Friday, February 28, 2014

Spectre, "The Best Kept Secret in the State of Alabama"

The town of Spectre
My trek through my beloved Alabama has taken me to many, many places. Places I never knew existed. Places I did. Most are your normal run-of-the-mill old houses or stores. After seeing dozens and dozens of them they start to look alike. But then there are the really cool things. The, as I call them, Holy Grails of my journey. This one, Spectre, Alabama, was one of my hardest to get to. It's on private land and is behind a gate that requires a code. And $3 a head. Guess that's to maintain the gate I suppose. But fortunately a friend of Forgotten Alabama, Gerald Nix, happen to be one of those with the code. It took a while to get our schedules to match but we did.

The columns from the witch's house
The Mayor's house. Only interior used besides the witch's house. Pie anyone?

I have to say the island (it's actually a peninsula) is quite peaceful. The spanish moss hangs thick on the trees there. I've often wondered why there is such a preponderance of it around Montgomery for something most likely to be seen much further south. As we rode down the gravel road I was getting excited. Like I was entering Alabama's version of Area 51. I could see the rooftops as we drew close and then as we rounded the curve there it was. Time has not been kind to the old buildings but then again they're movie props and not built to code. All show obvious signs of age and deterioration. In retrospect they were mostly still intact. The fake bricks were coming off of the chimneys and walls. None of the buildings had floors save for the Mayor's house. There are two large open and quite obvious spaces in the middle across the street from each other. These were the stores and businesses. Apparently both suffered their ultimate demise as victims of an an accidental fire. How that fire jumped across 30' of road between them is a mystery though.
Looking back towards the Jumping Spider woods. At top is the fake trees as Ed enters Spectre for the first time. The pole at right was one of the poles that held the wire that the shoes were suspended from.

What pretty much every building looked like inside

I watched Big Fish again. Mostly because I wanted a reference to accurately describe things. I have to admit it's worth watching. I didn't give it much thought initially but there were a lot of big names in the movie. Albert Finney was perfectly cast as was Ewan McGregor. It also had Jessica Lange and Billy Crudup. Robert Guillaume, Danny Devito (who was perfect for his role) and Steve Buscemi (who was not). And of course Miley Cyrus made her acting debut back when she was sweet and innocent. Oh...little known trivia (I love that interweb thingy) This was supposed to be Steven Speilberg's movie and he wanted Jack Nicholson to play the elder Ed Bloom. I like Jack Nicholson but there's no way he could have pulled this off like Finney did.

Nothing happened at the church. It was truly a prop

In the big picture (pun unintended) the town of Spectre wasn't really a significant physical part of the movie. The only interior of any building you see is the Mayor's house. Well, the witch's house too but it had fallen into such disrepair that it was removed. Only the piers exist now where it once sat. I have to admit it was quite fascinating walking around Spectre. And equally fascinating seeing a movie set as they actually are. I was told that Tim Burton and his wife stayed overnight at the Mayor's house. I was also told that rather than disassemble Spectre he offered the property owner compensation to let it sit as is. I'm glad he did.

As I've come to discover time and again, it's always a little weird walking around once busy places that are now abandoned.

Spectre was no exception.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

1412 Miles In Three Days

My day began at 3am. You may not realize this but 3am is pretty dang early. As is always the case though, I only have so much winter and a lotta ground to cover. Up to this point of the 16 sections I had planned to visit I had made it to a whopping five. And five ain't gonna cut it. Time to step things up a bit. On this particular endeavor I was going to be ambitious. Three of my 16 in three days. 102 separate stops. And, as it turned out, 1412 miles round trip. Granted my trips would best be called circuitous but even I was surprised it was that long.

It was just over three hours, as I was racing sunrise, to get to my first target. As I had mentioned previously I was looking for a windmill. I got a few suggestions and debated their merits. But, oddly enough, as I was coming back from Miami for my job a few days earlier, I rolled right past this perfect example. I was so excited to find it! Funny thing I was leaving to move on to my next stop I saw the sign on the side of the road. Windmill Farms. Heavy sigh. It was a prop for a farm and not abandoned nor forgotten.

C'est la vie...

Not far from the windmill was this cool old sign for WTVY in Dothan. Now, granted, WTVY is alive and well but this was at their old studios in Webb.

There was a time when TV and radio stations went with really extravagant signage. You rarely see them anymore. I would call this an excellent example and I hope they don't let it deteriorate beyond repair. It's worth saving.

About half way between Geneva and Samson is this little gas station with its really cool sign. In business since WWII, the Harry Wilson store is a neat little stop along the way. It's still in business but I just couldn't pass up shooting something so old and yet still in business. I met Mr Wilson as he was closing up for the day and he was a nice guy. Sounds like a character from "It's a Wonderful Life". Everything about the place seemed frozen in 1962 so perhaps the sequel.

Just down the road from Red Level I found this old tow truck. A late 1940s or early 1950s Chevy. Suffice it to say the trees that now surround it are not near as old as that truck was.

