Every state has its weird side, and Alabama is no exception. A dive into Alabama history and lore can be like going down a rabbit hole into a strange and wild world. From real monsters to a fish that got a full funeral, here are five crazy, interesting stories from the Heart of Dixie.
The Choccolocco Monster
While cruising down a dark road between Choccolocco and Iron City one night in May of 1969, a driver caught something in his headlights that would make the bravest turn white. A monster, about the size of a cow, raised up on the side of the highway and threatened to jump out in front of his car.
People began calling the local sheriff and newspaper to report a "booger" with a big head and teeth and shaggy fur that could raise up on its hind legs. At least eight people reported seeing the beast along the Iron City Cutoff. People flocked to the area to catch a glimpse of the monster, but soon sightings of the monster stopped and the Choccolocco Monster became a distant memory.
Then on Halloween 2001, a man named Neal Williamson told the Anniston Star, a local newspaper, that he had been the trickster behind the Choccolocco monster. When he was fifteen, he had stolen his family's car and donned a bedsheet or a long black coat and held a cow skull over his head and danced on the side of the road when cars came near. His shenanigans continued for several nights until a driver stopped and fired a rifle at him. Williamson himself became a brief celebrity for a little while and even appeared on the Daily Show on Comedy Central.
Alabama: First in Flight?
North Carolina's "First in Flight" motto may actually belong to Alabama. In 1869, Long before the Wright Brothers went to Kitty Hawk, Dr. Lewis Archer Boswell moved to Alabama with his new bride to her family's plantation in Talladega. The doctor had already published some papers on aeronautics and had even built a miniature version of a plane. After he moved, He built a full scale one, and much to the amazement of some witnesses made many flights in it. Many of the people who saw it lived well into the twentieth century and told how he used the barn roof as a launch pad and flew over the cotton fields on the farm.
Unfortunately, Boswell did not have the foresight to take pictures or leave any other kind of hard evidence behind, so the Wright Brothers, who flew in 1903, get the credit of building the first successful airplane since it could not be definitively proven Dr. Boswell really did fly. Boswell's other work did not go unrecognized, however. He had patents for a propeller and a steering mechanism. He also invented a tricycle-like undercarriage which was the predecessor for the one used today. Talladega Municipal Airport has been renamed Boswell Field in his honor and a marker in Oak Hill Cemetery where he is buried states "Invented a flying machine in the 1800s. Recorded witnesses stated they saw it airborne."
A fish named Leroy Brown
Tom Mann was sort of a celebrity in the fishing world. He invented the jelly worm along with several other types of lures and the Hummingbird depth finder and was a member of the Professional Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, but what he is probably most famous for is his fish, Leroy Brown. Mann caught the bass in Lake Eufaula in 1973 and took him home and put him in a tank with other fish. He named him after the song "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" by Jim Croce, and although he was smaller than the other fish, he quickly took charge of the tank. Mann later moved him to a larger aquarium at his bait shop, Tom Mann's Fish World, where Leroy became a celebrity. Mann taught him how to jump through a hoop and eat out of his hand. Tom Mann would often try out new bait in the tank which the other fish would bite, but Leroy, too smart to fall for the same trick twice, swatted at the lures with his tail. When the fish died in 1981, famous people such as Hank Williams Jr. and Alabama Governor Fob James sent their condolences, and Mann decided to have a funeral for the bass.
At the funeral, the Eufaula High School marching band played "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," and the pallbearers were famous bass fishermen. But, the story gets stranger. Leroy was not buried the day of the funeral because the ground was too wet, and Mann stored him in a casket in a freezer until he could be buried. The night after the funeral, someone stole the fish's body, and Tom Mann offered $10,000 for its return. Three weeks later, a phone call was received from the Tulsa, Oklahoma airport demanding a ransom, and police alerted a baggage handler who followed his nose to an unclaimed bag that held Leroy's body. Mann erected a $4,000 marble monument to Leroy Brown at his bait shop that has since been moved to the median on Broad St in Eufaula after spending some time in the possession of a private owner after the bait shop closed.
The inscription on the monument reads, "Most bass are just fish but Leroy Brown was something special."
Tecumseh's mighty foot
In 1808, Tecumseh, a Shawnee warrior, began to try to recruit other tribes to join him in an uprising against the American government, settlers, and assimilation. He eventually made his way into Alabama in October of 1811, where he met with the Creek Nation at the the town of Tukabachi along the Tallapoosa River. The Creeks wanted no part in the uprising, and Tecumseh became angry with them. According to legend, he told them that, when he returned home, he would stomp his foot and "shake down every house in Tukabachi." The town actually was shaken on December 16, when the New Madrid earthquake shook the Mississippi Valley. The quake was measured as a 7.5 on the Richter scale and caused large waves on the Mississippi that capsized boats and washed ashore others. There was no way for Tecumseh to know that the earthquake would happen, but it did make for an eerie coincidence.
The Free State of Winston
When the Civil War broke out, many of the people living in north Alabama did not agree with the state's decision to secede from the Union. Most of the people living in this hilly area had a hard time farming and did not own big plantations that used slave labor like their neighbors in the more flatter parts of the state. On July 4, 1861, 3,000 Union supporters gathered at Looney's Tavern in Winston County to decide what they should do. Some citizens argued that they should secede and join other counties from Alabama and Tennessee and form their own state. Others said they should just secede from Alabama like it had from the Union, and one man jokingly said that they should call it the" Free State of Winston." This meeting and declaration of the name have given way to stories that Winston County actually did secede from Alabama when, in fact, it did not. Many men, however, did go to Union states and join the army to fight the Confederacy, and others took part in resistance movements. Bill Looney, who owned the tavern, helped lead raids to free Unionists from Confederate prisons.