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Alabama Oddities Collection #25

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Alabama Oddities Collection #25

Amanda Herman

THE CENTER WITH NO COMMUNITY

The Brownville Community Center stands alone off highway 171 just above Northport, but the town of Brownville does not exist. Two brothers Brown opened a wood preserving plant in the isolated area in 1923, and built 40 small houses for the plant employees. The workers paid rent to the brothers that employed them, and the town ran smoothly for years. When the brothers agreed to commission the rail line to run through their area, larger machinery was able to be delivered to the plant, and commuting became an option for employees, sucking the life out of their self-serving city. The houses have been absorbed by the kudzu, but the wood preserving plant is still in operation. If the plant properly preserved the wood used to build this last remaining marker for Brownville, the lonely community center may be standing strong for quite a long time.

CRYPTID V.I.P.

Tell me about your favorite cryptid creatures! I want to hear from you guys on this one so tell me the creatures that creep you guys out! ALL POWER TO THE IMAGINATION: the weirder the better! One of my favorites is the legendary creature from the dense Alabama backwoods known as the hoop snake, as if snakes weren’t shocking enough. This terrifying serpent can chase its prey, moving even faster than its humdrum belly scooting brethren, my clutching his tail in his jaw and rolling like a wheel downhill. The detail that makes this cold-blooded creep even more chilling is that her tail is chock full of poison. So when this reptile has his prey close enough to catch, it stiffens up into a spear position, piercing the victim causing instant death. The only way to dodge the hoop snake is to duck behind a tree or jump a fence, so either the tree soaks up the fatal poison or the snake has to uncoil to get through the chain link. That’s it, folks, those are the only ways to survive the hoop snake. To read more on the “Al power to the Imagination” campaign, head over to our website, serpentsofbienville.com

PAINTER, NOT ARTIST

Mose Tolliver was said to be born on the Fourth of July. He grew up in Montgomery and was extremely dyslexic, relying heavily on visual learning. He married and had thirteen children. In his forties, while he was working at a furniture factory, sweeping up at the end of the day, a forklift malfunction caused him to be pinned under a load of marble, crushing his legs and putting him out of work. He turned to art to pass the time and hopefully make a few extra dollars today the bills. So starting in the late 1960’s, people could wander up to his home, next door to the house Zelda Fitzgerald grew up in, and see his art hanging from the trees in his front yard, consisting of plywood, house paint, and aluminum can ring hangers. He would ask a dollar or two if anyone wanted to purchase his work. His work quickly caught the attention of the art world, and they praised him for his color scheme (he said it was the only paint he had on hand at the time) and his subject matter (he said it made his wife mad to paint other naked women). In an interview, he told reporters, “I’m not interested in art, I just want to paint my pictures.” So he did, after his art became widely known, he still sat on the end of his bed and painted his life on plywood, signing each as Mose T.

CREATURE OF THE CREEK

Patsaliga Creek sits near Andalusia, just above the Conecuh National Forest. Heading into the densely wooded area, locals around the early 1900’s would tell tales of a hollering and screeching that was particularly inhuman. Dead animals riddled the tree line on a regular basis, mostly livestock that had been feasted on and left to rot. Armed men would head to the area known to be inhabited by the creature, and send their hunting dogs out to search the woods. Dogs would return shortly whimpering and whining, tails tucked underneath them, too frazzled to obey commands. After a few years of these occurrences though, the sounds ceased. The livestock remains disappeared. It seems the creature had moved on, but folks still swear their dogs still have fits near Patsaliga Creek.

SPIES IN LOVE

Farley Berman joined the army after studying at the University of Alabama. During WWII, while working for military intelligence, he met the woman he would marry, who was working for the French Intelligence. The spies were actually spying on each other, and fell in love. After the war, they returned to Farley’s hometown of Anniston, Alabama, and began their lifelong journey of collecting historical artifacts together. Some say they used their skills honed from working as spies to get their hands on some items that weren’t exactly available. They would simply reason that many items would just “show up at their house on their own.” They acquired Hilter’s tea set, assassination weapons, precious gems and bronzes, and an incredible collection of books and art from all over the globe. When the couple grew old, many were looking to take their collection off their hands, but the couple decided to bequeath the contents of their home to the town of Anniston. Farley says about his wife, “Germaine had two loves: Paris and Anniston. Paris had the Louvre, and doesn’t need any more museums”. So this is how the Berman Museum of World History came to be. If you are in the area, or have been to the museum, tell us about it!

