IMG_1542Six Churches, Six Miles, Six Weeks

 Kristie Macrakis 

Riding my bike up and down the hills of old highway 76 in Morganton, GA, in the North Georgia mountains, I come across six churches within a six mile stretch of the ride interspersed between pastures of grazing horses and bovine cows and hills and meadows decorated with farm houses and log cabins. I wonder what the services are like, who the people are, what they believe in and why they survive in our secular age.

It is not unusual to see a church on every street corner in Georgia. Downtown Blue Ridge, the biggest town near Morganton, has its share of churches –the First Baptist, the Methodist and others, but they are bigger. I like the idea of the old small country churches. And many of them have cemeteries next to them to bury members of the congregation.

The first church I come across on the bike route, past the Blue Ridge TVA dam and panoramic view of the lake, is the Toccoa Baptist Church and its accompanying cemetery. By North Georgia standards, it’s a medium sized church and a long white steeple emerges from the top.

I vow to attend the 11:00 am Sunday services the next week after a bike ride. Unlike previous efforts to go to church, I follow through with this one. After a brief bike ride at 10:00, I load my bike back onto the jeep bike rack and change from bike clothes into a skirt and nice T-Shirt, but I’m still perspiring from the humidity.

As I quickly scoot into the brick church, I sit on the back pew—there are only eight rows– but my effort to remain anonymous fails when the pastor, a middle-aged white man with short grey hair, a white shirt and tie and grey slacks comes over and shakes my hand in greeting. I extend my sweaty hand in embarrassment. He looks like one of the clean-cut Jehovah’s Witnesses people who roam the streets in packs.

Singing from the hymnal accompanied by an amateur piano player has already begun by members of the congregation who have gathered behind the pulpit. Music has always been the main attraction for me in Churches, whether the Stephansdom in Vienna or a small country church in the mountains.

As the congregation sings I look around the church and notice three stained glass windows with doves in them on either side of the pews. Fluorescent lighting mars the atmosphere though the church has a clean, well-cared for feel to it.

I also look for a bible in the pew racks. There are none. Everyone has brought their own bible. I guess it’s Bring Your Own Bible (BYOB); I’ve seen that at other small churches. I lean over a look at the mother-daughter pair in front of me. They have their own bibles and they are marked up –passages are underlined and marked up in red. I wish my students would only read their books for my classes as carefully!

The congregation now has time to offer prayers to people in the community. One woman reported that her husband fell off his tractor and died. It’s sad, of course, but it underlines for me the nature of the community at hand and pastoral setting. Prayers are offered.

Once the prayers are done, the preacher approaches the pulpit, but before I know it, he, along with his assistant are kneeling on the ground behind the pulpit grunting like sheep baahing to “Lord” and “God” “lord cleanse me and wash me, ha!” I can’t make out any other words. I guess it’s some sort of worship.

As the preacher goes to the pulpit, he apologizes, for what I don’t know. But he seems to dread the topic of his sermon – sin. After a brief reading from Revelations, he pauses for dramatic effect and says he wants to dwell on Revelations.

“The blood brought before the lord, sacrifice in front of the lord.”

He kept apologizing, wasn’t sure kind of sin he was talking about. “Go back into the scriptures, word of the lord.”

“I’ve sinned before the lord.”

“Purge me, wash me.”

“Watch potter on the wheel, limp ball of clay, tore it down, built it up.”

“Vineyard, wine press, bring forth wine grapes.”

“Everyone thirsty, come before the lord.”

“When things was good and things was bad…”

“Married to the lord, to one flesh, got saved, got married.”


They say, save people through the lord.”

I’m still not sure what kind of sin he is referring to — original sin, sin in general or perhaps he committed adultery…

In any case, the following week I was vacationing in Gloucester with my mother. When I pulled out the night table drawer at the Sea Lion Hotel  I was delighted to find a Gideon’s Bible, in pristine condition. When I shrieked with delight my mother, the root of the family’s atheism, blanches…Maybe I’ve turned “religious.”

As a historian, I thought she might be interested to see that the Gideon’s had a nice outline at the beginning of the book, highlighting historical passages…to no avail.

Although Gideon’s bible offered no insight into the Toccoa Preacher’s discussion of sin, it did remind me of The Beatles’ song– Rocky Racoon. Remember the refrain –Rocky Raccoon checked into his room
Only to find Gideon’s bible

…And now Rocky Raccoon he fell back in his room
Only to find Gideon’s bible
Gideon checked out and he left it no doubt
To help with good Rocky’s revival


The ha’s! continued, he marched up and down before the pulpit.

