In Montgomery--cradle of the Confederacy and capital city of Alabama--lost highways bring visitors to the grave of legendary country singer Hank Williams and the home of the jazz-era princess Zelda Fitzgerald. Dig up the bones on the feather duster murder from the Garden District, and find out which spirits at Huntingdon College make this campus their eternal home. Take a stroll through the Old Alabama Town, and listen for the ghost of the Lucas Tavern. Join ghost hunter and folklorist Faith Serafin for a trip through the Heart of Dixie and Montgomery's most haunted history.
About the Author
Faith Serafin is a historian and folklorist from Southeast Alabama. She is the author of Haunted Auburn and Opelika and Haunted Columbus, Georgia: Phantoms of the Fountain City. She is the director of the Alabama Paranormal Research Team.
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The Many Ghosts of Hank Williams
There are many ghostly tales from the state of Alabama, from Sloss Furances in Birmingham to the Civil War dead of Fort Morgan in Gulf Shores. The list of ghost stories and haunted locations are endless, but there is one legendary spirit bound to so many locations in the state and abroad that they all lay claim to his ghosts.
Hiram King Williams was born September 17, 1923, in Butler County, Alabama. His parents, Elonzo "Lon" Huble Williams and Jessie Lilybelle "Lily" Skipper-Williams, were both hard-working people who made their living working in the logging camps that traveled along America's railway systems. Just before Hiram was born, his father, Lon, joined the army near the end of World War I and was shipped from Camp Shelby in Mississippi and then to France with the 113 Regiment of Engineers, 42 Division. During this time, he sustained a head injury that was not received in combat. Allegedly he had fallen from a truck while hauling rocks, but his family later noted that he may have been injured while fighting over a young French girl. Lily Williams was a very formidable woman. She was of large stature with broad shoulders and had a very strict and no-nonsense personality. She also worked very hard alongside her husband in the logging camps, and after many years of traveling and living in box cars and railroad shacks, they rented the Old Kendrick place in Butler County, where Lilly worked on a small strawberry farm and ran a store out of one end of their home.
Hiram, from birth, was a lively and joyful child. However, he suffered a severe handicap that was not diagnosable at the time. In his early childhood, he didn't participate in sports or anything physically active. His parents knew at birth that he had an unusual knot on his spine, which today would have been determined to be spina bifida occulta, which is a condition that causes the nerves in the spinal column to be damaged by defects in the bones, structure of the spine or damage to the nerve endings in the spinal column. This caused him a great deal of pain and meant he could not participate in sports or heavy physical activity. His condition most likely contributed to his interest in music at a very young age and his mother noted in his first biography that he would sit with her in church at the piano and sing so loudly that he annoyed the other churchgoers. Hiram loved music above all other activities, and this was the beginning of his short but influential career in country music.
Sometime during September 1929, when Hiram was six, his father's brain injury affected his ability to smile and blink. The following January, Lily took Lon to the Veterans Hospital in Pensacola, Florida. He was later sent to Alexandria, Louisiana, where he stayed until 1937. During this time little Hiram grew isolated without his father and it impacted him greatly. His emotional burden concerning his missing father was obvious in one of his earliest unpublished songs, "I Wish I Had a Dad." It was rumored that Lily led most people to believe that Lon was dead during this time, stating that he was gassed and shell-shocked during his time in the war.
In Lon's absence, Lily moved her family to Georgiana, near Highway 31, where they rented a small log cabin, which burned down shortly after they moved in. This left her family penniless and without any possessions, but she loaded her children into a wagon and started for town in search of a new home. Lily was stopped by a local man named Thaddeus B. Rose, who offered to allow her and the children to stay in a home he owned at 127 Rose Avenue, free of charge, until she could get back on her feet. Though proud, Lily accepted the offer and moved in. Neighbors helped out by bringing in meals to the Williamses and lending them what they could spare in household goods and donated clothes.
