Fifty years ago today, 29 October 1971, Duane Allman died at the intersection of Hillcrest Avenue and Bartlett Street in Macon, Georgia, when his motorcycle struck a lumber truck that was taking a left turn.
The Allman Brothers Band finally had been receiving well-deserved attention and acclaim. One of their signature songs, recorded live at Fillmore East earlier that year, was titled “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” While the inspiration for the song is said to have been a woman whose name has not been revealed, the song was titled for an otherwise little-known woman buried very close to where Duane Allman was later buried.
It seems that band members would hang out in Rose Hill Cemetery and saw Elizabeth’s grave. Like many other teens in the 1970s, I also spent much time in the cemetery, at a place we knew as “The Brothers’ Graves,” where Duane Allman and Berry Oakley are buried. I was one of the younger of the bunch of pot-smoking, frisbee-throwing, music-playing young people who found the cemetery a place of sanctuary. Drivers parked their cars outside the cemetery and walked in, so if the police did pay us a visit, we just scattered.
It was a formative place of my youth in many ways.
One might think that drug use and (mostly) underage drinking and hanging out in a cemetery might indicate shady character, however I saw a side of my fellow revelers that shows otherwise.
One afternoon, I think it was Spring of 1975, about 50 of us were there partying. A black limo pulled up on the driveway at the bottom of the hill, down the “valley” that leads up to The Brothers’ Graves. The driver got out – a man obviously capable of also being a bodyguard. When he opened the door, Cher and Gregg Allman got out. Cher was holding two red roses. The boombox was switched off. Everyone fell silent. The Frisbees stopped flying. In this mixture of respect and stunned silence, the path between the limo and the graves was spontaneously cleared. Mr. Bodyguard/Driver stayed at the limo, about 100 feet away, while Gregg and Cher walked slowly to the graves where they paused and talked quietly with each other. Cher laid one rose on Duane’s grave and the other on Berry’s. After a few more moments, they returned to the limo, holding hands.
It wasn’t until Cher turned and waved to the crowd that any sound above a murmur was made. The cheers were respectful and affectionate. Cher and Gregg slipped back into the limo and were gone.
To this day, I am still impressed with the respect shown. Sure, many were like me, stunned. Yet everyone there, in whatever state of inebriation, recognized our need to remember our deceased loved ones. After Cher and Gregg left, the celebration of life continued in the venue of the graves, as perhaps we should do more often…