Dubbed as the Yellowhammer State after the state bird, Alabama is located in the south-eastern part of the United States of America. While Montgomery stands as the state capital, Mobile is the oldest city in Alabama, which as per records was founded in 1702 as the capital of French Louisiana by French colonists.
With approximately 1,500 miles of inland waterways, which is 3.2% of the total state area, Alabama has the second-largest inland waterway system in the country. It is also the 24th most populous state and the 30th largest by area in the United States.
Named after the Native American Alabama Tribe, the state is famous for its picturesque landscapes and brilliant outdoors. Alabama is divided into four sections – the metropolitan centers, the mountains, the inland waterways, and the Gulf Coast.
Neighbored by Tennessee to its north, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to its south, Georgia to its east, and Mississippi to its west, the state is famous for its southern hospitality. Along with hospitality and genial behavior, Alabama is also home to several secret treasures that are longing to be discovered.
Let us discover the many hidden gems in Alabama and indulge into the many wonders of the Cotton State.
1. Spectre Set Ruins, Millbrook
Outside Millbrook, Alabama, Jackson Lake Island on Alabama River stands the dilapidated remnants of Spectre, a fictional town which was built as a set for Tim Burton’s fantasy movie, Big Fish (2003).
Edward Bloom, the lead character in the movie, visits Spectre a few times in his life – once as a kid and the second time when the town is almost in ruins. Bloom visits the town one final time to find it restored.
When the shooting of the film ended, Spectre was left abandoned with the movie set and Styrofoam trees. Unfortunately, after a few years from when the filming wrapped, some of the structures collapsed.
As of present, Spectre has left six homes, a church, two trees from the forest, and the columns from Jenny, the mayor’s daughter’s home. Add your shoes to the collection of several others hanging in line.
2. Alabama’s Natural Bridge, Natural Bridge
Outside the William Bankhead national Forest lays the 148-feet-long and 60-feet-high curved rock formation that stands as one of the most exquisite forms of natural geological formation in the state – the Natural Bridge.
The area was listed as a National Park in 1954, however, history shows that the bridge and the surrounding area has been used by the Native Americans for hundreds of years. A few steps ahead from the Natural Bridge is a strange, inexplicable carving of an Indian Head that looks almost similar to that of a buffalo nickel.
Claims have been made that the carving depicts a chief from the Native American tribes that resided here but no proofs have been found, yet.
Unfortunately, to safeguard the safety of visitors (you can’t really trust a 200-million-year old bridge to withstand hundreds of visitors) and the ancient natural asset, walking on the bridge is prohibited. However, you can stroll around the bridge and the park as much as you want.
3. The Museum of Wonder, Seale
A ten-year-old boy’s obsession with collecting junk and other discarded items turned into a full-fledged hobby when he accidentally sold a painting of a turnip.
Butch Anthony, an Alabama artist and a former taxidermist, realized the potential of revenue generation from his scrap collection that he has been compiling as a young boy.
To materialize on the thought, he transformed his taxidermy store into an exhibition of strange objects – animal bones, jars full of dead critters, weird paintings, lost-and-found objects, and just about any piece of rubbish you could imagine.
In almost no time, Anthony’s 500-square-foot cabin in the rural town of Seale turned into an extraordinary collection and gave rise to the Museum of Wonder.
Among many other items on display are a few signature-style creations of the artist – impressionistic skeletons traced over vintage portraits with added illustrations.
4. The Grave of Miss Baker, Huntsville
Among the many “test subjects” that America tossed into space since first starting experimenting with space travel in 1948 is Miss Baker – the first primate that made it back safely after a sub-orbital space flight.
The space program had some success with fruit flies, but, the higher the primates the tougher it became for the Americans to ensure their safe return. Most fell prey to exploding rockets while others lost their lives in violent impacts or got lost in space along with their capsule.
Miss Baker and Miss Able, the only two squirrel monkeys who had survived the initial screenings were sent to space in a Jupiter Rock. While Miss Able passed away four days after their arrival, Miss Baker lived until the age of 27, married Big George, breathed an illustrious life, and died of kidney failure in 1984.