During this time, Lily took on family members who needed to be cared for in exchange for money. She also worked in a local convalescent hospital for a while to bring in extra income for her family. Hiram's ever-growing obsession with music was definitely encouraged by his mother and sisters. Lily even took on overnight duties at the convalescent hospital to send him to a school in Avant, Alabama, where he learned to sing Bible hymns. He was particularly fond of black church music and favored the harmonic and orchestrated rhythms.
When Hiram was almost eleven years old, he met a local street musician named Rufus Payne. He was a slender-built black man who always carried a spiked vessel of tea, earning him the nickname, "TeeTot." Rufus "Tee-Tot" Payne had been born to slave parents on the Payne Plantation in Lowndes County. At some point, the Payne family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, and Rufus was influenced by the jazz music and soulful culture of the city. Later, Tee-Tot played on the streets of Georgiana. While he was performing as a one-man band (playing cymbals tied between his knees while strumming the guitar or harp), children took a curious interest in him, and they frequently harassed Tee-Tot for lessons. Hiram was one of those children, and Tee-Tot taught him everything he could.
After 1936, Lily Williams opened a downtown boardinghouse on South Perry Street in Montgomery, Alabama. Hiram was sixteen, and just like Tee-Tot, he played his guitar on the streets of Montgomery while singing and selling peanuts. Lily had managed to contribute to his musical interests by buying him a guitar on Christmas in 1937. She knew he could become a great musician if she could get him recognized by local radio personalities, and she entered him in many talent shows around Montgomery. His first was at the Empire Theater Friday Night Talent Show, where he won the fifteen-dollar grand prize. He later won so many of the talent shows that management at the Empire actually asked him to stop performing.
Hiram decided to drop his given name in favor of "Hank" and met Braxton Schuffert, a singer and songwriter and substantial connection in radio at WSFA. Hank preformed for Braxton, and eventually a feature segment for Hank, known as the "Singing Kid," became part of Schuffert's weekly broadcast. He later paired up with a local musician and fiddle player named Freddy Beach. "Dad" Crysel organized small talent shows in a hall on Commerce Street in Montgomery where Freddy and Hank played on a weekly basis. Braxton's show would eventually bring Smith "Hezzy" Adair to meet Hank Williams, and he helped organize Hank's first band, the Drifting Cowboys, and in 1938, Hank dropped out of school permanently to work as a full-time performer.
In early 1940, Hank met Roy Acuff, the famed Western singer and performer who abandoned his first band, the Crazy Tennesseans, after he joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1938. Roy Acuff would help bring Hank further up the country music ladder by acting as his publisher. Hank also went on a brief tour with Juan Lobo, also known as "Jack Wolf," a cowboy entertainer who performed western gun shticks and sold handmade chaps and belts. Braxton would eventually leave the band, but Hank and his Drifting Cowboys continued to travel and perform all over Alabama, Georgia and Florida, acquiring different band members who seemed almost disposable at this point in Hank's career. Hank was gaining the respect of many prominent people in country music, but he was at odds with his band members over his excessive alcohol abuse, which greatly hindered his performances.
Hank was now becoming a well-known prodigy in the music industry, and though he was determined to make it to the top, he harbored some demons that would come back to haunt him on many occasions throughout his lifetime. Hank traveled extensively with the Drifting Cowboys and eventually met Audrey Sheppard. He was working a medicine show in Banks, Alabama, when they met. Medicine shows were a clever ploy to sell medicinal herbs and "snake oil" for household purposes and home remedies. Hank immediately fell in love with Audrey, and within several months of their first meeting, they were living together and traveling with the band.
Audrey came to understand, just as Hank's band members did, that he had a substantial problem with alcohol. Hank didn't drink all the time, but when he did, he drank himself into a severe state of depression and sometimes anger. He struggled throughout his career to keep musicians in his band due to his inability to control this debilitating habit. However, it was the easiest way for him to cope with his business and personal relationships. He also developed some dependency to painkillers later on in life because of problems with his failing back.
