The Thomas E. Watson Papers Digital Collection
Interview 2, Tape 5
Interview with Georgia Watson Craven by David Moltke-Hanson, part 5
Discussion of the funeral for Thomas E. Watson in Thompson, Ga.; people's reaction to her grandfather's death; people's later attitudes towards her as a Watson; the social world of the Watson's and of her grandfather: "Watson people" including the Gibson family; visitors and house guests in her grandfather's home. [24 minutes, 21 seconds]
David Moltke-Hanson: Let's finish the funeral in Thomson for your grandfather.
Georgia Watson Craven: It was in September of 1922 and almost time for my cousin and me to go back to school in Washington. Grandfather died in Chevy Chase and we were in Thomson—my grandmother was in Thomson. Of course having had the place he had in Georgia politics, it was a tremendous outpouring of grief to the people who came. Thomson was said to have had three to five thousand extra people there for that particular day. Certain public groups who were in on the planning of all this wanted to have my grandfather lie in state at the Capitol, but Grandmother said no, that she knew that Grandfather would prefer to have as Alexander Stevens had, to have people come to what was his home and what he was and that was McDuffie County, which, of course, in those early days when they came there was the parish of St. Paul under the English king. They had the casket in that back room that went across... the office because they people could enter on one side and go straight through without getting in any other room and they poured through by the hundreds and thousands. I think that one reason that I feel so sincerely that my grandfather's interest in the common man was sincere was the faces of farmers, dirt farmers, poor people, people who had worked hard all their lives, carrying little boys, little Tom Watsons, named my grandfather as a prominent man that they admired simply on that basis—how much they understood the inner workings of a political system. This was a man who had sponsored their calls. Their grief was real. Some people of course were there out of curiosity, I'm sure of that, but these people had made an effort. The town was overcrowded. It was a big day commercially for all in terms of feeding people and that kind of thing. Then the casket was moved to the parlor, which was the old southern custom in that particular Protestant part of the world. There were... I don't remember any church funeral when I was that young. The funerals were held in the homes. Maybe that was because Thomson was as small as it was, but the family sat in there, including Aunt Mandy who had been my grandfather's black nurse when he was a boy. Dr. Forester from Mercer University preached the sermon—I suppose you would say the eulogy from the side porch. There are photographs of course of people all in the yard listening to Dr. Forester. Then, of course, we went to the family plot in the local cemetery for the burial. The flower outpouring of course was indicative of the crowd and the nation.There was a Senatorial delegation that was put up at our little hotel, which was famous up and down the country because of its wonderful dining room and so on. They stayed there. Among the senators, I remember, was Senator Harrison from Mississippi I think. He was a distinguished looking man. I liked him. Senator Heplin at the time, I don't know whether he was the father or grandfather or what of the present Senator Heplin from Alabama, he had been a friend of my grandfather's with an extreme Southern point of view in the Senate. I don't remember who the rest of the people were. Senator Harris must have been there.It was a country day, but with a dignity that I will always give to my grandfather. Now, of course, he lost it at extreme times, like that arrest in Buford at the end of his life. I don't think people have... they always mention you know the fact that he had lost all of his children, but I think the personal grief in his family had a great deal to do with certain psychological twists that came later and the persecution of the Populist period. All of those things... I always said that I didn't always agree with my grandfather, but I understood why he could be twisted this way and that way and so on. I'm beginning to grow up enough myself to see that he was right in being the unpopular opposition. This is what Tom sees that I didn't see and I hope that some future historian will be able to see that, and right the thing or put certain things in their place instead of an overemphasis on the negative side of things.To go back to that particular day, there was the funny side too. A big affair of that kind always brings forward some kind of comedy, which is a relief and you should be glad for it. Of course people poured in with cakes and food and all this kind of thing because the people eating at the house were in number too. I remember an aunt by marriage to my grandfather's youngest brother said, "Miss Willie stole half of Miss so-and-so's cake!" There was that kind of comedy. I remember that another relative was said to have gone, and "well where is so-and-so?" "Oh he went to Atlanta on the down train because he wanted to see himself in the movies!" So, it was a time that doesn't happen in families often unless a person is a public figure. It was a public occasion and it was a private occasion. It was not a sensational thing at all.
David Moltke-Hanson: You spoke earlier about the strong feeling I understood of disapproval in Thomson towards many of your grandfather's policies or views or attitudes. At the funeral, was there some sort of transformation process going on? Had he already become with his election to Senator at the end of his career, again the representative of Thomson, or was there still, even after, the real affection and respect in the sense of loss expressed by the thousands of people trooping through the office? I sense that Tom Watson was to be honored but not altogether claimed.
Georgia Watson Craven: I don't think Thomson ever had any pride in him except people of a certain group and class. The people who were his friends and supporters would have done anything for him, but they were lowly people so to speak—that is financially. The people who were pallbearers—I can't name them all now, I've forgotten—one was the grocery store owner. I remember one. I think one of the ones was either the son or the father of a meat market man. My grandmother chose the people of that group who had been loyal to my grandfather all the years—the upper crusts so to speak. We were social, little... whatever Thomson had, everything was democratic, but there were certain people who were... as everywhere. Our friends were in those families. It never made any difference in terms of my aunt or my father didn't participate much in Thomson. Auntie did. As far as my cousin and I were concerned, once in a while we could see what the parents of our friends were saying and thinking in terms of my grandfather, but we never felt isolated or anything of that type.I know Thomson did not rally. That's my impression. Now I can't give specific reasons, but even as a teenager and older, I know who were Watson people. They were poor people. I know who disliked him because they were people who wanted to keep making money and that was connected with the other economic group or philosophy than my grandfather belonged to. Then don't forget that another thing that they never forgave him for in that day and age was the fact that he left the Democratic Party. That goes back to that and that all of those people were political heirs of the Old Glorvin Group. Augusta hated him; the city people hated him. It was the country people. There were other people in Atlanta and places of that kind.
