careened off a bridge. Perhaps they'd been drinking. Certainly, they'd been at a dance. They were very young, in their early twenties, and were taking the risks that so many young people do. They thought themselves invincible. So did we all, in our early twenties.

And then they were gone.

Susie's body remained in that car until divers discovered it, still in that car, at the bottom of the lake in 1990. But Delia's decomposing body was discovered by a fisherman in 1959, still wearing scraps of the blue dress she'd worn the night she drowned. Locals claim they've seen her ghost at the edge of the lake, wearing that same blue dress, with handless arms and an eyeless face. Some say she's tried to drag them underwater to join her.

Others, drowned, can make no claim.

A Deadly Legacy

And the deaths keep happening. Swimmers dive in and never resurface. Boats crash and eject their passengers into the murk. Even the silt at the bottom of the lake is dangerous: a unique, antibiotic-resistant strain of staphylococcus bacteria lurks in the mud, infecting divers and beachgoers with a difficult-to-treat illness.

Perhaps the lake's most famous victim is R&B star Usher's 11-year-old stepson Kile Glover, who perished in 2012 of injuries sustained on a family jet-skiing excursion at Lake Lanier. 

The underwater landscape of the lake is particularly hazardous, even without a curse. Lake-weeds choke submerged buildings and reach tendrils up towards swimmers, entangling their limbs; the rusted wrecks of cars and tractors and even ferries are obstacles, sometimes unmarked, for boat propellors. 

But word of the curse persists, in whispers and at funerals. The number of deaths is just too high, people say. And they've seen the ghosts. They know the history, how many people were driven off the land or murdered on it. The soil is soaked in blood.

Buck Buchannon, a Georgia diver who’s explored much of Lake Lanier, told local television station WGCL-TV in 2017 that he’d encountered a number of body parts during his dives into the murky water.

“You reach out into the dark & you feel an arm or a leg and it doesn't move,” he said. “Nobody has been able to lay them to rest. They’re on the bottom of Lanier."

"Hopefully you find them before they find you.”

Fascinated by hauntings and mysterious disappearances? Try The Disappearance of Cadet Turner for ages 8 and up, or Post Mortem LA: Lights, Camera, Murder for an old Hollywood story of murder and intrigue.

Published on  Updated on  




I recently watched an episode of Shatner’s UnXplained (What Lies Below) that talked about Lake Lanier. Very cool.

The Professor

I am from Georgia and when I was growing up enjoyed Lake Lanier. I lived in Forsyth county for a little while as well. To see you did a story about Lake Lanier caught my eye. It is an interesting history and makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Susan Randall

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.