Way down in Bon Secour I had two things I had to get. The Morning Star shrimp boat and this boat, the Jamie Jen. Only problem was that neither of them were easy to get to. I was pretty distraught about that until I found a crab fisherman who was about to go out and check his traps. I offered him $20 if he'd run my down the river to see these and he said yes. Trust me. This was the highlight of my day to get these boats and worth every penny. That fisherman, Nathaniel, was a super nice guy and helped me out with backgrounds on both the Morning Star (which you can see on Facebook/Forgotten Alabama) and this boat, the Jamie Jen. Seems she was a victim of Hurricane Ivan. The storm was so fierce (I actually covered Ivan when I worked in TV) that she was lifted out of the water and then crashed down on a pier post which impaled the long-liner to the dock. I wondered why it was still floating till Nathaniel pointed out how shallow it was there. It's actually sitting on the bottom of the river.

So you know, I have plotted out literally hundreds of old and abandoned structures in Alabama. Close to 2000 actually. But in that 2000 I have about 20 I consider my Holy Grail targets. By Holy Grail I mean those are places I have to find and shoot that I consider sensational. This coal tipple I found in Flomaton is one of those. Built in 1943 for the L&N Railroad it sits as a silent monument to steam trains and is a significant piece of railroad history.

1412 miles, 888 pictures, three fillups and a lotta gas station chicken. I will admit to being ready for this trip to end. When I finally finished with number 102 I was happy to be done and heading home. Now if I can get spring to wait a few more weeks I may make it.

I'll just pretend I didn't see those daffodils blooming on the side of the road...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Five Down, Eleven To Go

My cryptic title? Well, I've got my work cut out for me. My goal (ambitious for sure. Practical? Not so much) was to cover the entire state in a single winter. As I have stated previously, I had divided the state into 16 sections. So far I've made it to five. And winter is more than half way over. It's beginning to look like my plan is becoming unrealistic.

(insert heavy sigh here).

Life gets in the way and you have to prioritize things. My job, while only freelance, still cuts into my already busy schedule. And then there's my elderly Dad. I love him but he's slipping away. I figure in a year he may not even know who I am. It's tough to witness this but it is my reality and taking care of his needs is more important. So I rearrange things or change priorities. Such is life...

I can still find some time to get out and see things. Today's venture was more or less (they're all more or less but within a laid out grid) from Alexander City to the Georgia state line, Hackneyville to Pittsview.

I actually wasn't looking for this place but what was next to it. What I think was the old Marble City Cement Company. It's still a sturdy concrete structure (which makes sense when you think about it) but anything that could decay certainly was. This chair was pretty typical of what was inside. Broken glass and collapsing wooden walls were everywhere. There was a calendar on the wall from 1992. As much as this place has declined you would have thought 1962.

Friends of my Forgotten Alabama Facebook page, Kathy Bassett Brown and her husband Ronnie, graciously gave me a tour of Hackneyville. Part of the tour was in the woods near there where this old truck was sitting. Called a "GI" (Govt Issue. Also known as a Deuce & a half) and was used to ferry logs from the woods to bigger trucks that would take those logs to the mills. I think it's fair to say this truck might have been used in WWII.

I did find it ironic that the trees will eventually engulf it.

No trip is complete without the requisite long-since forgotten bridge. This is in Horseshoe Bend military park. All that remains of a covered bridge that spanned the Tallapoosa River. I have to tell you this had to have been an interesting ride. The river's got to be at least a 1000' wide at this point and these piers are spaced a long ways apart. Being a wooden bridge it would have flexed and creaked a lot.

When I first started scouting maps and found Seale I was quite excited to go there. Most of the town moved away from where it was but there was still a strip of old stores that just got forgotten. There were four structures. The old Post Office, a drug store, feed store and the fourth I'm not sure of. All in declining condition. It was neat to see them. Then I found this just down the street. The Bank of Seale, Jan. 1, 1909. Still pretty much like it must have looked 100 years ago. Well...minus a roof and back wall and other minor details.

As my day was drawing to a close there was one thing I absolutely had to find. Not a Holy Grail so to speak but a very important thing that I hoped still existed. And to make matters more complicated it was best guess where exactly it was. All I had was an approximate location. You cannot see it from the air on Google maps. I was getting anxious as I got close to it because the sun was setting and I'm hoping I get lucky. And then Boom...there it is! I was stunned. Just a mere 100yds off of Chambers County 222 and no more than two miles from the Georgia state line was the Chattahoochee Valley Railway depot. Still there. Still standing. To say it's in a significant state of decay is like saying it's cold at the North Pole. As far as I know the only remaining remnant of this little shortline save for an old locomotive in a museum in Georgia. It only had 45 miles of track at its height and by the time it was abandoned in 1992 was down to ten miles. This was a major find in my journey so today was a good day...

I'm still going to try and salvage my tour of the state. Only problem is too much state and too little winter. Even now I still can't believe I dread the end of winter. We'll chalk it up to temporary insanity.

Yep...that works.