A Georgia Man Is the Latest Death at 'Haunted' Lake Lanier

A boar moves on Lake Lanier near Cumming, Ga., on Dec. 28, 2023. Credit - Mike Stewart—AP

A Georgia man fishing at Lake Lanier drowned on Wednesday, marking the latest in a series of tragedies at the notorious lake rumored to be haunted. There were 13 deaths at Lake Lanier in 2023, compared to 3 at Allatoona—the lake with the next highest number of deaths in the state.

The victim, identified as 73-year-old Matthew Mayo of Gainesville, was fishing out of a bass boat with his wife at the time of the incident. “When the man tried to sit down in the seat, it became unbolted from the floor and caused him to fall into the water,” according to a statement from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Mayo did not resurface. Game Wardens then located his body in six feet of water, and Hall County Fire made a recovery of the body.

All swim areas at the lake are “swim at your own risk” as there are no lifeguards on duty. Outside of swimming areas, Lake Lanier is known to be one of the most dangerous lakes because of boating traffic and submerged debris, per their information page.

Some 12 million people still visit Lake Lanier annually, though it also had the highest number of boating incidents, injuries, and boating under the influence (BUI) incidents in 2023. There have been two recorded drownings so far at Lake Lanier this year, a representative from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources confirmed to TIME.

Lake Lanier is a man-made lake that was built over the historically Black town of Oscarville. Although the community had a strong culture and economy, Oscarville residents were also subject to intense racial violence after 19-year-old Mae Crow, a white woman, was found dead in the nearby woods in 1912. Four Black people were blamed for the crime. One of them, Robert “Big Rob” Edwards, was lynched shortly after his arrest. (Ernest Knox and Oscar Daniel, who were also blamed for Crow’s death, were later tried and hanged.) Mobs also came into the town to drive Black residents out from Forsyth County. Churches and businesses were destroyed, leading Black residents to abandon their homes. More than 1,000 people were displaced, according to the information page.

Afterwards, Oscarville, as the Black community knew it, was no longer. The government purchased 56,000 acres of private land to create Lake Lanier, which was funded with the $45 million Congress allocated for the project. Construction of Lake Lanier was completed in the 1950s and it is currently owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

There are a number of conspiracy theories about the lake being haunted due to its devastating racial history. Part of that is due to the high number of accidents that have occurred because many of the structures that made up Oscarville—including cemeteries and school buildings—were not completely removed before the lake was filled

In 1958, two young girls, Delia May Parker Young and Susie Roberts, skidded off a bridge while crossing over Lake Lanier and disappeared, according to the Oxford American. Locals claim to have seen one of the victims, Parker Young, haunting the lake. Known as the Lady of the Lake, visitors allege that she drags people to the bottom of the lake.

The lake also sits near Forsyth County, which was part of the Cherokee Nation before the U.S. government forcibly displaced indigenous people out of their homes, and on a journey known as the Trail of Tears, according to the Oxford American.

Lake Lanier has also been the subject of an episode on the Netflix investigative series Files of the Unexplained. The lake also won Best Operated Lake of the Year in 1990, 1997, and 2002.

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