By the end of his “sermon” he had worked up a sweat, had removed his tie and was wiping his brow.

I’ve heard these “ha’s” before at a Southern Baptist Church—I supposed they are there to make it more dramatic. No snake handling…maybe at the next one.

At the end of the sermon, people from the congregation thanked him for his “message,” a message I missed. I had planned on e-mailing him to ask, but there was no contact information on the web for the Toccoa Baptist Church.

One women thanks “Jimmy” for saving her soul.

During my bike ride before church, I had seen a sign in front of the Morganton Baptist Church: “ There are no atheists in hell…they believe.”

Yikes, am I going to be thrown feet first into the fires of hell, even though I’m only a pagan agnostic? Stayed tuned for next week’s blog…






Chilled Ginger Carrot Soup

Chilled Ginger Carrot Soup

Kristie’s Favorite Atlanta Restaurants & Cafes of 2014: Most in or near mid-town Atlanta


  1. Endive Publik House (

Great value for excellent gourmet comfort food. A friend and I shared some of their “small plates” like ethnic root vegetable chips with black truffle cremini mushroom dip ($4) and crabcakes ($8). I also had a big cauliflower au gratin side dish ($4). Together with our appetizers it was enough for a meal. We shared a bottle of wine and the well-presented and tasty dessert sampler. Unlike pretentious gourmet restaurants, I left thinking “Wow, we got all that quality food for so cheap?” The tastefully decorated and comfortable space is in a renovated little house in a neighborhood behind Atlantic Station. It also has a warm, wood-decorated bar area. Unfortunately, it’s only open Thursday-Saturday for dinner.

2. Sweet Hut ( A new midtown location on Peachtree in the Metropolis condo building. This is one of those excellent milk tea and bakery shops that populate the Buford Highway Ethnic food strip. Aside from the milk tea they specialize in sweet and savory buns — dozens of buns are on display as you enter the funky and mod decorated cafe. You select your buns with a tong and place them on a tray. I’ve tried the yummy taro pastry, red bean buns and curried chicken puffs. The café has comfortable cushy chairs so it’s a good place to camp out with your computer.

3. Café Sunflower (; Café Sunflower is the go-to vegetarian place in town. They recently moved across the strip mall to fancier digs and the food has gotten even better. A friend had a vegan 5 course meal birthday party and everything was absolutely delicious from the squash soup, harvest salad, appetizers to the eggplant lasagna. The meal was so filling, I had to take the yummy carrot cake home.

4. Two Urban Licks I go to Two Urban Licks for the salmon “chips.” I can happily feast on those for dinner. The chips are big thickly sliced potatoes and the salmon is warm whole smoked salmon (not cold smoked salmon from a package).  It’s in a renovated warehouse so it’s a large, loud, high-ceiling place with open ovens. They serve wine from barrels. It’s on the beltline now so you can bike or walk there to avoid traffic.

5.Yeah Burger (  Most people go to Yeah Burger for the farm-raised meat burgers, but I go for their amazing chicken cobb salad with hydroponic bib lettuce, organic grape tomatoes and quality chicken. I brought a friend there once and she complained that her burger wasn’t juicy or tasty. For gourmet prices, you’d expect better burgers.

6. Octane ( I go for their quality iced caramel cappuccinos. They make their own syrups and you can tell the different. The West Midtown location is more convenient, but the Grant Park one has the amazing Little Tart Bakery with authentic croissant. With it’s concrete floors, stiff stools, high ceilings and hipsters with black oversized glasses, it’s a hip, cool place, but not especially comfortable. (the West Midtown location has some delicious sandwiches using H & F bread like the turkey and brie).

7. Bantam & Biddy (  This is one of the best chicken places in town. You can have it rotisserie style or fried or baked with sides. I also really like their so-called chicken stew. It’s really chicken soup with big chunks of chicken in tasty broth with some vegetables. It comes with a big biscuit. I’m also a fan of their delicious cobb salad. It comes with a yummy carrot ginger vinaigrette.

8. Chester Brunnenmeyer’s Bar and Grill, Blue Ridge ( I’ve only tried this newly opened bar and grill once, but it’s excellent. It’s in Blue Ridge, GA, about a one and half hour drive from Atlanta but it’s worth the trip (or combine it with an overnight at a cabin). It has a wonderful mod rustic atmosphere and quality food and drink. I had the shrimp tacos, salad and fries. The fries were really good even though I’m not a French fries person.