Her remains are buried at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Alabama, next to her beloved husband, and has a nice headstone.
5. Dismals Canyon, Phil Campbell
This Alabama Canyon located in Phil Campbell comes alive every day at dark as thousands of miniature bio-luminescent creatures taxonomically called the “North American Orfelia Fultoni,” and popularly known as “Dismalities,” come alive with their natural glow.
A type of gnat larva, the Dismalities are extremely rare, so much so that they are only found in the Appalachian Mountains and Cumberland Plateau. The bright bluish-green light that they emit is their way of attracting insects so they can feed on them for survival.
Dismals Canyon, as they are called after the habitat living in them, provide the specific ambiance that these larvae need to survive in their larval stage – humidity to build web so they can trap insects for food, enough insects, darkness to allow them to glow, and a still atmosphere that would prevent their webs from tangling.
The Canyon is home to two more significant features – one of the surviving twin Canadian Hemlocks, which at 138 feet tall, is considered to be the largest of its kind in the state, and the world’s largest Deumaria vine.
Best way to spot the mesmerizing phenomenon is at night.
6. Neversink Pit, Fackler
A sinkhole? A cave? Though the geological name of the structure isn’t certain, the Neversink Pit in Fackler, Alabama is a dramatic 162-feet deep sinkhole with a 40-feet wide opening. It is among the most photographed sinkholes in the United States of America, if not the world.
The interiors inside the pit, as viewed by abseilers, change dramatically with season – ferns in the summer, ribbony waterfalls in the spring, and ice sheets in the winter.
Belonging to the Southeastern Cave Conservancy since 1995, entry into the pit and rappelling below to the floor is only allowed for expert climbers and requires a permit.
7. F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, Montgomery
Plenty of museums and other attractions have been erected all over the world to honor F. Scott Fitzgerald, the renowned novelist and author, but, here in Montgomery, Alabama is the only museum in the world that is dedicated to the story writer and his wife, Zelda.
The Fitzgerald’s, along with their daughter Scottie, moved into the then-house-now museum in 1931. Unfortunately, however, Zelda had a mental collapse and was moved to a clinic in Baltimore. The father and daughter duo continued to stay at the house until April that year.
In 1986, Julie and Leslie McPhillips saved the iconic structure from being torn down and transformed it into the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum instead.
8. Cheaha Mountain, Delta
The highest point in the state of Alabama, Cheaha Mountain rises above Talladega National Forest and is 2,407 feet above sea level. Regarded as one of the most picturesque spots in the state, the Mountain was once almost deforested until President Roosevelt crafted the National Forest in 1936!
Befittingly named after a Creek Indian word which means “high place”, Cheaha was once extremely rugged. The logged and vacated farmland around the tall peak was anything but attractive.
However, the expansive regrowth, thanks to the park system, covered the area with greenery and a gorgeous view.
Bunker Tower, constructed in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps sits on the mountaintop and acts as a visitor center with the most spectacular view of the mountains.
9. Alabama Booksmith, Homewood
Originally a tiny shop in the lanes of Homewood, Alabama, that sold used and rare books, the Alabama Booksmith may be the only of its kind that exist in the world today.
Located behind a vet clinic, the one-of-a-kind bookstore is owned and managed by Jacob Reiss, who only houses books that are signed copies! Yes, you read it right. Every single book in his collection is signed by the author.
While operating his former old books’ store, Reiss realized that the dough lays in selling signed books rather than the usual ones as not only did they sell faster but they also generated a better member loyalty. All the books at the store (except for a few rare ones) are sold at the cover price!
10. Dead Children’s Playground, Huntsville
Burial grounds, death, and any such negativities are kept far away from children. But, that’s not the case at the oldest and the largest cemetery in Alabama. Maple Hill Cemetery in Huntsville has a small playground on the same grounds as that of the century-old burial ground.
Though it sees more ghost chasers and teenagers than children (for obvious reasons), the simple playground has a few swings and a modern-day jungle gym. Named aptly as the Dead Children’s Playground, the small site for children was once almost lost when the city officials decided that there isn’t enough room for graves.
