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The town on Edwards on Saturday honors the 75th anniversary of the Clear Creek Disaster and celebrates the heroism and lore of legendary character Andrew “Sugarman” Daniel at a day-long festival.
“It’s what I dreamed , but never actually thought would happen,” said author Joedda “Jody” Gore, whose recent book “Sugarman” was inspired by the Edwards man and the 1939 tragedy. All were featured in a Dec. 27 story in The Clarion-Ledger that Gore credited with helping spur memorial activities.
Warren and Hinds County are designating roads on both sides of the Big Black River after Daniel. Also, there’s a request in for a historical marker in Edwards as the home of Andrew “Sugarman” Daniel, Gore said.
Among Saturday’s festivities is a Sugarman Look-alike contest that’ll be followed by a pet parade, recalling Daniel’s menagerie of pets, including some he’d trained to run errands.
Gore said they’ll record the memories of those at the festival, from relatives and descendants of survivors and those killed in the tragedy, and from townfolk and more who knew Daniel.
“People want to talk about this man, whatever their connection is.”
Andrew “Sugarman” Daniel got his nickname from the kids he gave candy to, and his fame from his recovery work in the 1939 Clear Creek tragedy in Edwards.
Joedda “Jody” Gore hopes her book “Sugarman” will spread his story beyond the small town where memories of him became local legend and that a historical marker and a ceremony next March will honor the event’s 75th anniversary and mark the site of the bridge washout that claimed 16 lives and lent Daniel the label of hero.
In the accident on a dark and rainy night March 29, 1939, spring flash flooding swelled Clear Creek, a Big Black River tributary, and debris battered the pilings of the U.S. 80 bridge. The road was a main thoroughfare between Atlanta and Dallas; when the bridge washed out, at least a dozen vehicles plunged into the torrent before someone stopped and blocked the way. It was called the state’s worst highway disaster.
Daniel, a volunteer fireman and strong swimmer described as “big,” “brawny,” “giant” and “quite the physical specimen” in news reports, worked tirelessly through the night to recover bodies before they were swept downstream. Even after divers from New Orleans, with gear, showed up, Daniel went back down into the murky water, hooking cables to cars so they could be pulled out. In one report, a rescue worker said Daniel was able to stay underwater longer without equipment than divers were with it. A Vicksburg news account quoted Daniel about the diving apparatus: “If I had that thing, I could stay down there all day.” Between forays into the chilly water, he was given occasional swigs of whiskey for warmth; he downed two big cups of boiling coffee when sandwiches were served to workers.
Photos from the scene show workers in ankle-deep muck on the creekbank during the recovery and crowds gathered on the jagged edge of crumbled bridge above, looking on.
Spectators and rescue workers at the scene passed the hat in appreciation, collecting $44.62, according to one report, for Sugarman.
The tragedy was a defining one in Edwards but only part of what drew Gore to Sugarman’s story. She never met him. He died in 1969, but stories about him lived on.
She was in college, an English major in her early 20s, when her parents moved to Mississippi after a nomadic background of frequent moves that took the family over several states. When she and her first husband, the late Herb Phillips, moved to Edwards in 1976, it was the first time she’d put down roots. They bought “Jackson” magazine, changed the name to “Mississippi” magazine (and sold it in the early 1980s); people in the community kept telling her they needed to do something on Sugarman.
“Everybody that I talked to, in all these years, had a different memory,” said Gore, who now lives in Clinton with her husband, Paul. The consistent thread painted a picture of a meat cutter and an “animal whisperer,” who was always trailed by a pack of dogs (named by number), a pig, a goat and a sheep that had a possum that clung to its neck like a fur wrap, she said. “They’d follow him, but he had complete control over them.”
Other reports told of his bravery fighting fires, in one case clambering onto the roof to put it out. At a Hinds County cattle show, he’d “bulldogged” an unruly bull that’d broken loose, jumping on its back and wrenching it to the ground by its horns.
Sugarman’s story was on the shelf for decades; Gore kept gathering anecdotes and taking notes. Spurred by more recent inspiration, she buckled down on the book.
Her book, available as an ebook through Amazon (softcover expected at Amazon within a week and already at CreateSpace) is a fictionalized account; the real characters of Daniel and his wife, Pinkie, inspired the story, and her research and conversations with those who knew and remembered him served as a springboard for characters and dialogue that fleshed out his story, mainly set in 1939. Visit andrewsugarmandaniel.com for details.
Gore said she contacted 2nd District Rep. Bennie Thompson’s office to suggest a commemorative marker for Sugarman. On the ultimate wish list, she’d love to see a statue of him or a movie made of his life and filmed in Edwards. She’s searched for but has been unable to find his grave at Mt. Moriah Church Cemetery in Edwards, where a 1969 account said he was to be buried. “Apparently, his grave is unmarked.”
This past March, Gore organized an informal ceremony at the site of the Clear Creek tragedy; a group of about 20 gathered at the site on the anniversary evening and tossed a rose off the bridge in memory of each drowning victim.
Among them was Sherry Gaddis of Jackson, Sugarman’s great niece (he was her maternal grandmother’s uncle), who tossed a rose in his honor. Gaddis didn’t know him growing up but collected stories from family and community members, and her own research at the state’s Archives and History Department, for a picture of the “very interesting, fascinating character” in her family.
She heard tales of Sugarman having a wild animal, such as a baby fox or a squirrel in his pocket. “Talking to different people, they would tell the same story. He had a way with the animals,” Gaddis said.
Additional stories of his excellent swimming told of Sugarman helping in the retrieval of a bulldozer that went from a levee into a lake and of his diving to help an Eagle Lake fisherman recover eyeglasses lost after his boat tipped over. He was also an excellent hunter and outdoorsman, Gaddis said. He’d clean the water tower in Edwards and afterward, sit atop it and play the harmonica and sing while his menagerie of dogs sat at the base “and they would all be howling.”
There were even stories of his sending animals to run his errands — a dog with a $20 bill to town, to get his clothes from the cleaners, and a hog or a sheep, escorted by dogs, to get groceries or his mail. “It all depends on what he had at the time,” Gaddis said. “I was told that, whichever one he would send to the post office would stand in line and wait his turn,” with a basket to deliver the mail home.
“He just had them all trained.”
The 1969 Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News story advancing Sugarman’s funeral told of a pet goat that, after his death, bleated around town, looking for him.
He could pick up any old pipe and make a flute of it; when he passed the schoolhouse, kids would crowd the windows to watch as the “parade” passed, Gore said. “The heroism is how he’s remembered on the greater scale, but he has all these other stories.”
To contact Sherry Lucas, call (601) 961-7283 or follow @SherryLucas1 on Twitter.