In hot pursuit of history
police officer Michael Hitt is an amateur historian who likes
solving mysteries, but they have to be at least 100 years old.
"His research is meticulous," said Barbara Frye, president of the Roswell Historical Society. "Everything he does is well-documented."
Hitt, the author of more than a dozen books, recently completed work on a map showing the history and location of the Roswell and Bull Sluice railroads that served Dunwoody, Chamblee and Roswell. The map hangs in the Roswell Visitors Center.
"People like to know where things are today," Hitt said, standing amid the cases protecting his diorama of Roswell, circa 1864, also at the Roswell Visitors Center. "That's why I superimpose modern streets and landmarks on my historic maps. It gives you a sense of awe to stand on the exact spot where something happened."
A native of Massachusetts who grew up in Buckhead, Hitt, 44, used to teach his North Fulton High School history class when the topic turned to the Civil War. The period has become something of an obsession with him and serves as the background for much of his published work. The exception is "Georgia's Aerial Phenomenon --- 1947-1987," a book he wrote on UFO sightings in Georgia that was published last year.
Among the mysteries he has helped unravel is the arrest and deportation of 400 workers from the Roswell Mill in 1864. He's provided information on Roswell's historic cemeteries, located the burial sites of 26 of the 27 soldiers who died in Roswell during the Civil War, and discovered what happened to the body of the 27th soldier. He drowned in the Chattahoochee River.
"His body was never recovered," said Hitt who tracked down the soldier's descendants in Ohio and told them about his findings. "It was so strange, because about the time I decided to look into it, they decided to buy him a memorial stone for the family plot. They had never been able to put him to rest."
Hitt's avocation has been dotted with strange coincidences. One weekend he was in Nashville doing research and pulled some microfilm from a shelf in the library.
"It had nothing on it that would indicate a Roswell connection, but I decided to look at it anyway. And there it was --- in a soldier's diary --- the identity of the Confederate unit I was looking for. Everything I touch, I seem to find something," he said.
And he has not neglected his own profession. In 1991, Hitt published "Two Hundred Years of Law Enforcement in the Roswell Area." In that book he recounts the first high-speed police chase in Roswell --- a 19th century horse chase from the square to Chamblee to catch a man who passed a counterfeit bill.
Though he loves history, Hitt never wanted to make it a profession.
"I would hate to have to do it every day, day in and day out," he said. "I love being a policeman and this way I have the best of both worlds."
All of Hitt's research is on file at Bulloch Hall.
"This is for the public to use. I didn't want to keep it to myself, if it would help someone else," he said.
Photo History buff, author and police officer Michael Hitt with his replica of Roswell on display at the city's Visitors Center. / RICH ADDICS / Staff