Though Audrey loved Hank with all her heart, she refused to marry him until he had spent a year sober. Frequently they separated during their relationship due to his outbursts when intoxicated. While living in Andalusia, Alabama, where Hank and Audrey were married on December 15, 1944, Hank was locked up and charged with disorderly conduct after a domestic dispute broke out between them. Hank went on a drinking binge and threw her out with all her clothes. He was arrested that evening and spent the night in the Andalusia jail. Audrey sent band member Don Helms to bail him out the next day. Helms reported he was embarrassed to have to go and get Hank out of jail, but he paid the thirty dollars to get him out. While inside the jail, Helms looked across the way at Hank sitting on a bench in his cell. Hank glared back at him and said, "What d'ya want me to do? Stand on my head?" Hank was sober enough, but his defiance was still very profound. On the way out, one of the jailers said, "Come back and see us, Hank." Hank replied, "All of you can go to hell!" This was a time in Hank's life when his drunken antics would cost him greatly in many areas of his personal life and career, but it still molded his music and the heartfelt emotions he poured into all the lyrics he wrote. Hank's music was written from the pages of his life and, most of all, from his heart. Some of the songs he wrote, like "Mother is Gone," "My Darling Baby Girl," "A Tramp on the Street" and "I Wish I Could Forget," were all indicative of his struggles up to this point in his life.
Hank had been denied a place on the cast of the Grand Old Opry because of his alcoholism, but Audrey approached Fred Rose, the president of Acuff-Rose Music, while in Nashville, Tennessee, and Rose signed Hank to a contract with Sterling Records. In September 1946, a sixsong record, including "Never Again" and "Honkey Tonkin'," gained the attention of MGM, and he signed with them in 1947. He released "Move It on Over," a major hit that sent him to Shreveport, Louisiana, where he joined the radio show The Louisiana Hay Ride.
This was the pivotal point in Hank's career that sent him from mainstream radio into the limelight as one of America's most prominent and famous country music singers and performers. On May 26, 1949, Hank's son, Randal Hank Williams Jr., was born, and the following month on June 11, Hank finally made his debut at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville. Hank, despite his pitfalls, had successfully reached the peak of his glory and was a devoted and successful musician and performer. He continued to write and preform new hits like "Nobody's Lonesome for Me," "Moaning the Blues," "Cold Cold Heart" and "My Buckets Got a Hole In It." Everything seemed to be in perfect order, but once again, Hank's dark side would cause him to face more challenges.
Hank suffered a substantial injury during a hunting trip that subsequently aggravated his fragile back condition, and within a few short months, he was drinking heavily again. Hank also became addicted to the morphine that he took to ease his chronic back pain, and in 1952, his beloved Audrey divorced him. In August of that same year, he was fired from the Opry.
Hank went back to radio for a while, but in the words of "Ballad of Hank Williams," written by his son, Hank Williams Jr., and his friend Don Helms, "Hank run through a fifty and he run through a hundred and he run through a thousand just as hard as he could go," spending money hand over fist. He was drinking excessively, and along with his morphine habit, Hank was slowly killing himself and his career. Hank moved back in with his mother, Lily, and continued recording music. "Jambalaya" and "Settin' the Woods on Fire" were chart toppers even in his state of physical and mental distress.
Hank had always been very much a ladies man, and it was rumored that women would actually faint in the presence of him while performing. In the fall of 1952, Hank married Billie Jean Jones in New Orleans at a paid event where tickets were sold to attend the wedding. Hank and Billie's relationship was as rocky, if not worse, than Hank's previous marriage. On December 28, 1952, Hank gave his last performance in Montgomery, Alabama, at the Elite Café at the eighth-annual party of the American Federation of Musicians Local 479, and the next day, Billie Jean left him after a heated argument. He had a short-term relationship with Bobbie Jett prior to his short marriage to Billie Jean that resulted in his daughter, Jett Williams, who was born January 6, 1953 (six days after his death). During this time, he also recorded "Kaw-Liga," "Your Cheating Heart" and "Take These Chains." These were to be his last recording sessions.
