Viola Virginia Hyatt is known by many names. Her family and neighbors in the community of Rabbittown simply called her Viola. The rest of Calhoun County, as well as the state of Alabama and the nation, knows her as the "Alabama Axe Murderess" or the "Torso Slayer." But what isn’t known is the motive that earned her these nicknames.
In August, the halls of Mobile’s Most Pure Heart of Mary School were once again filled with the din of students making their way to classes. This may seem an altogether regular occurrence, no different than scenes at public, private, and parochial schools throughout the nation. Still, the presence of students in the storied halls of Heart of Mary is, to some, nothing less than miraculous.
Heart of Mary parish was established in 1899 as a mission church by St. Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart, an order devoted exclusively to religious service in African American communities. For much of its history, Heart of Mary Church and School occupied the corner of Sengstak Street and Jefferson Davis Avenue (renamed Dr. Martin Luther King Avenue in the mid-1980s), the heart of Mobile’s Black business district. From the parish grew mission churches in two nearby communities, as well as the Knights of Peter Claver. Founded in 1909, it is the oldest and largest group of Black Catholic lay leaders in the world. Heart of Mary parishioners, as well as several of its nuns and priests, played important roles in Mobile’s civil rights movement throughout the twentieth century.
Alabama weather can be quite volatile and brutal, especially during the summer heat. A temperature of 84°F with humidity of 100 percent can make the heat index 104 degrees, leading to outdoor activities becoming dangerous due to strenuous heat. With heat like that the air can be like walking into a wall.
The love and tradition of college football runs deep in Alabama, but many are unaware of how this cherished sport became an integral part of the state’s culture. William Gray Little, known as the father of Alabama football, organized what became the Crimson Tide after enrolling at The University of Alabama in 1892. A Livingston, Alabama, native, he hoped to attend an Ivy League college but returned to Alabama with “a pair of cleats, a leather football, and tales of the new sport that had captured the imagination of the Northeast and Middle West.” Little’s intuition was correct, for Alabama has been known for its love of football ever since the first Alabama-Auburn game played in Lakeview Park, Birmingham, in February 1893.
Though the Alabama Theatre is often heralded for its beauty, its counterpart The Lyric holds a sense of opulence all its own. With its ornate gold detailing and Grecian murals, the oldest theatre in Birmingham has made a remarkable comeback. The theatre opened its doors in 1914 and was originally designed for vaudeville shows, an entertainment form largely lost to time. It hosted many big names of that era, including the Marx Brothers, Mae West, and Milton Berle. It was in its time the image of modernism: though still segregated, the Lyric was one of the few places where white and black people could enjoy live entertainment together for the same price. The theatre would remain a popular stop along the vaudeville circuit until the early 1930s, when the Great Depression hit. The Depression, film's rising popularity, mismanagement, and a revolving door of owners would ultimately lead to this landmark’s downfall. In the end, the Lyric couldn’t keep up with the fast-paced modern culture that had grown up around it.
At 7 a.m. on July 4, 2022, Tuscaloosa was jolted awake by a sudden rumble followed by a loud bang and multiple explosions repeating one after the next. But it wasn’t fireworks. Instead, it was a controlled implosion of Julia Tutwiler Hall, an all-girls dormitory at the University of Alabama. Spectators watched the thirteen-floor tower as explosives inside went off, till finally the building fell to the ground, sending a plume of white dust into the air and leaving nothing behind but a pile of crumbled bricks and twisted metal. Around 675 pounds of dynamite was needed to bring the building down in twenty seconds.
In 1540, Hernando De Soto explored the southeastern region of the United States. His exact route through the state of Alabama is unknown, but it is commonly accepted that he entered through the northeast end of the state and traveled southward to the Montgomery-Selma area before either heading west or northwest into Mississippi. His expedition gave insight into the lives of Native Americans before other Europeans arrived, but it also brought diseases such as smallpox that caused depopulation of Native Americans in the areas that the 700-maned army traveled through. De Soto also engaged in battle with Native Americans in southern Alabama after being ambushed by the Mobilian tribe led by chief Tuskaloosa. The battle resulted in Spanish victory, but the Spaniards killed an estimated 2,000-6,000 Native Americans, making it one of the bloodiest battles in North American history.
In this modern age of normalization and acceptance, many members of the LGBTQ+ community do not know the lengths their predecessors had to go to in order to be themselves. The extent of most people’s knowledge is the secret codes that turned into mainstream fashion trends, such as specially placed earrings or color-coded bandanas. However, in the 60s and 70s when the word “lesbian” was not yet mainstream and women could not own property without a husband, many gay women were forced to find refuge hidden away from society. This need for community presented itself in the founding of “Womyn’s Land.” These women-only residences were a safe haven for those who wanted to live independently from a male-dominated society, and for those who wanted to be their most authentic selves.
A plethora of resources were recorded during the American Civil War documenting the lives of both men and women. No small amount of them have survived to this day. Today they are easily accessed through libraries and archives. Some of these primary resources were letters from soldiers to their wives. Others were diaries of women left behind providing a unique view of their experiences during America’s bloodiest conflict. Alabama women provided important perspective to the Southern view of the Civil War.
Thomas Rowan was the son of Irish immigrants, who settled in Saint Clair County, Alabama in c.1854. He later purchased 130 acres in Leeds and built a home along an early stagecoach route, referred to as “The Rowan Oaks House.” John Thomas Rowan, an heir of the home, and Ada Scott Rowan, his wife, later created an extension on the house and turned the home into a turn-of-the-century farmhouse. According to Alabama Communities of Excellence and the Leeds Historical Society, the home was the first in the area with an indoor sink and a hand pump. The Rowan family were prominent farmers and landowners in the region for generations. Despite having little information on the Rowans and how they came to the United States, they came to America during a wave of Irish immigrants looking for a better life.
Alabama Heritage BLOG
At Alabama Heritage, we owe many of our successes and smooth operations to our fabulous student interns. We hope that with this blog--written mostly by our interns as well as history students from UAB and a few from our own editors--our readers will have an opportunity to get to know the students who bring so much to the table with their enthusiasm, hard work, and expertise!
If you're interested in our internship program, check out the details here.