Monday, March 9, 2015

The Face in the Window

Pickens County, Alabama is one of those out-of-the-way places, 35 miles west of Tuscaloosa and with a 2010 population of 19,746. Not a lot happens there; however, one of the spooky stories of the South comes from the county seat of Carrollton, Alabama, a town with about 980 residents. This is the Face in the Window.

According to one version of the story, the Pickens County's courthouse was burned down by Union troops during the Civil War. Soon after the Great Unpleasantness, a second one was built, but it was also burned down and arson was suspected. That riled some folks. There was a local former slave, one Henry Wells, who had a reputation for trouble and he was rumored to have burned it down during a failed burglary attempt.

The citizens of Pickens County, figuring the third time's the charm, erected a third courthouse. By the time suspicion regarding the second courthouse's burning had focused on Henry Wells, this third one had been erected. When Wells was arrested, they locked him in the garret or attic. Some versions had it that while fleeing, he attempted to hide in this third courthouse, but a lynch mob pursued him there.

While he was hiding and looking out of the window at the angry mob, a lightning flash occurred. And supposedly his image got etched into the lower right pane of the garret window on the East side. This image was discovered soon after the lynching by one of the lynch mob members, who remembered that Wells would leave a reminder that they hanged an innocent man.

To this day, this supposed image of Henry Wells continues to stare down at Pickens County residents as a cautionary message against lynching.

However, another version of the alleged events tells a different story. This one has it that Henry Wells died of natural causes, but that another lynching got mixed up in the narrative. Choose the one you prefer.

Not surprisingly, to explain this anomaly in a window, the local community would tend to opt for the story with the greater dramatic value. There were even embellishments to this legend and a local drama.

Here's Kathryn Tucker Windham, Alabama storyteller and writer, giving her version of the story:

East side of Pickens County Courthouse in Carrollton, AL

The discoloration of the garret window


Linda Kay said...

Oh, I like the lynching story the best, and I wonder who really did it. I'd like to be Mr. Wells was innocent. Love your words for the Civil War, Angel.

Clarissa said...

A sad but interesting story.

TexWisGirl said...

the lynch mob story makes my stomach turn.

Big Sky Heidi said...

The story is scary through and through.

Mike said...

I'm surprised that window pane has lasted this long.

Dixie@dcrelief said...

This just sounds so evil to me...ooh.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer said...

I've been there -- it's bo-ring!

Cloudia said...

Thanks for this rich, regional gem

ALOHA from Honolulu

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Pickens County is a surreal place. At nearby Aliceville there was the largest P.O.W. camp in the Southeast, and close by there is a very large site for disposal of chemical wastes.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

I'm sorry this one was a downer.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer said...

What sort of tips would you offer a possible waitress to be, pop tart?