Of course, there is barely a graveyard that is not associated with (alleged) ghost sightings. Rumors of swings swaying by themselves and floating ghost lights have been reported quite a few times.
Care to take your toddler for a day out in the sun here?
11. Goldie 1971 – The Fallen Robot, Tuscaloosa
Sloss Blast Furnaces was one of the leading manufacturers of Pig Iron during Birmingham’s industrial era. When the business closed in 1971, a former graduate of the University of Alabama, Joe McCreary, used the celebrated past of the company as an inspiration to create “Goldie 1971.”
Today, Goldie rests peacefully at the sculpture garden at the University which bought the rusting giant in 2010 and installed it as a permanent collection.
While Sloss Blast Furnaces opened as a museum and was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1981, Goldie remains at the Woods Quad Sculpture Garden serving as a reminder to the hundreds of students that art can be used to express all their stories.
12. Ave Maria Grotto, Cullman
A hunchbacked, poor man, Brother Joseph Zoettl lived a hard life – due to his living conditions and of course, his physical limitations. At the age of 14, he signed up with St. Bernard Abbey in the hopes of escaping his tough life.
Nothing much changed for Brother Joseph. He spent 17 hours everyday for almost 30 years working at Abbey’s pump house. Consequently, the same routine became boring but he didn’t have a choice so he started his own private amusement project – he began constructing miniature grottoes. Soon, tens became hundreds and hundreds became thousands.
Brother Joseph kept the larger models at the Abbey and sold the miniature ones to others. And, soon, it became the Ave Maria Grotto aka Jerusalem in Miniature – a four-acre mini-town that was filled with almost 125 famous and religious locations.
His last creation, Basilica in Lourdes, was built in 1958 when Brother Joseph was 80.
13. Frank Lloyd Wright-Rosenbaum House, Florence
Frank Lloyd Wright has been mentioned in the American architectural history several times for his flawless designs and striking creations. However, the Rosenbaum House in Florence, Alabama, as architect critic Peter Blake mentioned, is by far considered one of the most stunning constructions to date.
Constructed in 1940 for Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum, the structure was donated in 1990 to the City of Florence. Often regarded to depict the purest version of Wright’s Usonian style, the home was not just functional but in sync with the natural surroundings.
Plenty of glass windows, cantilevered roofs, and a carport are some of the significant characteristics of Wright’s Usonian masterpiece.
14. Tinglewood Carvings, Montevallo
Orr Park in Montevallo, Alabama is an amazing place for a family picnic. Everything about the park calls for a day out in the sun, amidst nature – six baseball-come-softball fields, a soccer field, a football field, a walking trail, two playgrounds, and a creek apt enough for wading.
However, the most attractive feature on the park grounds is a bunch of dead trees that were destroyed in a storm in 1993. What’s so amazing about dead trees, you ask?
Mr. Tingle, a resident in the area, in an attempt to save the dead but old trees, started carving them.
As a result, today, over 30 carved alligators, squirrels, men, and even an alligator not only coexist peacefully with the visitors at the park but they also add an air of mystique around the area.
15. Africatown, Mobile
The slave trade in America was legally prohibited by 1808, however, Timothy Meaher, a wealthy businessman, challenged the law in his own way and set out to bring a “shipment” of 32 African slaves in the country in 1860.
His attempts were put to an end by the authorities who caught wind of Meaher’s illicit attempts and the group of slaves were given a small piece of his land to live at in the town. This is how the little village of Africatown came about in the history of Alabama.
The African community built houses in the area and appointed a chief and a medicine man, when former slaves were added to the new community.
With time, the first settlers of the town died off and their successors implanted themselves in the American culture, leaving Africatown abandoned.
A small history museum at Mobile’s Count Training School still exists.
16. The Drive-Thru Museum, Seale
The world’s first drive-thru museum is in Seale, Alabama, and it is the creation of the same ten-year-old boy, Butch Anthony, who grew up to be an artist, a taxidermist, a collector and creator (of the weirdest things in the world), and the founder of Museum of Wonder.
