John Henry Holliday wasn’t always Griffin, Georgia’s favorite son. For generations, he was the black sheep of his hometown, the good boy gone bad who was rumored about behind his back. How could a young man of such promise turn out so poorly? Surely, his parents had raised him better than to spend his life as a killer and a drunk. The Hollidays were, after all, fine Southern folk who been some of the pioneers in the area and helped to put Griffin on the map. His mother’s family, the McKeys, were large landholders with a plantation along Indian Creek and several business buildings in town. And weren’t they kin to the Elijah Cloud family who owned half of north Georgia and claimed Stone Mountain as their own private property? And although his father, Henry Holliday, came from somewhat less prosperous circumstances – wasn’t his own father a tavern keeper over in Fayetteville? – Henry had made something of himself as a landholder, too, and been clerk of the first county court in Griffin before moving to South Georgia when the Yankees came through. No, one couldn’t blame John Henry’s folks for not teaching him his responsibilities. His mother was a refined, religious woman and his father had served honorably in three wars. Yet somehow John Henry had turned out all wrong, wandering from Georgia to Texas and the frontier west to make his fame and infamy in gun battles and gambling halls. That sort of story made for entertaining novels and movies, but it didn’t suit the reputation of a Southern town like Griffin.
So Doc Holliday became something of an embarrassment to his hometown, and Griffin wasn’t sure what to do about him. Build him a museum or name a beer-fest after him? Put his face on a stamp or skip over his life in local history lessons? Then along came the movie Tombstone, with a script by Oscar-winning writer Kevin Jarre and a tour-de-force portrayal of Doc Holliday by actor Val Kilmer, and suddenly Griffin’s prodigal son became popular. And with his new-found popularity came new and better researched biographies, telling a story far more interesting – and more accurate – than the legend. The boy born in Griffin in 1851 was so much more than just a gambling gunfighter. As he said of his own life:
“Some few of us pioneers are entitled to credit for what we have done. We have been the forerunners of government. If it hadn’t been for me, and a few like me, there might never have been any government in some of these towns. Whenever I have done any shooting, it has always been with this in mind.”
And now Doc is finally getting his due, as Griffin City Commissioner and local radio host Dick Morrow leads a campaign to remember the real Holliday with a series of brass plaques marking the places he knew in his life: the Presbyterian Church lot where he was baptized as an infant in March of 1852, the Tinsley Street property where he was raised, the Holliday land that became a Confederate training ground, the Solomon Street building that was part of his inheritance from his mother’s McKey family estate, the red brick courthouse where he recorded the deeds to his inheritance before selling his property and moving West, the grave of his sister Martha Eleanora, the unmarked grave where his father may have had him reburied after his death in the cold mountains of Colorado.
The project is being tentatively titled the “Doc Walk” as tourists will be able to pick up a map at the Griffin-Spalding Chamber of Commerce and follow the local life of a Western legend through the stories told on the plaques. The “Doc Walk” project was kicked off this spring with a generous donation from Mr. Lew Walton, a Doc Holliday fan from Tennessee. More donations are needed to pay for production of all the plaques, and Doc fans from across the country are welcome to join in and receive special recognition, leaving their name alongside the name of Doc Holliday.
After a century of being denigrated as a drunk and killer, the real Doc Holliday is being welcomed home to Griffin as a favorite son at last. He’ll surely return the honor by bringing tourists, the way he brings them to Tombstone and Glenwood Springs, and the tourists will money to the economy and attention to a great little Southern city with a legendary Western connection. And according to project leader Dick Morrow, Southern Son: The Saga of Doc Holliday was the “tipping point,” the story that made local people love the real Holliday. As we say in the South, “my pleasure!”
Donations to the Griffin Doc Walk can be made to: G-S Chamber of Commerce (Doc Walk Fund) at 143 North Hill Street, Griffin, GA 30223. Although all donations are welcomed (and needed!) special donors will be honored in the official brochure at the following giving levels: Platinum $5000 or more, Gold $1000, Silver $500, Patron $100. According to some reports, Doc wagered twice the platinum level on one good hand of cards!