Monday, August 22, 2016

Southern History Book of the Month: Forgotten Tales of Alabama

Forgotten Tales of Alabama 
Kelly Kazek
Illustrations by Kyle McQueen

It’s back to school season, and that made me think of how I used to feel when it was time to go back after a summer neatly bookended by Vacation Bible School in early June and a two-week trip to Magnolia Springs every August. I remember that Alabama history was part of the curriculum in fourth and ninth grades, and I can also remember not especially liking it. But if I’d had Kelly Kazek’s Forgotten Tales of Alabama to read, I might have felt differently. This little book is a wonderful compendium of the humorous, the memorable, and the just plain weird sites, people, and incidents in the history of Alabama. It lends itself very well to browsing and here are some samples of the Alabama lore you’ll find in it:

The Wolf Woman of Mobile
When Fish Fell on Chilatchee
World’s Largest Cake Baked in Fort Payne
Nation’s Last River Postal Route
The Mystery Graves of North Alabama

Here’s an excerpt about one colorful character I remember from my childhood—Birmingham’s “Batman,” Willie J. Perry:
Why is a 1971 Thunderbird important to Birmingham’s history? The car was once driven by Willie J. Perry, the man known as the Birmingham Batman. Perry became a local icon when he drove the car around the city displaying a sign that read: “Will help anyone in distress.” When he came across stranded motorists, he would supply gas or offer use of his jumper cables or a ride home . . . His mission, based on the Golden Rule, became so well known that he was featured on the television show That’s Incredible! in 1982.
Not all of the incidents are lighthearted. There is an especially sad segment about an infant death that was most likely caused by a patent medicine called Godfrey’s Cordial. The account of the Birmingham Axe Murders isn’t exactly cheerful, either. But if you’re drawn to unusual folklore, this may be exactly the book for you. And pass it on to your children. It could show them a whole new way of looking at history.

Kelly Kazek at
That’s Incredible! – “Batman of Birmingham”
Map of the Birmingham Axe Murders
Patent Medicines
The River Postal Route

Mary Anne Ellis
Southern History Department
Birmingham Public Library

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