9.Whole Foods Food Court ( Considering Whole Foods is a grocery store, their prepared food bars are truly impressive. Aside from the salad bar, I like the fried tofu squares—Southern fried chicken for vegetarians. They also have buffalo tofu squares. Their garlic fresh Kale Salad is excellent too. (The Ponce location used to have a kale salad with cranberries, tomatoes, and pinenuts with a nice lemon dressing but they have discontinued it because pine nuts are apparently too pricey.

10. My last place would be a tie among Wisteria, Bartaco and Wrecking Bar Brewpub. I only tried Bartaco once for lunch but was impressed with the food and atmosphere. Would go again for dinner or drinks. Wisteria is one of the nouvelle Southern food standouts. Last summer I had an amazing chilled carrot ginger soup with shaved chilled radish and pistachios – out of this world. Finally, the Wrecking Bar Prewpub is a cozy basement joint with excellent bar comfort food and good beer.



No Longer Invisible

No Longer Invisible: a Man Famous in the Secret World of Spies is now Visible to the Public

Kristie Macrakis

One of the most rewarding things about doing a radio interview is the response you get from the audience. Imagine my delight when a listener of PRI’s The World excitedly e-mailed me within hours after hearing a book centered show about Prisoners, Lovers, & Spies: the Story of Invisible Ink. He said his father, Elwood “Cliff” Pierce, was head of the US secrets ink department during World War II. Not only that, he also told me his family had pictures from the World War II era including the infamous Dr. Stanley Collins and the women censors who worked on the island of Bermuda.

I was especially excited to hear that David Pierce had photos of Collins because, despite much effort, I could not find any photos of him. He was an invisible man. In fact, it was hard to find any public information about this enigmatic chemist. It was puzzling because Herbert Yardley, the American code-breaker, lionized him and turned him into a legend in his best-selling tell-all book, The American Black Chamber (the book’s revelations about American code-breaking were as sensational in 1931 as Edward Snowden’s revelations today).

I was beginning to wonder if Collins, the name I came across in the files as well, was his real name or a cover name. My suspicion was put to rest when I found a short seven-line obituary published the year of his death, 1954. in the obscure Journal of the Royal Institute of Chemistry.

Even so, I still had no picture—mental or as a photographic image– of this
pivotal figure. And even though he was famous in secret circles, his passing did not make major UK newspapers. Yardley’s description of Collins’ World War One visits to America stimulated my imagination. Yardley described spellbinding lectures that Collins illustrated with stories about spies caught using secret ink.

What did this wonderful man who regaled the budding US World War One secret ink department with tales about captured German spies look like?

He was British. Maybe he had a bowler hat and mustache; maybe he was a thin civil servant in a dark suit; maybe he was sandy haired and lively. I had no idea. My curiosity was getting the best of me.

Several weeks after I had waited with great anticipation, David sent me the e-mail file with the scanned photos. My first reaction was “Oh, that’s what he looks like; this game of hide and seek is over… Ah, Oh, he’s holding a pipe.” I could imagine this now elder statesman of secret ink sitting behind a desk – pipe in hand– addressing a younger colleague with avuncular advice. And he looks as good-natured as Yardley described him.

The pictures were taken at a party hosted by Cliff Pierce and his wife Judy in September 1944. Interestingly, this visit was around the same time as the Third International Conference on Censorship Security and Counter-intelligence sponsored by the US Office of Censorship and with the very active assistance of British Imperial Censorship. It’s not surprising that Cliff and Judy Pierce would have a party for him because Pierce worked closely with the British in order to build up the fledgling US secret ink unit late in World War II. He spent months studying British techniques and the cases developed at the Bermuda laboratory.

The photographs are telling as they document the senior/junior relationship between the seasoned British spy catchers and the junior American chemists. Collins helped build up US military intelligence’s secret ink lab in both World War I and World War II. Dr. Charles Enrique Dent(he was 33 in the picture), the Brit flanking the Americans on the right, was head of British Postal Censorship’s Bermuda Science and Technology Unit. He scored many secret ink successes against the Germans.
In the bottom left picture, Dr. Stanley Collins is on the left (with the pipe) and Dr. Charles Enrique Dent, the British chemist who worked on Bermuda for British Censorship on the right. Dr. Willard Breon, one of the head’s of the secret ink unit stands next to Collins and Dr. Elwood C. Pierce, chief of the whole laboratory section of the Technical Operations division stands next to Dent.

