USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘lightning’
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

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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Folk Beliefs
Magic

Don’t Comb Wet Hair

The informant learned from his father, who learned from his mother, not to comb your hair when wet, as doing so would make you more susceptible to being struck and killed by lightning.

This belief is likely rooted in the observation of static electricity, a phenomenon which immediately evokes images of lightning.

The informant’s grandmother, who received no formal education, was born, lived, and died in Irapuarto, Mexico. The informant is generally mistrusting of all things he has learned from his grandmother, as he refers to most folk belief as “batshit.” Such beliefs hold no weight to him and serve only to be laughed at.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Lightning Is the Devil Getting Whipped

Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major.  He is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.  His family is from Sudan and they are Muslim.  Both he and his twin brother were educated in international schools.  He speaks Arabic and English.

 

Context: I was talking with the informant about traditions and rituals his family has.

 

Item: “Any time there is thunder during a lightning storm, every time you see a lightning crack it is the Devil getting whipped.  I don’t know why that is or where it came from, it’s more a, ‘don’t get scared by lightning, it’s just the Devil getting whipped’ kind of thing’.  My mother is the one who always says it”.

 

Analysis: This is an instance of people assigning meaning to a physical phenomena that they cannot explain.  It makes sense that an older figure (the mother) is the one who says this, as it is meant to comfort the children by using familiar (and acceptable) imagery.  It also allows people to feel a sense of connection and intimacy with God, as, lightning is a common and natural phenomena and for God to appear that many times implies he is watching over everyone.

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