From the Cumberland Plateau to the Appalachian valley, through the eroded lowlands of the Piedmont, into the Coastal Plain to the warm Gulf waters – Alabama runs through my veins. Childhood memories of bare feet in the Perdido River, shady days under the strong arms of live oak trees, and twisty breezes through moss-laden cypress have been the ties that bind my heart to the sweet Southland.
Like most gypsy souls, my teenage years brought rambling notions. I was a small town girl enchanted with the idea of discovering the world outside of the Deep South and headed out to do just that – just as soon as I “walked the field” (i.e. grabbed my diploma from the ceremony at the Baldwin County high school football stadium.)
Most of my adult life has been spent getting to know other states and regions of our country. I learned about soldiering in Missouri and zoonotic diseases in Texas, endured Monsoon season in East Asia, made life-long friends in Kansas City, the Carolinas and Florida, fell in love with the raw beauty of the Pacific Northwest, married my honey on a rocky creek bank in Tennessee, and nurtured a homestead in north central Georgia.
As any traveler knows, every place you have ever been sticks itself like a splinter into your heart. Those places become a part of you. Traveling souls also know that no matter how far you roam, and how many pieces of other places stay with you, there remains only one true home – and that splinter is the thickest and has wedged itself in the deepest.
As a perpetual homesickness has been with me every step of my way, I’ve come to relish anything celebrating the Deep South – poetry, movies, books, food, art, trivia, music, history (even the dark ugly spots). These help me stay connected to my kinfolk, our southern customs and the geographical uniqueness of home.
Randy Owens said it best when he sang “I’m in the Heart of Dixie, and Dixie’s in the heart of me” – and apparently there are multitudes of others who have their heart strings tied to Ole Alabam. There are easily more than 100 songs that have been written and sung about Alabama. Hank Williams (Sr. and Jr.), The Doors, The Grateful Dead, John Coletrane, Roy Clark, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jimmy Buffett, Jim Croce, Garth Brooks, and Shelby Lynn, are just a very few of the voices who have preserved their love for the Heart of Dixie with music – and have soothed my soul when I had the homesick blues.
And it’s not just music that can take me home, it’s the smell of Magnolia blossoms, wisteria vines and honeysuckle… it’s the sound of whippoorwills, seagulls and barred owls… an unruly scuppernong vine, wild huckleberries, a clear running creek… and of course, there’s the food – shrimp-n-grits, gumbo, jambalaya, fried mullet, crab étouffée, pecan pie, corn bread and milk, hushpuppies, tomato gravy over biscuits… and a boiler full of crawfish and potatoes can immediately transport me to an Alabama back porch on a lazy afternoon – no matter where I happen to be.
If you’re an Alabama native, a committed transplant or an occasional visitor – homesick traveler or a firmly imbedded homebody – I’m sure you’re catchin’ my drift. Sweet home Alabama is a tender Mother with a gluttonous appetite for her children’s devotions.
I’ve done some rootin’ around and found some particularly obscure insights into this land we call Alabama. Following is a lengthy, though very incomplete, list of some of the most interesting factoids I’ve gathered. So, kick your sandals off, grab a glass of sweet tea and find out how well you know Alabama the beautiful!
Did ya know?
- The first football game between the University of Alabama and Auburn University was played on February 22, 1893.
- Birmingham is home to The Vulcan, which is the world’s largest cast iron statue. The Vulcan is 56 feet tall and weighs 120,000 pounds.
- Mobile is home to the original Mardi Gras in the United States – started in 1703.
- Alabama’s Constitution has over 100,000 words and more than 700 amendments, making it one of the longest in the U.S.
- Mt. Cheaha is Alabama’s highest point at 2,407 feet above sea level.
- The Alabama coast has been within or near the core of a hurricane 59 times in the last 142 years. That is an average of once every 2.4 years – with the longest gap between storms (since historical recording) being 9 years.
- Alabama’s first newspapers were the Mobile Centinel (1811), the Mobile Gazette (1812) and Huntsville’s Alabama Republic (1816).
- There was a gold rush in east-central Alabama that started in 1835.
- In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States, however he never appeared on an Alabama ballot.
- The first rocket to put humans on the moon was built by Alabamians in Huntsville.
- The first 911 call in the United States was made in Haleyville, Alabama on February 16, 1968.
- Mail is delivered by boat in Magnolia Springs. This city has the only all-water mail route in the United States.
- Mobile is known as the city of six flags – having flown under the French, Spanish, British, Republic of Alabama, Confederacy, and the USA flags.
- Bald eagles, once plentiful in Alabama, were extirpated from the state after pesticide contamination in the 1940’s. A Restoration Project in 1984 reintroduced four of the birds at Guntersville Lake in Jackson County. It wasn’t until 1991 that young were successfully fledged, but nesting has occurred every year since, and the bald eagle is now found throughout the state once more.
- Today Lake Guntersville State Park is one of the premier eagle watching sites in the Southeast.
- Mobile Bay was the first body of water in the New World to be accurately charted. This was done by Pineda in 1519.
- Orville and Wilbur Wright established their “flying school” on land outside Montgomery (present home of Maxwell Air Force Base) six years after their first flight in North Carolina.
- Shelby County holds the record for fastest Habitat for Humanity homebuilding. The house was built in a little less than 3 ½ hours.
- Popeye the Sailorman worked on the Coosa River in Alabama – at least the man who was the inspiration for the character did. (Tom Sims, the son of a Coosa River channel boat captain, established the Popeye the Sailorman spin-off from E.C. Segar’s original Thimble Theatre.)