Created as a relief to the overflow of tourists at his other museum, the Drive-Thru Museum is constructed out of old shipping containers. Windows have been cut off from the container walls to allow insights into the strange collection of items either collected or crafted by Anthony.
Among other things is a large gallstone attached to poems, the two-headed ducklings, and Anthony’s signature style – skeletons imposed on old portraits.
17. Sloss Furnaces, Birmingham
As Alexander Graham Bell once said, “When one door closes another door opens”, Sloss Furnaces, a pig-iron producing giant that served the country for nine decades and was shut down for business in 1971, was listed a National Historic Landmark in the city of Birmingham, Alabama in 1981 – after a decade of it closing down.
Today, the blast furnace site functions as an interpretive museum and conducts several metal arts courses that are acknowledged universally. Additionally, it is perhaps one of the most unusual locations where festivals and concert venues are hosted.
Coined after one of the founding fathers of Birmingham, Colonel James Withers Sloss, the two furnaces were constructed on 50 acres of land and stand 60 feet tall. Known as one of the largest in the world at the time, the Sloss Furnaces are still being preserved to date.
18. Hank Williams’ Death Car, Montgomery
Hiram “Hank” Williams, more popularly known as Hank Williams, was among the most substantial and effective American songwriter and singers of the 20th century. The musician recorded 35 singles, of which 5 were released after he passed away. What’s most intriguing about his life though is how it ended.
Williams, along with Charles Carr, a college freshman he hired to drive him around in his 1952 Cadillac, was on a tour through Ohio and West Virginia. Soon after the car passed the West Virginia State Line, Carr stopped at a gas station for refilling when he noticed that Williams laid unconscious in the back seat. When he checked up on him, Williams seemed unresponsive and his body was becoming rigid.
As his doctor reported, Williams drank often and had just asked him to give him a Morphine shot to get rid of the back pain. Though a lot has been blamed on his habits, what killed the musical superstar at a tender age of 29 still remains a mystery.
Even though the true cause of Hank Williams’ death remains unknown, the Cadillac, where he apparently breathed the last time, remains the centerpiece at the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.
19. Bamahenge, Elberta
America certainly has a weird obsession with Stonehenge, but, one person in particular, Mark Cline, of the Enchanted Castle Studios, is the man behind creating two of the existing Stonehenge replicas in the country – the Foamhenge in Virginia (2004) and the Bamahenge in Elberta, Alabama (sometime in the spring of 2013).
Cline, a brilliant architect, is known for his larger-than-life creations, and so, when George Barber, an Alabama millionaire, wanted a few dinosaurs to be built for himself, he hired Cline to do the job. The result – a T-Rex, a triceratops, a brontosaurus, and a stegosaurus stand at the edge of Barber Marina.
Extremely impressed with the installations, Barber commissioned Cline to build him a fiberglass replica of Stonehenge.
Though Bamahenge stands tall and proud at the Marina, Foamhenge may be in danger as the land it stands on is reportedly going to be a part of the Virginia State Park. Maybe, Foamhenge can join his cousins over at the Marine, eh?
20. Moundville Archaeological Site, Moundville
Not so distant from Tuscaloosa, in the town of Moundville, Alabama, are massive earthworks that transport you to another time – to the pre-Columbian culture!
Known as the Moundville Archaeological Site, the area comprises 29 mounds that were created over a thousand years ago by the Mississippian culture, a Native American Society at the time. The culture was divided into several chiefdoms, each of which functioned as per their own religious beliefs.
These chiefdoms were each headed by an appointed figure who was of religious and political significance to the community they represented. Supervised by these ruling members, these mounds were created to serve as foundations of housing properties, temples, and council buildings.
The second largest of its type, the mounds were abandoned by 1500 B.C. and proper excavation began in the early 20th century.
21. Berman Museum of World History, Anniston
What happens when an American GI weds a French Spy? Simple. It gives birth to one of the most thought-provoking museums in the world!
Farley Berman and his wife established the Berman Museum of World History while they were stationed in North Africa. The husband-wife duo traveled all over the world for 40 years and collected as many oddities, antiques, and weapons as one possibly could.
