Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Perhaps the friendly-sounding reference to someone called "Uncle Chris" might remind you of the type of relative that anyone could have—a name far more common than the multiple George Mercers I've been chasing for the past week. However, this particular Uncle Chris I'm referring to today isn't mine, you understand, but a man named as the Mercer family's spokesperson on account of a tragic incident which eventually involved not only local law enforcement, but the F.B.I. as well. I imagine this was the type of occurrence which would be any family's worst nightmare, but it was also a time when someone had to step up to represent them.
While Chris Hammond—mentioned in news reports like the February 21, 1980, Marietta Daily Journal as uncle of the kidnapped George Mercer IV—may never have hoped to step into such a spotlight, he certainly was a reasonable selection to serve as the family's representative. As the man who married George Mercer III's sister, he was both close enough to know the immediate family intimately, yet removed enough to hopefully serve dispassionately in any role as the episode unfolded.
There was, of course, more to this man's story. Born in South Carolina and spending his early school years attending a one-room schoolhouse, he finished his formal schooling with a degree in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech. After service in the U.S. Navy, he then found his way as most college graduates do, from one job to another, until he took a position as a salesman for a company in Savannah known as The Steel Products Company.
Chris Hammond's new employer had a fledgling product line which they were developing in Florida, and he became that line's sales rep. Organizing three dealerships in Florida before the beginning of World War II, that was enough to gain attention of the U.S. Army, which contracted with his company for several units of the product line Chris Hammond was representing. The product, by then, was called Great Dane Trailers.
Great Dane is, of course, now a nationally-recognized name. If you have driven on any highway anytime between then and now, you have likely spotted their iconic logo and know exactly what company I mean. The Army contracts were apparently among the first to propel the business further along its path toward greatness as a company, but nationwide expansion over the decades has made the company's name so well known.
The company has since undergone several changes, including of names and ownership. Up until his retirement in 1984, Chris Hammond served as president (since 1953) and chairman (since the late 1960s) of the board of Great Dane Trailers, Inc., overseeing his part of a long history of product development and business expansion. His years of involvement with the business brought accolades to the company, as well as to himself, personally, for his leadership in the industry.
Nobody, however, would ever wish to add such a detail to their resume as the incident which called Chris Hammond's name out in the newspaper clipping I stumbled across in searching for the unfortunate George Mercer IV. And yet, by finding the juxtaposition of his name with that of the Mercer family in Savannah, it provides the added confirmation to inform us that yes, this tragedy did indeed involve a descendant of the George Anderson Mercer which had started me down this diversionary research pursuit in the first place.
Since this long and winding pursuit all started with a question about three men named George Mercer, we need to go back to that beginning, confirm a tally of all the Georges and just who each one was—as well as tie up a few other loose strands in this episode. There is, after all, that stray mention of one other Mercer and his many memorable musical hits to link to this family equation, as well.
One thing, however, is sure: next time you see a truck trailer with the Great Dane insignia affixed to its sturdy frame, it will now also remind you of the spokesman for the Mercer family of Savannah and a tragedy the sort of which they surely never hoped to endure.