The Nazi Secret Ink in a Tooth Spy

The Secret Ink in a Tooth Spy
Kristie Macrakis

My favorite secret ink story is about a Nazi spy who secreted invisible ink in his tooth. It’s probably my favorite because one of the most intriguing aspects of the history of secret writing is the inventive way in which people concealed their materials.
Of course, hiding invisible ink in a tooth is one of the more bizarre concealments, but it’s a good one because border control agents usually don’t ask people to open their mouths for inspection. Even if they did, there is no reason they should suspect a filled or capped tooth contains invisible ink or poison or other dangerous things spies put in their teeth.
I discovered this story in the MI 5 files kept at the British National Archives. . When I hit the keyword search for secret writing I came across a number of interesting double agent files including the one about a Nickolay Hansen.
Hansen was a Norwegian coal miner who agreed to work for the Nazis from his home in the coal mining town of Stavanger,Norway across the sea from Scotland. But the Nazis really wanted him to go to the United Kingdom, parachute out of a plane in Scotland and find work in a Scottish coalmine, which he could use as a base to transmit military information.
By the fall of 1943, the Nazis’ vision came true. Hansen jumped out of a German plane circling above the Scottish Highlands and parachuted into a field shortly after midnight on 1 October 1943. He wasn’t the first Nazi spy to parachute into England during World War II. After the British forbade Germans and other enemy aliens from entering England, the Nazis snuck their agents onto the island with rubber boats or parachuted them in from the sky. Many of the famous double agents like Eddie Chapman parachuted into the country. The British usually expected these spies because they knew when they were coming by intercepting and decrypting radio communications.
On the night of Hansen’s parachute jump, two Scottish truck drivers taking an overnight shipment of herring to Fraserburgh, Scotland, noticed a plane circling above the woods near the town. When they drove by the field they saw someone waving a flashlight in their direction. They stopped, got out of the cab, jumped over the fence and approached what looked like a German parachute jumper. Hansen quickly confessed. He told them he had one wireless transmitter, but they quickly found a second one. He did not tell them about the invisible ink hidden in his tooth.
Like all the other hundreds of caught Nazi spies (many of whom became double agents), Hansen was taken to Camp 020, an interrogation center at Latchmere House in South London. Interrogators were somewhat bemused by this Norwegian coal miner from the “bowels of the earth.” His German code-name was HEINI, which isn’t exactly flattering – in German it means someone who is somewhat dimwitted. British interrogators also thought he was “dull” but had the clever cunning of a peasant. Even though interrogators asked Hansen if he had secret writing materials and a cover address where he was instructed to send messages, he denied it until several weeks of interrogation and an unfortunate incident.
Hansen finally confessed that he had learned the fine art of secret writing at the Akershus Fortress in Oslo by a rather small and fat German with fair thinning hair named Dr. Gordon. Gordon taught him how to rub the paper with cotton wool before writing and how to create his own invisible ink matches (the Heinrich method) impregnated with quinine.
When it came time to stash Hansen’s invisible ink, a German operative proceeded to fasten a tiny rubber bag of invisible ink between Hansen’s toes with glue that he then covered with grease paint. But Hansen needed to take a bath and removed the small bag from his toes. Thereafter, the Germans thought of hiding it in his hair or under his armpit, but instead decided to pay a visit to a dentist in order to secrete the baggie in a tooth.
When Hansen visited the dentist in his hometown of Stavanger, the dentist opened up one molar, placed a small bag of invisible ink in it and then sealed it with cement. He then started work on the tooth next to it; this time he didn’t seal the cavity but rather placed the small baggie in it and covered it with dental putty because it was not possible to cement it shut. Instead, he gave Hansen a small celluloid cap to place on that tooth when eating. Hansen lost the cap the same evening while slightly drunk.
Hansen had completely forgotten about the second filling until he was having lunch at Camp 020. He suddenly had a strange taste in his mouth. He spat out what he was eating and found the small rubber bag with invisible ink and threw it out the window. Although he saved some of the secret ink substance from the food, British investigators didn’t find it. As a result, a camp officer who was also a dentist opened up the other tooth and extracted the material.

