Normally, Alan Brown writes ghost stories.
But he could no longer ignore the strange stories of bumps in the night, mythical creatures and even an alleged crying pecan tree that fill Alabama’s history.
They weren’t ghost. They weren’t hauntings. But they were, weird.
“There’s a lot of strange stuff that has happened in this state and it doesn’t get enough recognition,” Brown said. “Because it’s a Deep South state people think of the Deep South as being haunted for the most part. You don’t normally associate it with these other things, UFOs and monsters.”
Brown said he based his research on some of the stories uncovered by Kathryn Tucker Windham who wrote, “Alabama, One Big Front Porch.” Published in 1975, that book took readers on an in-depth tour of the state. In her research she also stumbled upon stories, legends and tales that were too unusual to be considered historical.
The stories Brown uncovered came from newspaper clippings, old diaries and most commonly from locals who retold the stories that had been shared with them over generations.
Brown’s favorite Alabama legend is that of Escambia County train robber, Railroad Bill, who, as legend has it, was a shape shifter. And, he was a real person. As the story goes when the sheriff sent his dogs to chase Bill, the train robber would turn into a dog and join in the chase.
Whether that is true or not, is beside the point. The story was bigger than life and was entertaining for those who shared it and imagined what else Railroad Bill could do. Most of the legends in “Eerie Alabama” are rooted in facts that have been embellished over the years as they passed from storyteller to storyteller.
An example is that of phantom Huggin’ Molly who chased children who were caught out alone at night, hugged them tight and screamed in their ears. Brown said the tale was probably fabricated by parents who wanted to keep their children inside after supper.
Fairytale or not, the town of Abbeville, north of Dothan, where Huggin’ Molly is said to roam, has embraced the legend as a hallmark of their identity.
The town of Fyffe, Alabama holds an annual UFO festival every August to commemorate reported UFO sightings there in February, 1989.
Brown said he fears these myths and legends, long held dear as entertainment passed between generations, will eventually disappear.
“People don’t talk to each other much anymore,” he said. “I see students with their nose stuck in a cell phone when they walk in the classroom. There’s no interaction with each other.
“It’s sad and alarming. They’re not sharing anything except with their cyber friends and even those messages are often truncated and not full blown stories. People used to sit on the front porch after supper and cool off and share these stories and we don’t see it that much anymore.”