While en route to a show in West Virginia, Hank had taken to heavy drinking and had also visited a doctor that same day for a shot of morphine to help his back through the long car ride. Hank and the driver, Charles Carr, a local college student hired to drive Hank to his shows, stopped several times on the journey. Shortly after midnight on January 1, 1943, when they pulled into a gas station in Oak Hill, Virginia, Hank was unresponsive in the back seat. He was dead.
On January 4, 1953, the largest funeral in Alabama history took place at the Montgomery Auditorium. Nearly thirty thousand spectators and mourners paid their final respects to the legend that was Hank Williams. One of his last recordings, conveniently labeled "I'll Never Get Out of this World Alive," was released just after his death and was a haunting and chilling reminder of his untimely death.
Though his life painted a flamboyant and sometimes chaotic picture, Hank's spirit today is just as popular as he was during his lifetime. Many locations, from Alabama to Tennessee, lay claim to Luke the Drifter's ghost. Songs by country music superstars David Allan Coe and Alan Jackson tell stories of supernatural experiences involving the ghost of Hank Williams. Even Hank's son, Hank Williams Jr., and grandson Shelton Hank Williams III have songs regarding his childhood home in Georgiana and his grave site in the Oakwood Annex Cemetery in Montgomery.
David Allan Coe's song "The Ride" tells of a chilling encounter with a pale stranger who stops to pick him up in an antique Cadillac while hitchhiking to Nashville. The stranger offers him a ride and some advice, "If you're big star bound, let me warn ya', it's a long, hard ride." Alan Jackson's song about Hank Williams, "Midnight in Montgomery," tells a similar experience when he stopped to pay his respects at the grave of Hank Williams and the apparition of a "drunk man in a cowboy hat" took him by surprise. He describes the apparition as "wearing shiny boots, a Nudi suit and haunting, haunted eyes." Hank's son, Hank Jr., may have the best description of a spiritual encounter in his song "127 Rose Avenue." Regarding the spirit that lingers in the boyhood home of Hank Williams in Georgiana, the song describes a "sad-eyed boy, with his guitar, cutting his teeth on the blues," and the chorus continues with "caretaker said as he shook his head, son do you believe in ghosts? For a five-dollar bill, you can feel the chill that he felt long ago." Hank Jr. also lets the listener know that he himself has felt an overwhelming presence of his father in the home while on a tour there.
Not far from Georgiana, in Andalusia, Alabama, the Old Andalusia Jail also possesses some residual and intelligent activity associated with the ghost of Hank Williams. The Alabama Paranormal Research Team conducted a paranormal investigation at the location in October 2010, alongside the Andalusia Police Department. During the investigation, we found that some of the spirits of the old jail still find comfort in having visitors. Several EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon) were recorded on digital recorders of slamming cell doors and disembodied voices. But the shadowy figure of a very thin man was seen in one of the upstairs cells where Hank spent the night. Several members of the team experienced the movement of this shadowy presence that night and also documented the sound of footsteps as the entity seemed to follow us during the investigation. One EVP collected that night was a simple answer to whether Hank's spirit was there. While investigating the jail, I asked the question, "Do you like having visitors?" the reply was simple, "Yup." This was a hair-raising experience and a possible indication that Hank's remarks to the jailer all those years ago may have been a threat he intends to fulfill, even from beyond his grave.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Haunted Montgomery, Alabama"
Copyright © 2013 Faith Serafin.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
I Montgomery Ghosts
The Many Ghosts of Hank Williams 15
Haunted Huntingdon College: Not Just the Red Lady 23
The Lady at Lucas Tavern 29
Spirits of the State Capitol Building 33
The Old Hill Infirmary 37
A Temporary Home for Eternal Spirits 42
Haunted Dorms at Maxwell Air Force Base 46
Capitol Plaza: Tower of Terror 48
The Winter Place 52
The Winter Building 56
Murder by Feather Duster 60
The Biscuits Stadium Spirits 65
The Wandering Spirit of Zelda Fitzgerald 69
Oakwood Cemetery 83
II Prattville Ghosts
Bear Creek Swamp 93
The Cross Garden 98
Prattville's Lady in Black 104
About the Author 111