The old bridge had been standing for 34 years before crews began to expand it in November of 1990. By then, the 1,200 feet of steel spanning the Chattahoochee River had already been subjected to decades of sweltering Georgia summers and the kind of bone chilling, wet cold that penetrates parts of the southeast each winter. And in that time, the old bridge had generated a reputation for the supernatural.
Today, Georgia’s Jerry D. Jackson bridge is an afterthought to commuters on State Route 53, a weathered, 63-year old relic from the first days of Lake Lanier when its waters had barely reached full pool and Elvis Presley and Hank Williams ruled the radio. But some say the bridge is not the only remnant of forgotten times still looming over the old highway. In fact, they say, they are almost sure of it.
In 1958, just two years after the bridge opened, Delia Parker Young and Susie Roberts sped out of a gas station without paying en route to the nearby town of Dawnsonville. Their feet likely thumped to the pulse of Presley’s latest hit, “King Creole,” as the faint glow of the headlights on Robert’s 1954 Ford sedan lit their way through the southern night. They were two rebels on the run, headed to the Three Gables Roadhouse—and they never made it home.
18 months later, a local fisherman would spot the decomposing body of a woman beneath Jerry D. Jackson bridge. In what must have been a gruesome scene, the bloated body floated on the lake’s surface, missing two toes from its left foot while its arms buoyed vainly without hands; appendages that had perhaps fallen victim to a traumatic end or the slow, digestive tracts of the lake’s catfish. It’s no surprise, then, that the body could not be identified by coroners. But even then, locals near Dawsonville were already convinced of its identity.
The mysterious body had to be Delia Parker Young.
They knew it was Delia, they said, because dozens of drivers on State Route 53 had seen her after she vanished, appearing as a ghostly, handless apparition sauntering down the highway in a blue dress. The ghost appeared to be lost, they said, almost as if she was searching, but for what no one could say.
Decades passed as Delia’s legend grew into a local myth. Visiting the old bridge became a right of passage at Dawnsonville High School, as generations of young thrill seekers sped by in search of the Lady of Lake Lanier. Some returned to school the next day swearing they’d seen her. Others were thwarted.
The Lady of Lake Lanier exhibited the classic symptoms of a residual haunting, a phenomenon parapsychologists describe as an apparition that appears more like a recording of a previous event than an interactive entity. According to paranormal experts, residual hauntings are most often found at the location of a traumatic event where the energy of heightened emotions are fused to the fabric of a place.
By November of 1990, Susie Roberts was all but forgotten, and the mysterious body found by a fisherman in 1959 lay resting in an unmarked tomb. For all practical purposes, there was little evidence left from the final ride of that Ford sedan, no fabric remaining but the bridge, the highway and a myth.
That’s when fate intervened.
Years of wear and tear had finally caught up with the Jerry D. Jackson bridge. As work began on renovations that would expand and refit the bridge, construction workers dredging the bottom of the lake made a startling discovery. Filled with mud, half-buried on the lake’s bottom, they found the twisted wreckage of a 1954 Ford.
The bones of Susie Roberts were still inside.
Dental records soon verified Roberts’ identity, and the discovery made national headlines. Finally, after 34 years, residents of northeast Georgia had a definitive answer to their mystery. Susie Roberts and Delia Parker Young had run off the road high atop the Jerry D. Jackson bridge.
The unmarked tomb was re-labeled with Delia’s name. And the Lady of Lake Lanier?
Some say you can still find her wandering the backroads of State Route 53, slowly making her way from Dawsonville to the top of the old bridge.