USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Alabama’
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Carrollton Courthouse

Title: Carrollton Courthouse

Category: Legend, Ghost-Story

Informant: Evan A. Lewis

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: Upper 80s

Occupation: Retired— Radio Broadcaster, Laundry Mat Owner, Koren War Vet, etc.

Residence: 5031 Mead Drive/ Doylestown PA, 18902 (Suburban Home)

Date of Collection: 4/08/18

Description:

Henry Wells was a former slave released from bonds immediately following the outcome of the Civil War. After the Pickens County Courthouse was burned down in 1856 after the raids on the town by Union forces, a new courthouse was build in its place. Almost immediately following the construction of the new courthouse, the building burned to the ground again due to mysterious circumstances.

The town believed that Henry Wells was to blame for the fire and the townspeople conspired together to bring him to justice. After a warrant was put out for his arrest, Wells fled from a gathering lynch mob by secretly hiding in the construction of the third courthouse for the county. As the mob gathered below, Wells made his way up into the attic to look down from the window directly above the action.

Much to his horror, a storm was rising, and lighting violently struck the window that Wells was looking down from. His expression was then imprinted via the lightning bolt on the pane of glass that Wells was looking down from.

Context/Significance:

The Pickens County Courthouse is located in Carrollton, Alabama, which is 35 miles west of Tuscaloosa. The historic building is being restored and a large arrow points to the window and the mysterious lightning portrait. An interpretive marker on the grounds tells the history of the courthouse and the story of the face in the window.

The conclusion of the story has disputed endings. Some say that Wells was able to safely hide from the mob, while others claim that he was found out shortly after and either shot or hung after admitting to his crimes.

Some years after, the face of Henry Wells can still be seen in a ghostly outline from the streets below as the building has been saved and maintained as a historic landmark.

Personal Thoughts:

When I was younger, my family often took long road trips to Mississippi to visit family. Much of my family’s history can also trace its roots back to Alabama and farming. My mother and grandfather took me to visit old grave yards and historic landmarks such as this. My mother pointed out he face in the window and I’ve seen it for myself.

The truth behind the story is highly debatable as scientists continue to research the ability of lighting to capture photographic images on glass. Other accounts of this happening can be found from the same century and evidence was once collected from a Mrs. Norborne B. Powell.

Mrs. Powell was standing at the window of a home at Chennuggee Ridge, Alabama, when the glass was struck by a bolt of lightning. Her image appeared on the glass, right down to a hat and cameo pin she was wearing. The Chennuggee Ridge photograph wound up in the hands of Mrs. Powell’s grandson, Dr. Edward H. Cary who at one time served as president of the American Medical Association. Believing it to be a priceless artifact of Alabama history, he sent it to the Department of Archives in Montgomery in 1920. Someone there, however, dropped the photograph and it was shattered.

Image: 

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One Way to Scratch an Itch

My maternal grandpa was from the poorest part of Birmingham, Alabama. His birth father died in a dynamite factory explosion when he was two years old, and his mother remarried a few years after that. Even with a new man, their family was poorer than poor. Some winters, they’d resort to eating shoe leather out of desperate hunger. He had one pair of overalls, and later became an expert marksman out of necessity (he could hit a squirrel between the eyes from 30 yards out). He climbed out of poverty via the GI Bill which he used to get an education here at USC, and then a job as a salesman of medicinal gasses to airline companies and hospitals. He didn’t much like talking about when he was poor – it was not his proudest moment. The one thing he did enjoy talking about from back then was family. Even when you have no money, you have family. As his sister June put it, “it never felt like we were poor. We had so much love in the household.”

 

My mom imbued this same sense of family on me through different stories she’d heard as a small girl from her dad, my grandpa. I’d heard this story before, but it had slipped to the back of my mind. Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

 

When your great uncle – great, great uncle – had… his leg amputated, it was itching itching itching, the stump was itching.  So his family said, ‘go dig up the stump and see if there’s anything wrong with it.  And he did and it was covered with ants.  And so he properly buried it and the itching stopped.  And that was a common belief of the time, in Alabama among Christians a couple generations ago.”

 

I love this story because it plays on so many different levels. On the one hand, it’s a story of a very strange folk belief that has found its way into mainstream medicine.  Phantom pains are a common phenomenon in the paraplegic world. To stop it, many doctors put a mirror up to the intact limb, making it look like their missing limb is still there. Almost immediately, the pains stop, and even when the mirror is removed, the pains are not felt. On the other hand, this story works through the familial lens, as it provides a rather sincere snapshot into life in rural Alabama so many years ago.  In a strange way, it makes perfect sense to dig up the withered limb and clean it off to stop the itching. It’s not like there was any other information out there, they just did what they thought would work and it worked.

 

general

Alabama Football

The Elephant Story  and University of Alabama Football

College Football in the south is quite the phenomenon and Alabama has always had a relationship with elephants.  It happened during a football game and the story was one my grandfather told me as a little girl.  Growing up in Alabama we cheered for Alabama , the Crimson Tide, but my favorite animals have always been the elephant.

The story of how Alabama became associated with the “elephant” goes back to the 1930 season when Coach Wallace Wade had assembled a great football team.

On October 8, 1930, sports writer Everett Strupper of the Atlanta Journal wrote a story of the Alabama-Mississippi game he had witnessed in Tuscaloosa four days earlier. Strupper wrote, “That Alabama team of 1930 is a typical Wade machine, powerful, big, tough, fast, aggressive, well-schooled in fundamentals, and the best blocking team for this early in the season that I have ever seen. When those big brutes hit you I mean you go down and stay down, often for an additional two minutes.

“Coach Wade started his second team that was plenty big and they went right to their knitting scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against one of the best fighting small lines that I have seen. For Ole Miss was truly battling the big boys for every inch of ground.

“At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble, there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,’ and out stamped this Alabama varsity.

“It was the first time that I had seen it and the size of the entire eleven nearly knocked me cold, men that I had seen play last year looking like they had nearly doubled in size.”

Strupper and other writers continued to refer to the Alabama linemen as “Red Elephants,” the color referring to the crimson jerseys.

 

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