On the Road Again: St. Marys

By James Fallows

For the next few days we'll be reporting from St. Marys, a tiny town in the coastal marshland of farthest-south Georgia. Immediately to the east is Cumberland Island, now a National Seashore and once the site of Carnegie family vacation mansions. Immediately to the south is the St. Marys River, which is the border with Florida. To the west is the Okefenokee Swamp, plus the woodlands that have fed Georgia's paper- and plywood-making industries. And just north of downtown is the home base for a significant portion of America's nuclear-submarine fleet, which has transformed everything about life in this town.

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When my wife and I were 20 years old, we were (with my 18-year-old sister and other teammates, all under the auspices of Ralph Nader) part of a project in St. Marys that led eventually to the revelation of murder plots, prolonged federal trials, and the overturning of what had been had been an incredibly corrupt and incestuous local political-commercial order. More about that soon. 

We've come back to see the results of the jolts up and down for this town in all the intervening decades. As a first installment, a few snapshots of the Mardi Gras festival in this town of 25,000 people, and the trip there.

Nearing St. Marys, marshland in the foreground, Atlantic Ocean far away, factory in neighboring town in middle distance.

Downtown St. Marys, as we're coming in to land.

While I'm at it, one of several  "controlled burns" we passed (staying upwind) en route, mainly in the Carolinas.

On the ground, the Navy leads today's Mardi Gras parade, in what has become a Navy town.

As the parade announcer said, "they're here -- both of them!"

In fact, there were more. (For the record, in 2012 Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by 8 points in Georgia as a whole, and by 28 points in Camden County, home of St. Marys.)

Men marching against domestic violence....

... under the slogan that they were "man enough to walk a mile in her shoes."

Contingent from one hair salon.

And from another.

More traditionally.

Trying to restore a downtown.

Putting the Gras in Mardi Gras.

Temperature on departure from Gaithersburg, outside Washington: 15F. By this afternoon in southern Georgia, people were complaining about the "chill" but -- see for yourself. On Sunday it will be in the mid 70s.

Stay warm in the north. (Photos by James and Deborah Fallows.) 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/03/on-the-road-again-st-marys/284157/