FAMILY PROTECTOR

“Can’t Get Away Club” was a group of physicians and researchers that were devoted to aiding and studying Yellow Fever outbreaks. Members of this group and their families are buried together in designated plots in the Magnolia Cemetery near downtown Mobile Alabama. One member of this group was Dr. Josiah Nott, a physician and author being the first to theorize that mosquitoes could be the carriers of Yellow Fever, just like Malaria, opposing the then-popular thought that Yellow Fever plagues people through “bad air” from rotting matter (“bad air” from food was also thought to make people fat, so there were a few amendments still to be made). Josiah Nott’s family stayed in Springhill while he was studying near Church Street in Mobile during the area’s epidemic, but the disease finally reached their home. In 1853, the Nott Family lost four of their children within five days to the plague that Josiah had devoted his life to controlling. The children’s graves, along with their mother’s, can be found in the Magnolia Cemetery, marked by a stone statue of the family dog, overseeing and protecting his young friends. (Disclaimer: if you research Dr. Josiah Nott, you will quickly find that he was a racist that also wrote books on cranial capacity and polygenism. *heavy eye roll*)

RUINS OF BATTELLE

Around the foot of Lookout Mountain, just south of Valley Head, Alabama, lie the Ruins of Battelle. Deposits of iron ore, coal and limestone were found in pockets large enough to catch the attention of a man named Battelle. Colonel John Gordon Battelle, who already had a prospering mining business in northern America, saw this as an opportunity to compete with those popping up around Birmingham at the time. He gave the operation his name and moved south to oversee operations, and he quickly found out that the resources he was mining for were of poor quality and ultimately unusable. Those eager workers that had moved to the area and built homes were forced to either sell or relocate their houses when the plant ceased operations in 1905. These days, all that remains are random piles of bricks and rotten wooden structures. Only one soul remains in this ghost town, looking down into the area where the 85 foot furnace rested (the furnace was deconstructed and shipped to India during WWI), reenacting his last moments of life for over 100 years. Locals say that you can see Drew Hester walking among the rose bushes and overgrown brush, just before he slips down into the ruins, shrieking as he did on that day, while the furnace was still in operation, when he slipped and fell into the molten pit.

SURVEYING DAMAGE

The Hurricane of 1916 came to its most powerful moment at 4:45 on July 5th, 100 years ago today, creating overwhelming devastation for the city of Mobile and the Eastern Shore. The 11.6 foot swells are the second largest the state of Alabama has ever seen, ranking just below the Hurricane os 1906 reaching 11.8 feet, and just above Hurricane Katrina hitting 11.4 feet. In this photo, Mobile citizens survey Dauphin Street at the intersections of Royal and Water for damages, amounting to nearly $15 million in total for the coastal area.

TURN ON, TUNE IN, DROP OUT

America’s psychedelic phase stems from two “tuned in” brains from of the University of Alabama. Timothy Leary studied at UofA until he was kicked out for getting caught in a female’s dorm. He returned and gained a degree in psychology. He studied hallucinogenic sat length, and he later coined the phrase “turn on, tune in, drop out” to promote the use of LSD in the 60’s, describing it as a means to journey inward into one’s own spirit to find the unity and singularity of human nature. Humphry Osmond was a member of the faculty in the School of Medicine at UofA. Osmond related the effects of LSD on the brain as a mirror of schizophrenic symptoms and called for a research group to volunteer for LSD treatments to help scientists research the brain in a simulation of schizophrenia. One of these volunteers was Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World in 1931. In a correspondence with Huxley, Osmond came up with the term “psychedelic.” When the use of psychedelics in research was deemed illegal, Osmond resorted to experimenting with large doses of different vitamins. He practiced his research at Bryce Mental Hospital and founded The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

UPRIGHT BURIAL

Reverend Joshua Boucher died in 1845 in Athens, Alabama and was buried in the Old Town Cemetery. Newspapers reported: “Among those who filled a large space in the Southwest for many years, we mention the name of Joshua Boucher, or "Butcher,” as he was familiarly called. No marvel that one so pious, so laborious, so faithful, so self-sacrificing, should die in the faith, giving glory to God. His dying testimony was in favor of the gospel he preached, and he sleeps in hope of a glorious Resurrection. His remains repose at Athens, Alabama, while he lives in the memory of thousands who mourned for him as a brother, when it was announced that Joshua Boucher was no more.“ They failed to mention the odd request made by Boucher before his passing. Public records show he asked to be buried among his congregation, standing upright underground instead of laying vertically. Some say this is because he was red to be in a position to preach from beyond the grave, while others testify that he was afraid his crippling arthritis would hinder him from rising up when his savior returns for him.

MURPHREE SISTERS ATTACK

The Murphree Sisters from Blount County are recognized as Confederate heroes due to their cunning and composure in a threatening situation. The girls were not left alone very often, but at ages 19 and 21, the girls were at home by themselves in the middle of the Civil War. They were aware of the dangers that surrounded them, with their home being in the line of travel for Union and Confederate Troops. Answering the knock at the front door on May 1st, 1863, revealed three hungry and tired Union soldiers, demanding nourishment and libations. This is where the truth and speculation become a bit fuzzy. Some accounts tell of the men getting drunk on Mint Juleps and passing out in their home, only to wake up tied to the dining chairs, forced to await the arrival of Confederate General Forrest and his men, ready to take the Union men captive. Other tales tell of the women slipping sedatives in the soldiers’ drinks, having the men wake up at the hollow end of their own guns. Some say the girls marched the soldiers straight up to General Forrest’s headquarters themselves. To fuel their fire, some say that the men were in desperate need of horses for transportation, so they wandered into the barn before approaching the house and killed two of the family colts with plans to confiscate the mares upon departure. Obviously, they never made off with the horses. General Forrest rewarded the girls’ bravery with another horse to ease the loss they suffered.