Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us with any questions, inquiries, or comments regarding the Serpents of Bienville project.

754 Government Street
Mobile, AL, 36602
United States

(251) 304-9008

The Serpents of Bienville is an artist collective started in Southern Alabama by Amanda and Sean Herman. The project has grown from a study of southern mythology and folklore to include art, books, and merchandise available for purchase. The Serpents of Bienville is a celebration of the Southern Arts community and the people that carry on the tradition of creativity. Subscribe to our blog to hear about Alabama's history, oddities, lore and hidden treasures. Follow us on social media to stay up to date with new artists and projects in our community!

mossbanner.jpg

Blog

 

 

Filtering by Tag: folklore

Serpent Tales: Down To The Bone

Amanda Herman

Their daughter came home with cuts on her arms. The girl was a gentle and friendly soul. No one would mean her harm. 

 

“Who would do this to you?” 

“The little girl that plays with me in the field.”

“What little girl? What’s her name?”

“She doesn’t know her name.”

“The girl doesn't know her own name? Where does she live?”

“Under the porch.”

 

“…our porch?’

“Yes ma’am.”

“Well, when your little friend comes back, I want to have a word with her.”

“She can’t speak, mama.”

 

Her parents became more concerned than they intended after that conversation. They watched the next day when their girl was expected back from the fields to see if they could spy their daughter with her new friend. Sure enough, their daughter was sitting under the old oak by the road with a little girl that neither parent had seen before. A little younger, a little paler, she didn't speak, yet she got along fine with their little girl, so the parents’ minds were eased for a spell, until the sun was almost set. Just as the last rays faded from the sky, the unknown child pulled out a bone from her dress pocket, swiped their daughter’s arm, and then jumped away from their daughter, seemingly struck with fear from harming her friend. Then she crawled across the dirt patches in the yard and scurried underneath their very own porch.

 

“Git back out here right now, ‘fore I call your mama!”

 

No one answered.

No one was there.

 

Their daughter didn't seem nearly as shaken as they were. Though, she did tell warn how the interaction between herself and the other child was going to play out. The next day, her parents repeated their actions, hiding in the same place, spying the same child getting along well with their daughter. This time, just as soon as they saw the sun leaving the sky, knowing the little one would reach into her pocket at any moment, the parents leapt out from behind the house and called to the girl, “What do you think you're doin? Where’s your mama?” The little one flashed up on her feet and stared the mother down with the dark and telling shadows where her eyes surely should have been. The child rushed at the mother all at once, on hands and feet, not enough human, and too innocent to be called creature. Right before the mother’s eyes, it whipped out the bone from her pocket and swiped it cleanly across her arm. The fear she expected to wash over her never rolled in, she only worried for the child, not of herself. Following closely as the little one scampered back to the porch, gnawing and scratching to reach the underbelly of the wood slats, the mother raced for the toolshed. Returning with a crowbar and a shovel, she handed one to her husband.

 

“Help the poor child.”

 

She pulled up the boards and the father dug until he saw her. Hands around her face, shoulders curled to one side, both feet tucked under her hips, the little girl’s bones lay, finally found, ready for rest.

 

Serpent Tales is a series of folktales from around the South that I have been researching, writing, and reconfiguring for a while. We share stories to strengthen the ties that hold us to each other, to those that came before us, to the roots from which our best tomorrows can grow. The original pointillism artwork for this story pictured above was created by Sean Herman and can be purchased at the Serpents Store in downtown Mobile, Alabama.

 

We Are The Serpents of Bienville

We birthed from ancient bogs where fog concealed marauder’s scorchings 

left from the fires of freedom, and loss thereof its spoil. 

The wicked soils birthed nourishment, shores lined themselves in feast.

No heed to Iberville omen, the harbinger of bones in the harbor just back.

And now we revel with the saints and haints rekindled year again,

and jubilee on in holy shallows knowing each of us shall join them

under the oak once more with only wampus to guard our souls.

 

Keep treasure Mauvila in your heart, they knew what we forget.

Brand the surface with what you will, it still passes with master to grave.

It wasn’t only Creek that saw our slither boding.

We are Bienville’s serpents.

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 Weekly Rundown Tuesday March 1st - Monday March 7th

Amanda Herman

We here at Serpents of Bienville have a lot of different projects currently running.  One project that we are particularly excited about is the Alabama Oddities pieces that Amanda is writing for our social media sites.  She is doing daily updates, bringing you a new story every morning, of something strange and odd from our Southern home.  Not everyone has social media, so we will be doing weekly rundown's of her stories, which we will be publishing every Sunday.  We hope you guys enjoy, and remember to follow us on our social media sites to get daily Alabama Oddities stories.  With the opening of the new Serpents of Bienville Art Gallery we have been a little behind on the rundowns so here's one a day or two late. So enjoy!

 

Tuesday March 1st - Preventative Measure by Goldfish

Here is an early vaccine from Walker County, Alabama. Whooping Cough is a highly contagious respiratory infection, and is known to be fatal for smaller children. This was a serious worry for parents before the life saving vaccine became available in the 1940's. As with most superstitions, the fabled prevention of whooping cough in Alabama grew out of fears from the natural world. Mrs. Lois Pinkard took the medically unsound advice of an elder, worried about her child's health and safety. She says she was told to put a goldfish in her baby's mouth and hold it there until the fish fluttered its tail, then remove the fish and the child would be protected from the infectious disease. Her hesitation was outweighed by the drive to keep her baby safe, so the child opened wide, and mama dropped the goldfish in its mouth. The baby swallowed the fish whole. Mrs. Lois panicked, not knowing if the fish had fluttered long enough for the spell to take hold. She figured it was the effort that really made the difference, because her child never caught whooping cough. 

