Thursday, October 11, 2012

Harrison Mayes

As I have mentioned before, when I first moved to the South I was amazed by the large amount of religious signs I saw on the Roadside.  Most of these were wooden signs nailed to trees and poles, but one time in Murphy, NC I came across one that was strikingly different.

It was a towering monument which had clearly seen better days.  It appeared to made from concrete and steel rods.  I asked around if anyone had any idea where it had come from and no one had knew.  I was left scratching my head until I found out about the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, TN.  The museum has a whole exhibit dedicated to the man who made this cross.  His story is a fascinating one

Photo Property of Museum of Appalachia
This humble looking man is the Reverend Harrison Mayes.  Harrison Mayes was a simple coal miner in the rural town of Middlesboro, KY.  Harrison would end up getting trapped in a coal mine.  While trapped in the mine he made a promise to God that if he let him live that he would dedicate his life to him.  Well, God let him live and Harrison more then kept his end of the deal.

Harrison begin creating religious monuments in the shape of crosses and hearts.  He would get the supplies materials from fellow coal miners who would set excess materials aside to use in the creation of his "sacred signs".

As I mentioned, The Museum of Appalachia in Clinton TN has a great exhibit on Mayes which includes a large collection of the signs that were left over when he died.

Mayes knew that it was time was running out so he started marking signs with locations on where he wanted them planted around the world.  Some of them were even marked to be placed on other planets.

Mayes' fixation on outer space can also be found in his preferred mode of transportation: his bicycle.

Mayes used his bicycle as his only form of transportation and never had a driver's license .  This of course would make hauling giant concrete monuments very difficult.  Harrison would enlist the help of his friend and his truck.  They would travel across the country planting these signs.  Harrison would dig holes in private property and plant signs without permission of the land owners.  He would leaves messages for them that would tell them that they would risk going to hell if they removed the sign.

Mayes tracked his travels on a series of large U.S maps with his paths spiraling out from Middlesboro.

Since Mayes died in 1989 the number of his crosses still planted in the ground is dwindling.  As Highways expand there becomes less room in the world for the "sacred signs".

I wasn't sure if I would ever seen another besides the one I spotted in Murphy, NC, but I received a tip that there was another one standing in Fletcher, NC.

I found another when my wife happened upon a heart shaped sign in Marble, NC

Another tip from a friend led me to this cross in Smyrna, TN

For some reason Mayes' original message of "Get Right With God" has been altered to say "Made Right With God".

I recently happened upon a second sign in Murphy, NC while we were looking at tornado damage.

My friend Loungelistener ended up hitting a massive patch of signs as he traveled near his home town of Middlesboro, KY.  I drove out there to see them myself.

Tazewell, TN
Fork Ridge, TN
Harrogate, TN

There was this heart shaped sign that was marked to be placed at the Suez Canal, but never made it out of Mayes' home town of Middlesboro

I also tracked down the original sign Mayes made, which he planted on his parents grave in Fork Ridge, TN.

The most exciting part was seeing Mayes's old home.  Mayes had actually built his home in the shape of a cross, so he essentially lived in one of his own signs.

The house doesn't look as much like a cross from the ground, but it still stands and has one of his signs  (painted an odd green) in the yard.

My quest continues as I still look for more of these sacred signs.  I hear there is one as far north as Ohio.  There is also one in Gibson Station, VA and Ruth, NC.  They are all on "the list".

The Carbetbagger.

Don't forget to check out my Flickr Photostream


  1. Jacob - I've followed your photos of the Mayes signs for years on Flickr. I've got a mystery and a question for you, though. Southeast of Asheville, NC, in the Hendersonville-Saluda-Tryon area there is a cluster of similar signs. These are roadside crosses with text such as "Jesus died for you", etc. They are most often found next to small Baptist churches. Are these Harrison Mayes signs? Some are obviously newer copies of some of the older ones. I haven't seen any of the heart-shaped signs.

  2. Wonderful post! Love the ones you found near my hometown of Murphy, NC. My father remembers another one being near Murphy-on what is locally called Morgan Hill. I always thought I'd walk off in the woods near where he remembered it-thinking maybe it's still laying in the leaves-but never have.


    1. Thank you much! Seems there is a large concentration in Murphy for some reason. I'm not sure why, as its a ways away from Middelsboro. It would be interesting to see if the sign is up laying in the woods somewhere.

  3. Thank you! I know exactly what crosses your talking about I feel better too new to be genuine but I've often wondered if there were inspired by mayes

  4. i hadn't heard of him until we went to the museum of Appalachia. I LOVE that bike. i have yet to see one of the signs in person, but always keep an eye out.

  5. They are pretty hard to find, any road that has been expanded past 1989 will likely not have any as they would have been removed. Almost all the ones I find are in small tucked away towns.

  6. I always thought Howard Finster came up with the "Get Right with God" line, maybe he copied it? Where is the museum of Appalachia located?

    1. I have to wonder if Finster and Mayes ever crossed paths............

      The museum of Appalachia is in Clinton, TN, north of Knoxville....Its a really amazing and wacky collection

  7. Jacob,

    Thanks for your wonderful site. I never knew the story behind the signs I saw as a kid growing up in Mingo County, West Virginia. There were two of these signs in Mingo that I knew of; one in Williamson and one in Maher. I've photographed the one in Maher and I've attached a link to my Testify project, where you'll see the seventh image in the series, is Mayes' sign -

    Again, thank you!


    1. Thank you! I may have to hunt those down :)

  8. I just saw these signs mentioned on a episode of American Pickers. When I first saw them I was like "wow, I know I have seen some gee in southern Michigan" to bad I can't remember exactly where.
    Definitely going to be Keeling my eyes open for them.

    1. I'd love to see if you find some. I have seen photos of one in Ohio. They are tricky to find, they are generally on old pre-freeway roads.

    2. BTW, I saw that episode of American Pickers....its killed me how cheap they sold off his bottles

  9. Here not gee
    Keeping not Keeling

  10. We have one of the "Prepare to Meet God" signs located along US 64 heading west from Vilonia towards Conway, Arkansas.

    1. Thank you! I will add that to my list

  11. There is a heart shaped one on old US1 N of Moncure NC just N of the RR crossing

    1. Thank you! I will try to make to locate this one.