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

Locals think this human-made lake is cursed.

Georgia Contributing Writer
Boats in Lake Lanier in GA. Right: A foggy Lake Lanier in GA.

Boats in Lake Lanier in GA. Right: A foggy Lake Lanier in GA.

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. More recently, the body of a 61-year-old man was recovered by Hall County authorities on March 25, 2023.

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

Causes of death range from boating collisions to drowning to wild 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.

What's the story behind Lake Lanier?

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, 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.

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.

What are the mysteries of Lake Lanier?

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

Emil Flemmon, a former 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 their violent rampage until nearly all the Black residents were forced to relocate, leaving everything behind.

It would be cruel to imply that 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.

Can you swim in Lake Lanier?

Despite the dark history that lies within Lake Lanier’s water, there are 20 designated swim areas around this body of water.

According to Lake Lanier’s official website, designated swim areas include:

  • Old Federal Campground
  • Duckett Mill Campground
  • Bald Ridge Creek Campground
  • Sawnee Campground
  • Bolding Mill Park
  • Buford Dam Park
  • Burton Mill Park
  • Duckett Mill Park
  • Keith Bridge Park
  • Lanier Park
  • Little Hall Park
  • Long Hollow Park
  • Mary Alice Park
  • Old Federal Park
  • River Forks Park
  • Shoal Creek Park
  • Toto Creek Park
  • Van Pugh Park
  • Warhill Park
  • West Bank Park
  • Young Deer Park
  • Don Carter State Park

There are no lifeguards on duty in these areas, so authorities recommend to "swim at your own risk."

This article has been updated since it was originally published on June 06, 2022.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of racism, refer to these mental health resources and advocacy supports across the U.S. or contact the Racial Equity Support Line at 503-575-3764.

Maeve Browne
Georgia Contributing Writer
Maeve Browne is a Contributing Writer for Narcity’s USA Desk focused on food and Internet trends and is based in Savannah, Georgia.
Fernanda Leon
Desk Editor, Texas
Fernanda Leon was an Editor for Narcity’s USA Desk focused on Texas and is based in El Paso, Texas.