Berman never confirmed how they managed to get hold of some of the more intriguing items in the collection but he joked that they may have accidentally come with their bedroll after World War II; the rest, he unapologetically claimed, appeared out of magic.
Well, magic or not, someone please tell us exactly how did the couple manage to get Hitler’s tea service?
22. Civil Rights Memorial, Montgomery
The American Civil Rights movement from 1954 to 1968 included several social movements and strategies that were being pushed forward to end racial discrimination against African-Americans in the country. However, it wasn’t just strategies and movements. For a “movement” that went on for 15 years, many lost their lives fighting for equal rights along with Martin Luther King, Jr. – one of the most significant personalities of the Civil Rights Movement and a Nobel Peace Prize awardee!
A proud commemoration of the lives lost and wars won, Civil Rights Memorial, standing across the Southern Poverty Law Center, is a dedication to the 40 people who sacrificed their lives so the rest of country could live in harmony.
A hub for hundreds of civil right workers around the globe, the Law Centre sponsored the memorial and Maya Lin designed and created it. A guard stands alert by the architecture to prevent any vandalism.
The memorial is visited by several tourists every day, yet not enough as compared to the history it holds.
23. Holmes Medical Museum, Foley
Holmes Medical Museum may not be the most intriguing medical museum in the world (and, it definitely doesn’t have anything to do with Sherlock Holmes), but, it is a celebration of the sterile, vaguely terrifying past of the obsolete tools that have been used in the history of medical science.
Situated within the walls of Foley’s first hospital, which treated patients from 1936 to 1958, the Medical Museum allows you to walk through the old operating theatre of this tiny, four-bed former hospital. You could also stroll through some of the patient rooms and observe the strange, almost-brutal looking tools kept in the glass cases around the museum.
Apart from the frightening display of tools that looked more torturous than healing, you could also see the birth certificates of some of the children born here along with information on the hospital’s past.
24. African Village in America, Birmingham
Not the same as Africatown (which was actually built by Africans and later abandoned by their descendants), African Village was established by Joe Minter, who draws inspiration from his love for God, and believes that God wouldn’t want anything to be thrown away to waste; instead He would rather that his humans created something out of all that is thrown away or discarded.
As if to reflect his ideas and theme, African Village has been created using all types of junk and scrap material – toys, utensils, lawn decorations, old sporting gears, satellite dishes! Five of these huge dishes adorn the back of his property and spell J-E-S-U-S in big, bold letters. African masks and feathered headdresses can also be found lying around in the village.
Minter has an open-gate policy and you are welcome to come in free and stroll around whenever you want. You could also buy DVDs or other such items at the village.
As Minter still continues to build, he has earned himself the title of “African Warrior” for his thoughtful creation.
25. Anniston Museum, Anniston
Also known as Anniston Museum of Natural History, the museum was founded in 1930 and houses seven permanent displays – the Dynamic Earth, the Alabama Sand to Cedars, the Attack and Defense, the Environments of Africa, the Ancient Egypt, the Nature Discovery Room, and the Bird of the Americas – the last being the base for Anniston Museum’s original collection.
Home to one of the oldest taxidermy collections in the country, the Bird of the Americas was collected and established by William H. Werner in the 19th century, but, the compilation was purchased and brought to Anniston upon Werner’s death by H. Severn Regan. The display contains over 1,000 dioramas of birds, eggs, and bird nests.
Over 400 species of birds can be found at the display including the passenger pigeons, who were once commonly found around North America but are now extinct due to hunting and deforestation. It is believed that these migratory birds gathered in flocks of billions and covered the sky a mile wide and about 300 miles long, resulting in dark skies for days at a time!
26. Tolstoy Park, the Unusual Home of Henry Stuart, Fairhope
In 1923, Henry Stuart, a resident of Idaho, was diagnosed with tuberculosis aka “consumption”. The typical medical advice to the illness was a change of weather. With only a few months to live (as confirmed by the doctors), Stuart bought an unseen ten-acres of land in Alabama and moved 2,500 miles at the age of 65.
