pig monument

A close up of the Pig Monument carving.

This is a story about a pig, a boy and a preacher.

It spans almost 90 years. There are as many plot twists as in "Gone Girl," a Gillian Flynn novel. You could call this story "Gone Pig," because the pig, like the missing girl, returns against all odds.

The best thing about the pig story is that it is all true.

THE BOY

Wesley Pittman, 94, grew up on a farm in Washington County. He served in the Merchant Marines in the Pacific in World War II. He came home to a construction job in Sandersville before moving to Milledgeville, where he was head of the grounds at Central State Hospital and later owned a nursery. He is a member of the First United Methodist Church and has been married to Rubye for almost 69 years. 

Pittman was 8-years-old in 1933, hard into the Great Depression that started with the Stock Market crash of 1929.

He wanted to be a part of everything his father, Haywood Pittman, was doing on their farm near Oconee, Ga. As Wesley grew older, he stayed home from school when Haywood needed help in the fields. It was expected.

Jobs were scarce. Money was tight. You might sell a little cotton, but you had to raise your own crops if you wanted to eat.

One day, word got out that Bartow Barron, who owned the farm next to the Pittman's, had lost his prized pig, a fine Duroc swine. It was his only pig. It was his "winter meat" pig. Panic set in as Barron's search for his pig dragged on.

He had called the pig (Sooie, Pig, Sooieeee!), and searched his property high and low, including in a 40-foot deep dry well on his property. 

Still, no pig.

After two weeks of searching, Barron returned to that dry well and staring up at him were the eyes of a thin, very hungry pig. 

He threw turnip tops and other scraps to feed the pig, and he lowered a bucket of water into the well.

The pig was alive, but how could Barron get him out?

There was a man in North Carolina who had the equipment to go down and clean wells. Maybe he could rescue the pig. But it would be a couple of months before the man could travel to Georgia. So it was on to Plan B.

Barron came up with the idea to fill up the well with dirt, shovelful by shovelful. But he would need help.

Word spread like wildfire.

Everybody, including Wesley and Haywood Pittman, wanted to help save the pig.

It was the biggest thing to hit Oconee in years. Some thought the idea was crazy, but they came anyway. 

People came from all around with their shovels and their mules pulling scrapers to help gather dirt and put it in the well. The bottom of the well rose inch-by-inch with the pig squealing and dodging the flying dirt.

The well was filled to about 20 feet deep when someone had the idea to lower a man down on a rope to haul the pig out. But there's a Negative Nellie in every group, even back then.

A man sat on a nearby stump with a shot gun on his lap as he watched the proceedings. He said if anybody went down in that well they were going to get shot. He was bitter about the whole thing.

So the people kept scraping up dirt and pitching it in the well.

And on the 12th day, the pig walked out of the well.

The Barrons rejoiced, as did Wesley, his dad and all the other helpers.

It was an amazing day. People were driving by in wagons pulled by mules or in their Model Ts. They all stopped to talk and ask questions.

The pig had been saved. It was big news in Oconee, Ga., in 1933.

THE PREACHER

Move forward almost 60 years. 

Harold Lawrence is a retired Methodist minister whose next-to-last assignment was at First Methodist in Milledgeville, where he now lives. He is a prolific author and an accomplished woodworker. 

Lawence was looking for Southern stories for his next book of narrative poetry ("Southland and other Poems of the South"), and the story of the pig in the well was a perfect fit. And Pittman, a member of his church, could give him a first-hand account.

So Lawence and Pittman rode down to Washington County to try to find the old well. They walked and walked through the pine thicket. They finally found bricks from the pillars of the old Barron homeplace. And, then, they happened upon the old dry well, which was then three or four feet deep.  

Lawrence had what he called the "harebrained" idea to erect a monument to the pig and the people who helped save it. 

He went to Galen Mills in Elberton, Ga., to have the monument made. He told them the words he wanted on it and to leave a place for the list of donors to the project.

Lawrence sold his idea to many members of his congregation at First Methodist. The late Randoph Puckett, Goat Helton and Gus Pursley were among those signing up to make donations.

Cecil Hodges, who now owns the old Barron property, provided the land.

Once the monument was compete and placed next to the old well just off state Route 272 in Washington County, Lawence put together a dedication ceremony. It was held in October 1992.

Children pulled off the black drape that covered the monument and the crowd cheered. 

Lawrence spoke, a professor from Emory University spoke, and of course, Wesley Pittman spoke. The mayor of Oconee (population 280 in the 2000 census) also spoke. 

The Emory professor who spoke later used Lawence's poem on the pig ("The Depression Pig") in a sermon he preached in Atlanta.

It was fitting ceremony for a town that didn't have many events.

All agreed that Lawrence's words that appear on the monument were perfect:

"On this spot in 1933 during the Great Depression neighbors of a farmer named Bartow Barron joined together to rescue his pig from a dry well. This monument is erected to the spirit of friendship and community so characteristic of those times."

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