Even though the British interrogators found this damning substance, Hansen still refused to reveal the cover address for his his secret messages. After more rigorous interrogation he revealed the Nazi spy address in Sweden. The British concluded that Hansen was to use the secret writing if he could no longer communicate through the wireless sets.
That hiding secret ink in a tooth might be painful is revealed by this telling mug shot of Hansen: he looks like he has a toothache. [Mug shot]


Lovers Ink with Video

prisoners-lovers-and-spies-coverEver feel bashful about expressing your feelings? Ever wish you could send your valentine an invisible message? Are you concerned that the NSA is reading your private thoughts?

Don’t worry anymore. For thousands of years lovers have used easily available materials to write secret messages written in invisible ink. Instead of sending an anonymous valentine this year, send it in invisible ink.

In ancient Rome, the love poet Ovid wrote a racy manual on the Art of Love and appears to be the first person to write about using milk to hide secret messages.  He tells us:

A letter too is safe and escapes the eye, when written in new milk:

Touch it with coal dust and you will read.

Well, you don’t need to use coal dust after pulling out the milk carton because you can simply heat the message and it will become visible. Of course, if you write the message on a body you might try a glutinous substance like ashes or dust to read the message, as you don’t want to burn your partner.

If you’d prefer to use lemon juice, that’s another very popular household invisible ink item. In case you didn’t know, by the 16th century many people used lemon or lime juice to write secret messages. Spies used it, prisoners used it and lovers used it.

I won’t tell you here when people started to use lemon juice to write secret messages (the answer is in the book…..), but I’ll give you a hint: it’s not when you might guess.

By the mid 17th century it was commonplace for “ladies to communicate their Amours” in secret writing as an anonymous author wrote in Rarities.

Other ordinary people could also  “order [their] private affairs with all imaginable safety and secrecy.”

So it wasn’t just the ladies that communicated their Amours, the gents were often bashful about expressing their thoughts and liked using invisible ink too.

Abraham Cowley, a royalist poet who lived amongst the intrigue and dangers of the English Civil War in the 17th century, penned a poem called “Written in the Juice of Lemon.”

Cowley was frustrated because could not see what he wrote (I have that problem too when I write invisibly), but at least he dared write the poetry precisely because he could hide it.

But his poem wasn’t just pitched at lovers. He had dark things to say about those “hypocrites” and “hereticks” that he had come across as the exiled Queen Henrietta Maria spy and cipherer and decipherer in Paris. In any case, fire lit up their despicable deeds, just as fire or heat chars lemon juice to a readable brown color.

Crowley was a famous poet in his day– as admired as Shakespeare, but later critics weren’t kind to him. Clearly, one critic didn’t understand the “written in lemon juice” poem metaphor as he claimed lemon juice wasn’t a very romantic substance because it was caustic!

If I can stick up for Cowley for a moment: the point wasn’t to pour lemon juice on your lover. The point was to write secretly in lemon juice and then warm it over fire.

In the poem Cowley waxes poetic about the way the invisible becomes visible, through heat, just as a heart can heat up. It’s like nature, when sun kisses trees and plants, buds blossom. Invisible letters also blossom when heated:

Strange power of heat! thou yet dost show

Like winter-earth, naked, or cloth’d with snow:

But as, the quickening sun approaching near,

The plants arise up by degrees;

A sudden paint adorns the trees,

And all kind Nature’s characters appear.

I don’t think that’s such a bad poem…

It’s not surprising that by the Victorian period using what they called “sympathetic ink” was quite popular. A shy, closet poet wrote a sympathetic ink poem and said he “writes the words” his love “dare not speak…in ink that can’t be seen.”

For those of you who’d like to write words you dare not speak in ink that can’t be seen, you can also try grape juice, orange juice, onion juice (better for a friend than a lover), vinegar, urine or even semen (but I won’t get raunchy here). Semen doesn’t show up with heat, but if you have a black light handy, the invisible writing should become visible.

But lovers ink got even more sophisticated and fun in romantic 18th century Paris with the discovery of cobalt chloride. Unlike milk and lemon juice, cobalt chloride appeared with heat and disappeared again when cooled. And it was readily available back then. Until recently, you could even get some of this lovers ink in a tiny bottle at the store through mail order or on the web. Pulp magazines advertised bottles of romantic ink:

“Write invisible love messages in passionate-red invisible ink which only you and your lover can make appear and disappear. Protect your love life.”

It is no wonder it began to be called “ink for the ladies.”

There must be thousands of letters written by lovers in secret ink but I’ve only found a couple of them. Please send me any developed invisible ink letters you might possess from the family attic!


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