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Alabama Oddities Collection #26

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Alabama Oddities Collection #26

Amanda Herman

JIMMY LEE SUDDUTH

Jimmie Lee Sudduth was 3 years old when he discovered his magical folk art medium. He was playing outside his house the woods of Fayetteville Alabama in 1913. He mixed together mud and honey to paint a face on a tree. One week later, the face was still there, so he went to work decorating his parents' house and surrounding trees with paintings of people, animals, and landscapes, adding his hand carved dolls and toys to adorn the porch over the years. He refined his mud/sugar paint techniques, identifying 36 different shades of mud just around his home. He painted on wood with his fingers because "they never wore out." His first art exhibition was held at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa in 1968, and his folk art was finally discovered by collectors at age 61. His subject matter expanded with his fame, as he became fascinated with big city skylines. He still used mud and sugar to paint until he was 82 years old when he couldn't collect his own materials anymore. He switched to commercial acrylics, but still painted in his home until the age of 96, refusing to move to a retirement home until the last year of his life. He died in 2007 at 97.

SPARTA DOWN THE WELL

I hear there is a haunted well in the ghost town of Old Sparta in Conecuh County, Alabama. There is nothing near the well for miles. Legend holds that if Sparta was built on top of Native burial mounds, the town's well would have been dug straight through that sacred land. The sounds are just whispers from far away, but grow to murmurs and cries and shrieks as one approaches the well. This curse was not contained to eerie noises, however. Reports were found of a gallows, built just next to this well, bursting into flames, being reduced to ash and taking the courthouse down with it. Both the gallows and courthouse were completely rebuilt, and both burned to the ground in the same manner as before. The town of Sparta is said to have been happy and thriving in 1899 and completely abandoned by 1923.

MONSTER OF LAKE MARTIN

A diver for the state of Alabama was searching for a missing person at the bottom of Lake Martin. It was mid day, and the water was somewhat clear. He made it to the bottom of the lake before noticing the movement coming from underneath a large object, which he assumed was a large rock of sorts, though it was quite a bit more slimy than the surrounding debris. He leaned in to rest his hand on the rock, to steady himself, and he placed his forearm upon the only knob poking out of this smooth surface. The rock winced. The knob blinked. The diver shot off to the surface of the lake as fast as he could, and never agreed to step foot below the surface of Lake Martin again. He recalls seeing the whiskers toward the front of the large mass, assuming that the creature was a giant catfish. At least, that's what I heard. 

ANGEL OF DOTHAN

Dothan translated into Hebrew reads as "the door to the eternal covenant," or "the gateway to salvation." So it's either very curious, or not curious at all, that during the early 1990's there was an oddly large number of reports from locals picking up the same curious hitchhiker in Dothan, Alabama. The folks all reported picking up the same old man in a ball cap, walking down the highway, asking for a ride into town. He would get in the back seat and answer their small talk attempts with the same line, "I am the archangel Gabriel, and I am about to blow my horn." Upon completion of his statement, drivers reported that he just vanished.

JOHNSON AT THE CROSSROADS

We've all heard of the "27 Club" superstition, involving the deaths of Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse, but did you know that the phenomenal blues musician, Robert Johnson, also died at 27 by "unknown circumstances"? It is said that this Mississippi prodigy was mentored by Ike Zimmerman, an accomplished blues guitar player from Grady, Alabama. Ike would meet Robert in cemeteries in rural Alabama to teach him all that he knew, and Robert's talent was so incredible, and his fame came so quickly, that a story was told of how Robert Johnson met the devil at a crossroads and sold his soul for the talent he now possessed. He wrote songs about running from the devil and being chased by hell hounds. Johnson's mysterious death at 27 carries its own lore. Some say he was killed by a woman's jealous husband by laced whiskey, others assume he died from syphilis, but most agree that his death was part of the bargain made at those crossroads.

ALABAMA BLIND BOYS

The Blind Boys of Alabama have been performing together for 79 years. They met at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in Talladega, in 1937. The SIX boys were being trained to assemble brooms for a living when they each joined the choir at school. Seeing as they enjoyed singing together more than making household goods, they stuck with that. Their original name was the Happy Land Jubilee Singers. Member Vel Traylor passed away in 1947, leaving the group with five members. An agent placed the group in a competitive position against another group, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, and the name change for the Alabama boys followed. Founding member Jimmy Carter still leads the group today. These men are also known as the longest running and most influential gospel group in the world, from singing at benefits with Martin Luther King, Jr. to holding concerts at the White House, the Olympics, and on Broadway. They are the epitome of the idea of staying true to yourself, following your passion, and loving what you do. For tour dates and recent project info, visit blindboys.com

HOMER ON THE RIVER

There is a legend of a man living on the banks of the Conecuh River. His name was Homer. He fished and cut shingles for a living, isolated by choice, except for the one day a year he would wander into the nearest town. The people knew to expect him coming down the road, naked as the day he was born, with a scraggly beard not quite long enough to cover him. The townspeople would give him clothes, a haircut, and a handful of goods, and he would thank them for their generosity before heading back down to the river for another year. Legend of Homer holds that he never learned how to swim, so every year, to get to town, he would simply hold his nose and walk across the bottom of the river to cross.