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Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Century-old sacrifices now remembered in downtown memorial

Line-of-duty deaths from 1908, 1926, 1927 added to Macon’s Public Safety Memorial
Liz Fabian
Representatives of the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department salute fallen firefighters, including W.B. Norton who died in 1926.

The names of a chain gang guard with a horse-drawn wagon, a fire inspector and a Prohibition-era police detective now are etched in three black granite monuments in Macon’s Public Safety Memorial Park. 

Under Friday morning’s gray skies, Taps played for these men about a century or more after they suffered fatal injuries in the line of duty for the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, Macon-Bibb County Fire Department and former Macon Police Department.

Each year around May 15 and Sept. 11, the community gathers at the memorial on Mulberry Street to remember local lives lost in service. 

For the first time since this tribute began in 2011, mourners learned of the sacrifices of 28-year-old James Walter Johnson, William B. Norton and Samuel Bentley Arnold, both 48 when they died. 

On June 16, 1908, Johnson was guarding the sheriff’s chain gang about 13 miles outside of Macon on Houston Road when he accidentally shot himself getting into the wagon.

As Johnson climbed up, the trigger on his double-barreled shotgun caught on a wheel spoke and the gun discharged.

Nearly an hour after the shot, a telephone message reached town. Two doctors set out in an automobile and sped to the scene in about 18 minutes, but it was too late to save him.

The Telegraph described the devastating wound: “The entire contents of the gun entered the shoulder between the neck and arm. Death ensued about an hour afterwards.” 

The Elm Street resident was survived by his wife and child.

“The sad intelligence of his death was communicated to them” that night, according to the newspaper article. 

Just before 9 a.m. on a late September morning of 1926, a pile of cork caught fire at the Atlantic Ice and Coal Company on Waterville Road.

Fire engine No. 4 left from the old headquarters at City Hall on First Street. At about the same time, firefighter Lawrence Self drove with Assistant Chief V.E. Armstrong and Norton riding on the rear seat of the chief’s car, according to the coroner’s inquest.  

Although the vehicles went different routes, they came to the intersection of Hazel Street and Broadway at the same time. 

Self, headed on Broadway, swerved to avoid the fire engine turning from Hazel Street. 

A front wheel collapsed and the car slammed into a telephone pole. 

Norton was thrown from the car, suffered a fatal head injury and died at the hospital.

Self suffered minor injuries and Chief Armstrong broke his collarbone and ribs.  

The fire engine proceeded to the call and the building only suffered minor damage.

Early one morning in mid-December of 1927, Macon Police detectives Samuel Bentley Arnold and W.V. Peavy were tailing a suspected bootlegger.

While giving chase on Pierce Avenue, their car hit a hole in the road, overturned and struck a fence and flipped. The 11-year police veteran suffered a skull fracture, never regained consciousness and died in the hospital a couple days later on Dec. 15, 1927.

Just two months earlier in a Prohibition raid, Arnold was lauded in The Telegraph after he and another “dry officer” were “nosing around” the Buffeteria restaurant in Wall Street Alley between Cherry and Mulberry streets. They discovered a cache of 81 whiskey bottles hidden in the wall resulting in the proprietors’ arrests. 

Bibb County sheriff’s deputies laid white roses at the base of monuments to fallen officers during the 2024 Peace Officers Memorial Ceremony. (Jason Vorhees, The Georgia Trust)

A bell tolled as the 37 names of the local fallen were read and the new names were revealed in the ceremony. Deputies and firefighters placed white roses at the base of the three monuments dedicated to lives lost at the sheriff’s office, fire and police departments. 

“The roses that we place signify strength, respect, devotion and love,” said Macon Regional CrimeStoppers Chairman Warren Selby Jr. “We will never forget.”

In the 13 years since the markers were placed downtown, community members came forward with new names that had not been memorialized.

“As we continue to do this service, more and more people hear about it,” Selby said. “We do research and assuming they did pass away in the line of duty, we add them.”

The spring ceremony occurs around National Police Week and Peace Officers Memorial Day May 15, which was declared by President John F. Kennedy in 1962.

“Today, we remember our brave law enforcement officers who stood firm, who answered the call for justice, embracing the spirit of warriors even in the face of darkness,” Bibb Sheriff’s Col. Henderson Carswell said, as he paid tribute to former Macon police officers. 

The community also honors those local sacrifices annually on Sept. 11, the deadliest day for public safety officers in U.S. history due to the hundreds of public servants killed in the terrorist attacks of 2001. 

Lingering clouds shrouding downtown from the morning’s rain prevented the planned Georgia State Patrol flyover, but the haunting sound of a single trumpet closed the ceremony following a prayer from Macon-Bibb Fire Chaplain Levornia Franklin: “Police, sheriff, fire department — these lives men and women have given that we may have the community we desire to have. We pray for their families, oh God, who have given the ultimate sacrifice. We ask you to cover us and them on this journey.”

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.

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