Over 700 People Have Died On Georgia's Lake Lanier & Its History Is Chilling

Locals think this human-made lake is cursed.

Georgia Staff Writer
An aerial view of Lake Lanier. Right: Fog rising over Lake Lanier. ​

An aerial view of Lake Lanier. Right: Fog rising over Lake Lanier.

In the foothills of northern Georgia, just 40 miles northeast of Atlanta, lie the murky waters of Lake Lanier.

The massive lake boasts 692 miles of shoreline and borders five counties, but below the surface lies a grim and deadly history.

Here's a deep dive into the human-made wonder's "curse" and the chilling truth of what really happened at one of the deadliest lakes in America.

Lake Lanier's dangerous waters

Despite being a popular destination for boating, drinking and long days in the Georgia sun, the air around Lake Lanier can still feel tense in a way that isn't so easy to place.

Netflix's dark thriller series Ozark often used the lake as a backdrop to stand in for the Midwest's famous Lake of the Ozarks. The cloudy waters fit right in with the show's twisted, looming tone. As beautiful as the lake can be, the reality is it is also very violent.

Estimates suggest that nearly 700 people have died at Lake Lanier since its creation in 1956, with some of the more deadly years claiming over 20 lives.

These statistics have earned it the title of one of the deadliest lakes in the United States, and local divers have even reportedly bumped into rogue body parts during lake excursions.

Causes of death range from boating collisions to drowning to freak accidents. According to local authorities, these frequent incidents are due to the lake's popularity with tourists.

A representative from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources told Narcity, "[Lake] Lanier gets more than 10 million visitors any given year, there are bound to be some incidents. We do our best to keep people safe, but not everyone follows the rules."

Naturally, statistics suggest the more visitors the lake has, the higher the likelihood of tragedy occurring. But some locals have other ideas of what's going on under the surface.

The town below the surface

Deep in the reservoir's waters lie the remnants of Oscarville, GA, the ghost of a once-bustling town cast aside and eventually destroyed when the United States Army Corps of Engineers created the lake in the 1950s.

Families were forced out of their homes. Churches, family homes, local businesses and 20 cemeteries were either relocated or engulfed by Lake Lanier's waters — 50,000 acres of farmland were destroyed and over 250 families were displaced from their homes.

The almost $45 million reservoir was built to provide water and power in Georgia as well as to prevent flooding of the Chattahoochee River.

The lake was named after Sidney Lanier, a poet and Confederate soldier in the Civil War.

In recent years, videos taken by divers reveal piles of rubble and crumbling structures below the lake's surface, which is all that remains as the town of Oscarville slowly creeps into a distant memory.

The legend of the curse

Many lifelong locals hold deep beliefs that the waters of Lake Lanier are cursed due to its grim history.

Èmil Flemmon, an Atlanta-based Associate Editor for Narcity, shared an experience where a man in the town warned him about the lake one summer years ago, telling him to stay away from the water.

"He seemed old enough to be my grandfather, you know? He explained that the county surrounding the water once housed Black residents who were violently run out of town by a group of white men. As a result, the ancestors or remaining spirits from the Black people who were murdered lingered on."

The event the local townsman was referring to is the racial cleansing of the Black community in the surrounding Forsyth County, which took place in 1912.

A white mob terrorized the community over two alleged crimes against white citizens, reports The Gainesville Times. They beat and hanged a 24-year-old suspect named Rob Edwards and continued on their violent rampage until nearly all of the Black residents were forced to relocate, leaving everything behind.

It would be cruel to imply the spirits of the affected community are responsible for the deaths at Lake Lanier; however, even on the sunniest days, the air in that part of Forsyth County can feel as heavy as the past horrors that occurred there.

The pain of generations past is palpable.

Elon Osby is a descendant of the Bagley family, who owned 60 acres of land in Forsyth County before being forced to leave it behind in 1912.

"I think there should be reparations. There was a time when I didn't, I just wanted somebody to say, 'We're sorry.' But I think that people deserve more than that now. That's just not quite enough," she told CNN.

To this day, less than 5% of Forsyth County residents are Black. But descendants of the families driven out by ethnic cleansing are working hard to ensure the past isn't buried at the bottom of Lake Lanier and that the truth of what happened in Oscarville remains above the surface.

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