To spend his “remaining days” in peace, he built himself a circular, hurricane-resistant little hut which was only 14 feet in diameter. Within a couple of years, Stuart named his little abode “Tolstoy Park” after Leo Tolstoy and went on to live another 22 years.
Though Stuart lived mostly in isolation, visitors started frequenting the unusual house (1,200 as per his visitor’s log).
The “home” is now listed on the National Register for Historic Places and the owner of this strange residence has been immortalized in Sonny Brewer’s “The Poet of Tolstoy Park.”
27. Henry Wells’ Lightning Portrait, Carrollton
Established in 1820, the Pickens County Courthouse, named after General Andrew Pickens of South Carolina, has been burnt down twice – once in April 1865 by troops of Union General John T. Croxton, and the second time (presumably) by Henry Wells, a former slave who was apprehended and locked inside the courthouse garrett.
As the story goes, Wells was kept there to be protected from citizens who could have hurt him. However, it didn’t stop the residents forming a mob and protesting outside the Courthouse for days.
Apparently, one of those days, a terrified Wells stood by the courthouse window as the mob screamed and chanted when a sudden bolt of lightning struck the same window, and indelibly etched his face on the glass!
Astonishingly, it is the only glass that has never been destroyed in the last century or so that the courthouse has been in existence.
28. The Hodges Meteorite, Tuscaloosa
The Hodges Meteorite isn’t remarkably big or beautiful or exquisite, but, it is one of the only fragments of a meteorite that has made its way to earth “alive”, and, also one of the very few that has hit a human!
Named after the woman it bruised, the Meteorite made its way to Ann Hodges rental home in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on the afternoon of November 30th, 1954, when Ann laid on her couch, taking a short nap.
The meteorite first crashed into her radio cabinet, and then bounced to her side, bruising her a little in the process. But, it was the least of her concern.
As the rule goes, considered pretty much space gold, the ownership of an object, such as a meteorite, rests on the person who finds it. However, since it was a rental house, the owner felt otherwise since it was his property and filed a legal battle.
Of course, Hodges won it, but, in order to avoid the unwanted limelight, she decided to donate the piece to the Alabama Museum of Natural History.
29. Peanuts on Parade, Dothan
Dothan, with a 100-mile radius of peanut farming, is not only where half of America’s peanuts are grown but it is also regarded as the “Peanut Capital of the World.”
Each Fall, the community comes together to celebrate the National Peanut Festival, dedicated to the town’s history with peanuts, the harvest season, and the farmers. The two-week carnival hosts a Peanut Parade and offers livestock shows, rides, agricultural exhibitions, and of course, a lot of peanut-this and peanut-that to munch on.
Don’t worry even if you missed the festival, for Dothan pretty much celebrates its peanut-rich history throughout the year. Originally a public art project to beautify the town and attract tourists, “Peanut Around Town” has peppered the city streets with various painted peanut statues – fireman peanut, doctor peanut, military peanut, a boiled-peanut selling peanut, a breast cancer awareness peanut, and even a Dalmatian cuddling with his favorite fire hydrant peanut!
Now known as “Peanut on Parade”, the public art project has resulted in over 60 painted peanut statues around Dothan.
Take a brochure from the Visitor Center for the exact locations of all the sites and have a nutty day ahead!
30. Little Nadine Earles Doll House Grave, Lanett
Nadine Earles, the beloved daughter of Julian and Alma, was not even 4 when she passed away in 1933. It was the month of December and the little girl’s only wish was a dollhouse. Before her father could build the dream dollhouse, she was taken away from them, but, that didn’t stop Julian and Alma to continue working on the project.
The Doll House was completed and kept next to little Nadine’s grave at the Oakwood Cemetery in Lanett, Alabama. A replica of an actual house, Nadine’s dollhouse was equipped with a front porch, a mailbox, striped awnings, flower boxes during the summer, and Christmas Lights and an evergreen wreath in the winter.
The parents further decorated the house with toys, dolls, a high chair, a baby buggy, and a little bed – all kept ready for Nadine’s playtime in her afterlife.
Now, managed by the city of Lanett, the Doll House is still maintained and kept ready-to-play for “Little Nadine.”