Is Lake Lanier haunted? People are asking the question after two more incidents turned the focus back on to the grim history of the northern Georgia reservoir.
On Saturday, the body of 23-year-old Anthony Saintil, Jr was recovered from the lake after he jumped off of a pontoon boat and didn’t resurface. An hour and a half later six people were injured when a boat exploded during refuelling.
How was Lake Lanier formed?
The formation of Lake Lanier was achieved by flooding valley communities in north Georgia throughout the 1950s. This was done primarily to provide drinking water and hydroelectricity to surrounding areas, including the growing Atlanta.
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The fact one community contained a cemetery contributes to beliefs the lake is cursed.
Lanier was a project of the US Army Corps of Engineers, a government body that aims “to deliver vital public and military engineering services”.
After 700 families sold a 56,000-acre area of mostly farmland to the Army Corps of Engineers, they demolished or moved anything they considered dangerous.
They uprooted trees and hauled them away. Barns and wooden structures that could float and endanger watercraft were moved, according to CNN.
A dam was then built on the nearby Chattahoochee River to form the lake. In 1956, six years after the project began, the water began filling the area.
Since then, it has become a popular destination for swimmers, fishers and boaters. The lake was visited by about 12 million people last year.
Is Lake Lanier haunted? Deaths and urban legend converge
Urban legend around Gainsville, a city that straddles the north east corner of the lake, says a spooky female figure has haunted the area since a car accident in the 1950s.
Locals call her The Lady Of The Lake. The figure wanders up and down the bridge on Dawsonville Highway, just outside Gainesville, according to local lore.
According to a local legend, in 1958, two young ladies on the way to a dance careered off the road and into the water while wearing their party gowns.
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The Gainsville Times says the body of one of the women was found by a fisherman 18 months after the accident.
“The body was missing two toes on her left foot and had no hands,” Ted Garner, director of media services and assistant professor of communication at Brenau University, said, noting the woman on the bridge seemed to be without her hands.
As mentioned, there was also cemetery in the area. This contributes to the legends claiming Lake Lanier is haunted. Cesar Yabor, a spokesman for the US Army Corps of Engineers, told CNN in October 2020 the Corps cleared marked graves but may have missed some unmarked ones.
“The technological capability to identify and verify unmarked burial sites through subsurface scanning or other means was far less robust 70 years ago,” he said.
“While the Corps made every effort at the time to locate unmarked burials, the limited capabilities of the time make it probable that unanticipated finds of human remains are possible.”
He said that unmarked graves were likely to be from the antebellum and Civil War periods, or of Native American origin from pre-colonial and ancient times.
Lake Lanier does have a sinister past that is not legend, but fact. Between 1994 and October last year, 203 people died in drownings and boating incidents at Lake Lanier, according to Mark McKinnon, of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Death of Anthony Saintil and unrelated boat explosion
On Sunday, Anthony Saintil’s name was added to that list when he dived and never resurfaced. The 23-year-old jumped off a pontoon boat near Flat Creek, just outside of Gainesville, around Saturday midday.
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A man’s body was recovered just before 1pm on Sunday via sonar scan at the mouth of Balus Creek on the lake in 40-plus feet of water.
The search for Saintil went into the night Saturday and started again at 8am Sunday. By the early afternoon there was another incident.
Two teenagers and an adult were seriously injured and several other people were hurt when a boat exploded while refuelling at a resort near Buford, on the lake’s south shore.
Lake Lanier’s size and popularity contribute to the tall tales, and its high visitation rate also means more fatalities, Yabor of the Army Corps of Engineers said.
At its peak Lake Lanier held about 625 billion gallons of water and was visited by about 12 million people last year.
“While we recognise that urban legends can develop over time… first and foremost is our concern for public safety,” Yabor said. “So we certainly do not want to create an inviting atmosphere for the curious to come out to Lake Lanier for urban legend exploration or similar risky acts.”