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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQcPzB_UFys
|East side of Pickens County Courthouse in Carrollton, AL|
|The discoloration of the garret window|