- Spanish explorers arrived at Mobile Bay in 1519. The first permanent European settlement in Alabama was founded by the French at Fort Louis de la Mobile in 1702.
- Rosa Park’s refusal to change seats on a Montgomery bus in 1955 began the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a landmark in the American civil rights movement.
- There is a cemetery in Northwest Alabama exclusively for ‘coon dogs. It is located off Highway 247 on Coon Dog Cemetery road, midway between Red Bay and Tuscumbia.
- Mobile is one of the rainiest cities in America – getting about 67 inches of rainfall each year.
- The first electric trolley system in the world was introduced in Montgomery in 1886.
- The hottest temperature recorded in the state so far was 112 degrees Fahrenheit in Centreville on Sept. 5, 1925.
- Baseball player Henry Louis (Hank) Aaron was born in Mobile in 1934.
- To help fund education, Alabama instituted its state sales tax in 1937.
- Mobile is named after the Mauvilla Indians. The correct pronunciation of the city is mobeel, given the soft emphasis on the second syllable by its French founders.
- Nathaniel Adams (Nat King) Cole was born in Montgomery in 1919.
- Alabama resident Sequoyah devised the phonetic, written alphabet of the Cherokee language.
- Helen Keller was born in Alabama in 1880. She was an author, activist and lecturer; she was also the first deaf/blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.
- Alabama has one of the longest navigable inland waterways in the nation.
- Alabama is also known as the Heart of Dixie.
- Baldwin County, along the Gulf Coast, is the largest county in the state in both land area and water area.
- A 5 mile wide meteorite impact crater is located in Elmore County, just north of Montgomery.
- South Alabama has a lengthy growing season of up to 300 days a year.
- The Gulf Coast averages between 70 and 80 days per year with thunder.
- Alabama ranks ninth in the number of deaths from lightning.
- Alabama and Oklahoma have the most reported EF5 tornadoes of any other states.
- The state is ranked among the top in the nation for its range of overall biodiversity; even so there are several endangered species listed throughout the state, including 99 animals and 18 plant species.
- Alabama waterways are home to 383 mollusk species. 113 of these have never been collected anywhere else in the world.
- Alabama’s income tax on poor working families is among the highest in the United States.
- Alabama is an alcoholic beverage control state, meaning that the state government holds a monopoly on the sale of alcohol.
- Baldwin County is ten years older than the state itself.
- In 1900 Baldwin County’s “seat” was authorized by legislature for relocation from Daphne to Bay Minette. However, Daphne refused to give up the designation. The men of Bay Minette literally stole the county’s records in the dark of night (while the law was chasing a fictitious murderer of their invention) and relocated them to Bay Minette – which remains the county seat to this day.
- In 2010, Republicans won control of both houses of the legislature for the first time in 136 years.
- “I Wish I Was in Dixie” is a popular song about the South. It was allegedly written by composer Daniel Emmett, a Northerner from Mount Vernon, Ohio, and published in 1859.
- Alabama is home to 24 State Parks, 4 State Forests, 4 National Forests and 10 Wildlife Refuges.
- Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, is from Monroeville.
- 43% of all snails in the United States are found in Alabama.
- Mobile Bay is one of the only places in the world where you can experience a “jubilee” — a natural phenomenon where huge numbers of crustaceans and fish spontaneously swarm in the shallows and can be easily harvested.
- Shelby County is home to one of the largest sinkholes in the U.S. The “Golly Hole” is more than 300 ft wide & 150 ft deep.
- On November 12, 1833 over 30,000 meteors showered Alabama. This became known as the day that “stars fell on Alabama”.
- And I can’t avoid mentioning at least some of the less attractive historical facts:
- In 1860 (more than fifty years after the United States abolished the international slave trade), 110 children, teenagers, and young adults from Benin and Nigeria were illegally brought ashore in Alabama under the cover of night. These were the last recorded group of Africans imported into the United States.
- When Alabama seceded from the Union in 1861, the state’s 435,080 slaves made up 45 percent of the total population.
- Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek Indians tribes once flourished throughout Alabama.
- On October 18, 1540, the largest Indian battle in North America occurred when the Spaniards attacked Chief Tuscaloosa’s village of Mauvila – which is now Mobile. Most of the 2,000 Native Americans were killed during the battle.
There is much debate as to the true meaning of the word “Alabama”. We know that there was a local Native tribe along the banks of what is now the Alabama River, who identified themselves as the “Albaamaha”. History has speculated that their translation was “here we rest”.
Another common interpretation of the meaning of Alabama, is that it came from joining two Choctaw words – Alba and Amo – meaning “weeds/herbs” and “gather”. The crux is that after DeSoto’s violent interactions with the local tribes, this kind of information simply wasn’t recorded (or even gathered) before exterminating the native people.
Now, I’d rather not leave on a sullen note, after all, we have no control over the past (only the future:) so, I’ll leave you with Langston Hughes instead:
Daybreak In Alabama
When I get to be a composer
I’m gonna write me some music about
Daybreak in Alabama
And I’m gonna put the purtiest songs in it
Rising out of the ground like a swamp mist
And falling out of heaven like soft dew.
I’m gonna put some tall tall trees in it
And the scent of pine needles
And the smell of red clay after rain
And long red necks
And poppy colored faces
And big brown arms
And the field daisy eyes
Of black and white black white black people
And I’m gonna put white hands
And black hands and brown and yellow hands
And red clay earth hands in it
Touching everybody with kind fingers
And touching each other natural as dew
In that dawn of music when I
Get to be a composer
And write about daybreak in Alabama.
Information gathered from a variety of sources, including: