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Filtering by Category: Alabama Oddities

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.

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, by 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 his 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 “All 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 Hitler’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.

Alabama Oddities Collection #24

Amanda Herman

A tale is told that a place called Sweet Gum Bottom, outside of Andalusia, Alabama, is home to a headless woman searching for her assailant. A woman gives a friend’s name and account of the town’s last encounter with the headless woman to date. A man named McVay was headed out from Andalusia and came upon the hollow amidst the densely wooded countryside. He heard his back tailgate rattle and unlatch, and from his rearview mirror, Mcvay gasped at the image of a headless woman clutched onto the sides of his truck, hiking her leg to climb into the vehicle with him. He slammed on the gas and she lost her grip. Afraid someone would be coming for her, it seemed, she hunched her shoulders, gripped her dress, and took off back into the woods.

The DeSoto caverns were claimed by the Creek tribes of the area when I.W. Wright was traveling through to trade and negotiate with the natives in the early 1700’s. Wright stopped and napped in the cavernous solitude. After he felt well rested, he gathered his belongings, carved his name and the date in the side of the cave in a “Wright was here” fashion, and started on his way. When his vandalism was found out, he was allegedly captured, scalped, and killed for his disrespect. Remains were reportedly found in the nearby area, the name “Wright” carved deeply into one of the bones.

“Sacred to the memory of William Patterson who departed from this life May 29, 1847. Aged 30 years. When sorrow weeps on virtue’s sacred dust/ Our tears become us and our grief is just. Such were the tears she shed who gratefully pays/ This last sad tribute of her love and praise.” Mr William B. Patterson was a young bachelor who is said to have taken his fair part in drinking, brawling, dancing and horse racing. It is rumored that the forbidden lover who wrote this beautifully emotional tribute to William was an Italian belle over whom he had dueled and lost. He owned a cotton gin on present day Dryer Avenue, and his plantation was located where Highway 98 runs now, just outside of Village Point Park Preserve, the park that Jackson Oak calls home. When the streets were being laid, his headstone displaying these beautiful words was moved out of the way, now displayed just off the road, but his body was never exhumed, so he is still resting just under the highway.

Seamen's Bethel Chapel Theatre was built in 1860 in downtown Mobile, Alabama, used as a refuge for sailors. In the 1980's it was relocated to the campus of the University of South Alabama, and it seems two spirits made the move along with the building. People attending and participating in performances in the theatre have reported seeing the same tall man in the fly loft, wearing a sailor cap and a captain's coat. Others that have used the basement area as a dressing room report a small child running wildly through racks of clothes and chilling folks with her laughter, just before she vanishes.

 8x10 print available for purchase  here

8x10 print available for purchase here

Sloss Furnace in Birmingham, Alabama was built in the 1880's and stayed in operation until the 1970's. Working conditions were incredibly dangerous at times, and this now nationally recognized Historic Landmark has seen its unimaginable share of tragically fatal accidents. Grown men's guttural screams, forceful shoving by invisible entities (especially while crossing high risers and rafters), heavy footsteps chasing closely behind, and even deceptive changes in pathways while folks are carefully navigating the grounds. The paranormally charged site is a overwhelmingly shared belief, reports flooding in by locals and tourists every year leading up to the famous FrightFurnace.com haunted spectacle of a tour.

During the Great Depression, the Federal Government built a Cannery at 1901 Main Street in Daphne, a high pressure cooker and preservation machine to protect excess produce from spoiling. This area quickly grew into a social hub for homemakers and farmers. The operation was managed by Miz Clara, described as outspoken and hot-tempered, with an adoring husband, her biggest cheerleader. Miz Clara traveled as a feature with the Ringling Brothers as a bareback equestrian. She was also a main costume designer for the famous clown, Emmett Kelly, creator of “Weary Willie.”

 Available for purchase as postcard and photo print  here

Available for purchase as postcard and photo print here

The route carved out by Jackson and his men, stopping in the Daphne area to give his speeches and motivations from the branches of what is now known as Jackson’s Oak, is called Jackson’s trail, leading across Baldwin County to Pensacola. Jackson was on his way to Pensacola from New Orleans to stop the British from occupying Spanish ports. When he and his men reached Pensacola, he was unwilling to negotiate terms, and the British replied by blowing up the fort and sailing away.

On this day, May 5th in 1937, Alabama’s 22 year ban on liquor was lifted and legal hooch sales returned to the state. But did you know that the hottest spots to hang during the years of the illegal party scene were actually underground? Three caves in Alabama are noted to have housed quite a few all-nighters in their day. DeSoto Caverns was known as “The Bloody Bucket” due to the Road House style crew it attracted. Shelta Cave, operating as a party palace before prohibition as well, was given electric lighting and was not at all deterred by illegal liquor sales. Bangor Cave, pictured above, was a speakeasy in the 1920’s and gained popularity as “America’s Only Underground Nightclub.” Papers falsely read that the hot spot was newly opened in 1937, just as Alabama’s illegal liquor law was abolished. How convenient.

 

Today’s Alabama oddity is the tale of Eufaula’s property owning plant. An amazing oak tree has been standing longer than most buildings in Eufaula, Alabama. The home of Confederate Captain John Walker, just feet from where the tree resides, burned to the ground after the Civil War, and the tree went on unscathed. Not even the destructive hurricane that swept through Alabama in 1919 damaged the mighty oak. By 1936, the oak stretched to 66 feet in height and a whopping 85 feet wide. The city wanted to preserve the tree with honor, so a “deed of sentiment” was written for the tree and “by” the tree, so that the Walker Oak could quite literally own itself. When the mighty tree finally met its fate in 1961 at the terror of a tornado, area newspapers prominently announced its death in the obituaries.

On a sunny day in Wilcox County, Alabama in the spring of 1956, people were baffled by the strange cloud looming over them. The fear set in only when they realized that it wasn’t rain falling from the sky, but live fish: local bass, brim, and catfish! Yes, they were confused, but not scared enough to realize that dinner was being delivered, and quickly pulled out buckets and boxes to catch the odd bounty. Fish rains have been reported numerous times across Alabama, and the explanation for them is actually quite simple. Water spouts or concentrated whirlwinds that sit over one of the many bodies of water surrounding and running through Dixie causes these fish to be shot straight into the air. If they reach high enough, these creatures can be carried for miles before falling back down on unsuspecting folks.