Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween 2011 - Two Fascinating Alabama Ghost Stories

Ghost Face in the Window
Two of my favorite Southern ghost stories originate in Alabama: Carrollton's mysterious Face in the Window and Newton's legendary Sketoe's Hole ("The hole that will not stay filled").

Both appeared in Katherine Tucker Windham's beloved book, 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. Mrs. Windham was a major force in the preservation of Alabama and Southern folklore and heritage at a time when Southern history was disappearing at a tragic rate. She passed away this year, but will long be remembered as a wonderful teller of stories and as a much loved Southern lady.

In her memory, I thought I would remind you of these two wonderful ghost stories:

The Ghost Face in the Window
For more than 130 years, a strange image has been seen in one of the attic windows of the old Pickens County Courthouse in Carrollton, Alabama. It is so easy to see, in fact, that an arrow on the courthouse wall points to it so tourists can spot it with no trouble. Many believe the mysterious image is the ghostly face of a man named Henry Wells.

According to legend, Wells was accused of burning the previous Pickens County Courthouse. The replacement building was nearing completion when he was spotted and chased by a lynch mob. He ran into the structure and hid in the attic, where he could look out the window at the crowd milling in the street below. A heavy storm was passing over Carrollton at the time and a bolt of lightning suddenly struck the window. Since that moment, it is said, his frightened face has appeared on the glass of the window pane.

Is the legend true?  Does the ghostly face of Henry Wells still look out from a window in the old courthouse?  Learn the facts and judge for yourself by visiting

Recreation of Sketoe's Hole
Sketoe's Hole: The Hold that will not stay Filled
The remarkable story of Sketoe's Hole is an often told part of the folklore of the Wiregrass region of southeastern Alabama. The tale dates back to the violent days of the Civil War and the hanging of a man named Bill Sketoe.

The legend holds that Sketoe was a Confederate soldier who came home from the front to care for a sick wife. Military records indicate otherwise, as no trace of him has ever been found in a Confederate unit. Whatever his story, he was taken prisoner by a Confederate cavalry company in 1864. Carried down to a tree on the banks of the Choctawhatchee River at Newton in Dale County, Sketoe was hanged.

He was a tall man, however, and his feet touched the ground even after he was hanging from the tree. One of the men involved in the hanging had been wounded in battle and was on crutches. He used one of these to dig out a hole under Sketoe's feet so the man would not be able to stand on his toes. Sketoe died and was buried, but the hole remained. In fact, for more than 100 years it was said that the hole could not be filled. Debris and trash could be placed in it at night, but by the next morning it would be swept clean. Many came to believe that the ghost of Bill Sketoe still hung from a rope at the site, its swinging feet sweeping the hole clean each night.

Interested in learning the true story?  Visit

I hope you enjoy these little adventures into the folklore of Alabama. I think you will find the real history behind the tales to be just as fascinating as the legends.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Civil War: Alabama Militiamen meet a Tragic Fate

Civil War era church in Campbellton
One of the most tragic episodes involving Alabama's Civil War militia or, as they are often termed, "home guards," took place along the Florida state line on September 27, 1864.

As the war had progressed and larger and larger numbers of men and boys went away to fight on the main fronts, Alabama turned for much of its defense to a state militia organization. Companies were organized in counties across the state, with regiments formed from every few counties. These operated under the command of regimental officers, while the local commanders were elected by the men themselves.

Original Salt Kettle at St. Andrew Bay, Florida
In the fall of 1864, detachments of militiamen from Dale County were assigned to guard oxcarts carrying salt from the works on St. Andrew Bay in Florida back to Alabama. Salt was a vital commodity both for the Confederate military and for the civilian population as well. A necessity for use in preserving meat in those days before refrigeration, it was vital to survival for people from all walks of life.

On September 27, 1864, as Union troops under Brigadier General Alexander Asboth attacked the Florida city of Marianna, a detachment of Dale County militiamen were making their way nearby with an oxcart loaded with salt. They had somehow missed the Federal column as it made its way to Marianna that morning, but things took a tragic turn when they reached the stateline town of Campbellton that afternoon.

Lt. Col. A.B. Spurling, 2nd Maine
As the Dale County men came into Campbellton, they saw gray-uniformed soldiers ahead. But these men were not what they seemed. The "Confederates" turned out to be disguised Union soldiers led by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew B. Spurling of the 2nd Maine Cavalry. Spurling had been detached with a small group of men from the main Union column four days earlier, with instructions to pursue a body of Confederate cavalrymen who had eluded capture at Eucheeanna in Walton County, Florida.

Spurling and his men donned Confederate uniforms and took off into the stateline country. Please click here to read more about his brief visit to Geneva, Alabama.

They reached Campbellton at the same time as the Dale County men and, according to an account of Spurlings operations, captured an "army wagon" and three Alabama militiamen.

Tragically, these three men disappear from the record and are never heard from again. Local tradition in Dale County holds that they went off to "get salt at the bay and never came home." Their fate seems to have been dark.

Spurling and his men were operating undercover, behind enemy lines. Because they were wearing Confederate uniforms, they knew that if they were detected they would face immediate execution as spies. Carrying along prisoners could prove fatal to the colonel and his men if they stumbled across a Confederate patrol.  This left them with only two options:  1) release the men, and 2) kill them.

Since the men never returned home, the only logical conclusion is that they were taken into the woods and killed by the undercover Federals. Their bones likely rest somewhere near the state line in Jackson County, Florida, to this day.

To learn more about the 1864 Marianna Raid and Spurling's undercover activities, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition .

It is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle and iBooks devices. You can also read more about the raid at