Small Town Seer Believes He's A Prophet
WOODBURY [AP] -- Beyond the beer cans that litter the lawn, beside stale stacks of empty juice cartons, beneath spray-painted pocketbooks strung from a rotten ceiling, sits an old man who believes he is a prophet. In the musty wood-frame house where he was born 65 years ago, Jessie Marshall takes telephone calls from people who want winning lottery numbers, their cancer cured or simple direction in a wayward life. Gray-bearded and frail, Marshall claims he has talked to God for years, mostly on behalf of people who have heard his legend and sought his help. ''I been hooked up since I was a kid,'' he said, rambling but clear. ''He told me everything about everything. My eyes is like a camera. It's like making a movie. I see everything. I see it all.'' And people in this tiny town -- the ones who aren't afraid of him, at least -- believe it.
Every morning, Marshall emerges from his ramshackle home and walks. The west Georgia town of Woodbury, population 1,148, knows him for that -- ambling around, talking to anyone who will listen. He walks to the post office, where he purchases exactly one first-class stamp, although the clerk does not know why, nor care to talk about it. And he walks to the little bank, sometimes taking out money, sometimes depositing a check or two. And then he walks home to Rose Avenue, to the unmistakable house he calls the Palatial Palace of Prayer. In the front yard, there are old boxes of frozen dinners, children's toys, upended flower pots. Out back, there are tomato stakes with shopworn shoes hung top to bottom, a rusty bike, a waffle iron, a conch shell. It is a monument to what some people in the South call folk art and what most everyone else calls junk. To Marshall, it is treasure, arranged just so, and he would not dream of cleaning it up. ''All my life, I've seen things,'' he said. ''Here, I've put it all together. I don't like to throw nothing away. It's like death. I don't like death.''
It is inside this house, boxed in by walls entirely obscured by old newspapers that he has saved and nailed up, that Marshall takes calls from people who want his help. The phone rings constantly.
''Most people ain't gonna pray for themselves, so I pray for them,'' he said. ''They want their lives straightened out. That's what most of them need. They need balance. You need balance in your life.''
His work is serious business in Woodbury. Legend has it the state Department of Transportation came here once, to get Marshall to clean up the leg of his property that borders Georgia Highway 85. Then townsfolk told the state workers his story.
''After a while, they just let him keep it there,'' said Gene Oxford, a neighbor. ''They were afraid to move it.''
''He just has a way of knowing some things. He just knows.''
Tammy Johnson is leaning in conspiratorially from her station at the left-most teller stand at Woodbury Banking Co., just off the modest strip of one-story businesses in the heart of town.
She was a skeptic, herself. But Marshall came into the bank one day and predicted a stroke of bad luck would befall her family. Soon after, Johnson's mother was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
Then Johnson had Marshall pray for her recovery. Today the woman is in near-perfect health.
''For some reason or another,'' Johnson said, ''his prayers are always answered.''
Another town legend has it that Marshall, who moved here in the 1970s, predicted ill health for a former mayor -- just before doctors discovered an aneurysm. Years later, another mayor needed a heart transplant, and people in Woodbury claim Marshall foresaw that, too.
''He stays in touch,'' said Robert Lovett, who works at the town water plant. ''He knows what's going on.''
Allen Stephens, who serves as the mayor here when he is not tending his flower shop, said people who have heard the Marshall legend send him letters, asking him to mail back items he has blessed.
''He blesses bird seed a lot,'' the mayor said. ''And from what I understand, it's worldwide.''
Marshall does not ask for anything in return, he said -- although a man who won several thousand dollars on lottery numbers he recommended once paid to have the roof redone on Rose Avenue.
But people pay anyway. The tellers at the bank say they have seen Marshall deposit single checks from out-of-town, or even out-of-state, for thousands of dollars.
Most people who know Marshall -- and most everyone in this town does -- will talk freely about him, smiling and shaking their heads at what he has predicted in the past.
''People are afraid of him. They think he can put spells on them,'' said Tommy Davis, who works at Four Point LP Gas downtown. ''It's like a root doctor. People are scared.
The ol' country folks, they believe that, and they won't cross him, and that's all there is to it.''
Marshall laughs off the notion. He sincerely believes he is a prophet, but does not make much of it. All he has done, he said, is harness the power of prayer.
He grew up poor and Baptist, in a family that clung to God because God was all there was.
And today, he will tell you he believes in simple things -- love, happiness, purity, fairness. He has a deep love of country, and has distributed spray-painted messages of patriotism all over his house.
''We didn't have nothing. That is what my family depended on -- God and working,'' he said. ''God is the only one I look up to. I've been everywhere, and I ain't never seen anyone smarter.''
Story originally published by:
Athens Banner-Herald via OnlineAthens / GA | Erin McClam - May 07.02
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