Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Ghostly Visage of Pickens County Courthouse

The current Pickens County Courthouse in Carrollton, Alabama is actually the third courthouse built, after the previous two were burned to the ground. The first courthouse fell victim to Union troops during the American Civil War, but the town scrapped together their resources and completely rebuilt the structure. It would only last for twelve years before again being completely gutted by fire on November 16, 1876, reportedly after a burglary went bad. This time however, as the townsfolk rebuilt, they wanted someone to pay for the loss of the building and that someone was a freed slave by the name of Henry Wells.

The history and the legend differ in what exactly happens next. The story told is that Wells was arrested in January of 1878 and incarcerated on the top floor of the building. An angry mob assembled outside with the intention of getting their hands on Wells. Faced with a possible lynching, Wells looked out the top window and yelled at the crowd, "I am innocent. If you kill me, I am going to haunt you for the rest of your lives!" Just then, lightning struck nearby illuminating his face in the pane of glass. It was not enough however, as the mob rushed the building, snatched Wells, and enacted their own form of vengeance. The very next day, members of the mob noticed the face of Wells still staring down at them from the very window he stood at the night before. No matter how hard they try to wash and scrub down the pane, the face remains to this day.

In reality, Wells was implicated in the arson that destroyed the courthouse. However, as police went to apprehend him, he tried to run but was hit by two bullets fired by the officers. He reportedly did confess to the fire, but died five days later from his wounds. There is also some question if the particular pane of glass that is said to carry the visage of Wells was even installed while he was still alive. It hardly matters though, as the legend continues to spread and the Pickens County Courthouse and the window with the ghostly face continues to be a top tourist destination to this day.

Visit the permanent "ghostly" marker of the Pickens County Courthouse.

-Casey H.

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