 

Wednesday March 2nd - Jessie Turns White

 Dekalb County children have carried a story through the years, turning this folktale into a household urban legend in Alabama. Jessie talked her parents into leaving her at home by herself overnight with the reassurance that she was safe. Her big dog Mob would protect her to the ends of the earth. Her mother obliged and Jessie and Mob were left alone as the rest of the family crossed the river to spend time with kin. Jessie and Mob finished their chores, ate dinner, and rocked in a chair by the fire. Jessie thought she was listening to the wind whistling in the trees, but Mob began growling. The whistling grew heavier and Mob growled more crazily. Jessie decided to open the door and show her companion that nothing was out to spook him. Mob never wore a leash, because he never left Jessie's side. But tonight, Mob took off as soon as the door cracked open, needing to protect his girl. The sounds Mob created, screeching out from the woods scared Jessie ice cold. Then silence fell hard. When Jessie's family returned the next day, the doors were all locked from the inside. No one answered their knocking. When the family finally broke through the window to unlatch the door, the found Jessie alone, sitting still in her rocker, her hair turned white as a ghost. Mob never returned to her, and she never spoke of what really happened that night. Jessie never again spoke of anything at all.

 

Thursday March 3rd - White Stone

The White Stone is known to bring hardship on those who allow it to reside on their property. A story of its curse is known in Walker County. The couple that owned the farm worked in the field in view from their kitchen window every day, so the wife was surprised to see something standing still smack in the middle of it one morning. She went out in the early fog to check it out, and she found a stark white rock, about three feet tall and egg shaped, tall and still amongst her crops. The husband moved the rock to the flower garden, and the effects of the cursed stone befell the house shortly thereafter. The milk cow ran away, the well dried up, livestock and crops died inexplicably, and the barn caught fire, all within a month's time. When the realization set in that the streak of bad luck started at the discovery of the stone, the husband immediately loaded up the white menace and deposited it at the shore of a shallow creek. The milk cow returned, the well water flowed once more, and the next crop of vegetables were healthier and more plentiful than ever. Another man came across the white stone at the creek and, entranced by its beauty, loaded the cursed thing in his truck only to have it break down on the highway before he could even get it home.

 

Friday March 4th - There’s Silver in that Church Bell

The Daphne Museum is an elaborate step back in time, since it is housed inside the antebellum Daphne Methodist Church. At the casting of the original bell that rang from its belfry, Mr. and Mrs. William Jones donated silver dollars to line the inside of the bell because they told it "enhanced the tone." The Daphne Methodist Church held services since the 1840's, with the oldest grave marker found to read from 1847. It now preserves the beauty, history, and heritage of this Jubilee City. If you haven't been lately, I highly recommend it! The museum is open Sunday from 1 til 4!

 

Saturday March 5th - Essie Lignon Found Her Baby

Though many stories of phantom women on bridges, in search of their lost babies, have made their rounds through the circuit of urban legends, the Wild Woman of Pea River has turned up in written accounts linked to the death of Essie Ligon. Essie was an undocumented slave near Sylvan Grove just off the banks of Pea River, and she was fetching water when she heard her baby shriek from the basket where he was previously napping. She climbed as fast as she could back to her child's side, but the basket was empty. She searched every waking moment for years to find her little boy, with no clue to lead her looking. One day, though, fetching water at the same spot on Pea River, she saw a little black boy dressed in native garments, and just knew it was him. She scrambled to cross the river, but at a swell from heavy rains, the current was too much. The water took her. Locals say the Essie Ligon, the Wild Woman of Pea River, will chase cars across the bridge between Opp and Enterprise with a feverish rage, even causing flat tires and electrical problems that keep vehicles from reaching the other side, the side where her baby stood, the place of a reunion that never was.

 

Monday March 7th - The Little Girl at the Loxley Hotel

An Amish girl from Ohio with a child growing in her womb knew that she could bring nothing but shame and despair to her family in the early 1900's. She boarded the train one night and never returned to the north. Baldwin County, Alabama was advertised as a land of fertile soil and cheap estate, which sounded like a wonderful place to raise her child and start anew. Single mothers were not treated with any respect at the time, so constructing a story of losing her husband in the Great War, her backstory was covered, and with her broad skill set, employment came easy. Taking up work and residence at the Loxley Hotel, she hid her growing belly under numerous aprons, but the owner caught on quickly. She helped the mother-to-be during her pregnancy and protected the child after its birth. Soon, the kind owner sold the hotel, though, and the new employer was not so understanding. The little girl never left the upstairs room as advised by the mother, and the child would stare out the window all day, longing to play with the children passing through town. When the mother realized that this was no way to raise her child, that the girl deserved more than the confines of this room, the mother began to look for other work. But before the woman could pack up her little girl and start a better life, the influenza epidemic swept heavily through the region. When the woman didn't return to work for tow days, the angry hotel owner marched up to the maids quarters to give her what for, and found her cradling her child in the corner rocking chair, their lives recently slipped away. The rocking chair is now owned by a nearby resident of Loxley, and reports the rocking chair swaying at odd times throughout the day, and if you pass by the old hotel, you can still see the little girl staring out the top right window of the building, longing for companionship, clutching nothing but her doll.