I had a friend at Agnes Scott and I didn't know her well because she was a day school student, but I liked and admired her. She was a brilliant girl. I went a few years ago with an Agnes Scott group to Europe and I went because the man was head of the German Department and this was German trip to see certain pats of Germany that I had never seen. This girl was on the trip too. She was German. Her father I think came from Germany and he was a cabinetmaker. You know, this corpsman class and she said, "Oh, my father admired your grandfather so." This brought a warm feeling to me. It made me go right away towards being friends with Edna. There were certain things that I didn't have to excuse or hide behind or all the rest of it.Later, when I was at Agnes Scott I used to run into people that the minute they found out I was from Thomson and a Watson, it was cold shoulder. There was a social cleavage there of some sort, but Thomson, because of the economic, philosophical differences. Never long term. He did stay isolated. He didn't go sitting in front of the livery stables and talk and crony with people. He had other things to think about and other things to do. We were just on the wrong side.To go back after the funeral—that, of course, was the end of his life—and all through my life I have met people and it's always that wonderful feeling if somebody does appreciate him through the haze and fog and misinformation of these things that mark him as such a prejudiced person.
David Moltke-Hanson: Thinking about the strong feelings that always whirled around your grandfather and his own strong feelings as you've suggested them in the course of our discussions, it would be very interesting I think for a lot of people to know more about the social world you and your parents and your grandfather inhabited. Who were the friends with whom you visited and who visited with you? What were the contacts and the natures of those friendships? That of course will suggest to people too something of who was outside of the Watson circle because of philosophical differences or differences stemming from legal battles of earlier times and so forth.
Georgia Watson Craven: I think that first of all, the personal friendships would be—I mean my own personal friendships where I felt this difference—would be in the town of Thomson. Most of my friends' families, I can think of them as bankers. My grandfather had his own little bank for a while. The bankers were not politically or personally friends. They were just different. They thought so different that there was no social contact between them, but those men as fathers of my friends were dear to me. I loved some of those people. It was always kind and lovely and relaxed at their places. Some of them I felt were hypocritical, religious people. Some of them had nothing to do with religion. They were of a different... there was a great variety in the terms of the heads of these households where we had our personal friends, where children visited back and forward all of our lives.There were a few families who were always what we called Watson people. One of them was the Gibson family—Cicero Gibson family and I guess the Sterling Gibson family. I don't know how much they supported him personally, but there was a deep friendship between Mrs. Cicero Gibson and the Watsons. At one time she had been kind of a private teacher to my father and aunt. She had come from Norwood, Ga., and later her son lived in Hickory Hill when I owned it. He was the young doctor I mentioned. They never held it against us to be on the opposite. They were among the people I think of who shared a common philosophy and political things. I can't seem to remember personal friends. Every now and then somebody's parent would say I agreed with your grandfather about this or didn't agree with him about that or the other. But on the very strong issues that I knew, the adults had enough sense not to hurt the children. There were certain people in town as I walked by the old, very fancy livery stable, I knew that those men didn't like him. They were successful businessmen in some ways.There was not a lot of entertaining back and forth in families in Thomson. I can remember as a child being invited to somebody's dinner and they were my grandfather's friends and there was a visiting child, or one of their daughters was a friend of my aunt's or my father's or that kind of thing. There were people who never let go the antipathy. There were those people who didn't agree, but were human about it and still loved old relationships and kept them up. But my grandparents didn't visit back and forth for dinner with local people, nor did local people do it much, though there were certain families that the entertaining they did, they would go out to what was called the camp meeting ground and invite people out there for supper when they were so-called petty in those old, wooden styled things.The one big party that I remember that my grandparents had I was so young that I don't have a clear vision of it, but in the attic for years there were strings of just boxes and we loved to g et in them and fool with them—tinsel with little red dots on them. This was a big Valentine party and I think dance and I know some of the people who were there. They were my father's age and so on. We were sent upstairs for the night to spend the night. Now nurses were with us and this great thing was going on downstairs. I just have this vague feeling about it all. The next day we were to have a wonderful surprise well that surprise was some sort of Valentine-shaped, I think little Cupids or something, ice cream shapes that had come from either Augusta or Atlanta. That's the only big party I remember.Most of the people who were house guests, that is, guests at the family table, were political people—supporters. Sometimes they were personal friends too, like Major McGregor from Warrenton. The McGregor family and the Watsons were among the few people I can think of who exchanged afternoon visits, made an effort just to come and sit on the front porch in the summertime and maybe have some lemonade or something of that type. My grandfather had a few people in town who came and conversed with him, but they were mostly outsiders. The two that I remember—there was a Baptist minister, who was an intellectual, interested in visiting with my grandfather because they had something in common to talk about, and a Methodist minster. Local people. This I was old enough to remember the individual.The few times he did go downtown, I think that there was just the cold shoulder along the main street probably. "Mr. Watson was in town today" and you know that was an occasion. He didn't have the common touch in that way, but he had it and I think this was because of enmity, but he had it with the so-called big people. Now then they were perfect figures who came and those were partially personal friends and partially political kinds. I can remember a Mr. Ollie. I think he was a judge or some sort of official in Augusta. He used to come and then there was Mr. McLindon from Atlanta. He had something at the state capitol. He was very much a gentleman—a wheelchair patient.