Why People Think Lake Lanier Is Haunted — And Racist History Is To Blame For Unexplained Deaths And Accidents

Photo: Tudoran Andrei/Shutterstock
Lake Lanier

Lake Lanier, a reservoir located about an hour from Atlanta in the foothills of the north Georgia mountains officially named Lake Sidney Lanier, continues to be the home of countless accidents — as it has been since the man-made body of water some believe to be haunted was created in 1956.

This year's Fourth of July weekend wasn't all fireworks and star-spangled bathing suits for some of the lake’s visitors, who many are saying are just the latest victims of the curse of Lake Lanier and its dark, racist past.

In just one of several life-threatening accidents on Lake Lanier that weekend, a large crowd of partiers suffered a shocking turn of events when an entire dock sank underneath them for no obvious reason.

Several people captured video footage of the dock sinking as those on the dock scrambled for dry land, and clips of the incident filmed from different angles have been widely shared on social media.

One of the most popular edits is set to Celine Dion's iconic '90s hit "My Heart Will Go On" from "Titanic,” dubbing the event Dockalypse 2021 in an Instagram caption.

Thankfully no one was injured, but in separate incidents, two people were transported to the hospital that Saturday after suffering burn injuries in a boat fire, a boat capsized with five people onboard, and another boat ran aground — reigniting talk that the lake is haunted due to its racist past.

Is Lake Lanier haunted?

Urban legend has it Lake Lanier — site of an "unusually high number of deaths... everything from boating accidents and drownings to cars sliding off the road and into the water for seemingly no obvious reason" is either cursed or haunted.

Not only has Lake Lanier claimed the life of at least 675 of its visitors since it built, with the death toll climbing past 20 deaths per year on occasion, but most of the tragic drownings occurred under strange conditions.

Many strong swimmers have been lost "close to shore and in calm water conditions," and some who survived near drowning in the lake have reported a feeling of "being dragged beneath the water by invisible hands."

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Some say a ghost known as the Lady of Lake Lanier haunts the waters.

More specifically, a young woman named Delia Mae Parker Young drowned in Lake Lanier in April of 1958, alongside her friend Susie Roberts.

Roberts had been driving across the Lanier Bridge when, for unknown reasons, she lost control of her car, sending both women to their untimely deaths.

A body now believed to have been Young's was found — notably missing both hands and multiple toes — a year later, though she was not identified until Roberts body was also found 30 years later, in 1990.

Over the decades, people have claimed to see an "apparition of a young woman in a blue dress" walking the length of Lanier Bridge ... missing her hands.

Other potentially supernatural sightings at Lake Lanier include a "mysterious raft seen floating on the lake late at night," manned by a "shadowy figure pushing along with a pole, a lantern lighting his way."

And then there are those who believe structures left behind on the lake’s bottom in the process of its creation may be to blame for the many boating accidents and drownings.

Many say Lake Lanier is haunted by its racist history.

Lake Lanier is now home to one of the deadliest underwater surfaces in America, but before it was built in 1956 for the sake of flood control, drinking water, and hydroelectric power, the site was home to a variety of communities.

The lake resides mostly in Forsyth County, Georgia, which was part of the Cherokee Nation until the 1830s. At that time, the U.S. government forced the indigenous community out of the area, making the county one of the southeastern-most origins of the Trail of Tears.

Over the next 80 years, the county became reinhabited, including a thriving Black community composed of approximately 1,100 people.

In September of 1912, a white woman was raped and murdered in a town known as Oscarville.

The crime was pinned on four young Black people who lived in the town — Ernest Knox, 16, Oscar Daniel, 18, Trussie “Jane” Daniel (Oscar’s sister), 22, and Robert “Big Rob” Edwards, 24.

Days after their arrests, Edwards's was lynched by a white mob who invaded his jail cell, shot him, dragged him through the streets and hung him from a telephone pole.

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This display of violence was only the beginning for Black residents of Forsyth County.

White mobs, known as night riders, went on a violent spree, burning Black churches and businesses and threatening to do worse if all Black residents didn't leave town immediately. Terrfied, the Black community gave in and fled, leaving most of their possessions behind.

The following month, Ernest Knox and Oscar Daniel were convicted and some five thousand people watched as the two teenagers were hung for a crime they are today believed to have been innocent of.

Then in 1950, the U.S. government approved a $1 billion project to build the Buford Dam, feeding the soon-to-be established Lake Lanier with water from the Chattahoochee and Chestatee Rivers.

Created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and named for Confederate Army poet Sidney Lanier, Lake Lanier's construction process involved the destruction of over 50,000 acres of Black owned farmland, the displacement of more than 250 black families and the relocation of 20 Black cemeteries, corpses included.

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Before the work could begin, the land on which the lake now sits had to be purchased.

The first land sale took place in 1948, when an 81-year-old ferryman sold his 100 acre farm to the government for $4,100.

Over the next few years, the Army Corps of Engineers proceeded to purchase more than fifty thousand acres of land. It's been reported that families who refused to sell their property or businesses had their land seized and were forcibly removed.

The construction of the Buford Dam began in 1950 and lasted for six years. In 1956, it began filling with water, as the site that once housed Native American and Black communities was completely flooded over.

Many structures were deconstructed and relocated elsewhere, but all buildings made of concrete or brick were left abandoned and consumed by the new lake.

Although some effort was made to relocate the bodies resting in the town's 20 cemeteries, not all were able to be moved, leaving many still at the bottom of the lake.

Remains of the previous community can still be found at the bottom of Lake Lanier to this day.

Bridges, toll gates, historical landmarks and ferries still sit decaying on the lake’s floor.

One of the most memorable losses was a half-mile dirt racetrack known as Looper Speedway.

The speedway was lost until 2007 when a drought caused Lake Lanier’s water levels to drop dramatically, exposing long forgotten remnants.

Some believe that the forgotten town at the bottom of Lake Lanier may be to blame for the many deaths and accidents that have happened on the lake since its creation.

Whether the curse of the lake is to blame for its death toll or not, Lake Lanier still proves to be as dangerous as ever.

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Livvie Brault is a writer who covers self-love, news and entertainment and relationships for YourTango.