Not long ago, the once-grand home Dr. John R. Drish built in Tuscaloosa was in imminent danger. Long vacant, the place was home to assorted varmints, a favorite haunt of the homeless, a target of condemnation by the city, and an eyesore to many locals. Today, thanks to the generosity of the Southside Baptist Church and the foresight of the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society, preservationists are breathing new life into the historic structure, and its future looks promising.
Thanks to a big decision made by a small but committed group of state historians decades ago, a drive down an Alabama highway has become an education in our past. At its first meeting in 1948, the Alabama Historical Association (AHA) embarked on a plan to commemorate historic sites in the state with roadside markers. Today, a sign labeled “Ellicott’s Stone” on Highway 43 north of Mobile marks the path to the stone laid by surveyor Andrew Ellicott in 1799 to identify the U.S. border with Spain. In downtown Huntsville, a marker at the site of “The Big Spring” tells the story of the city’s birth. Every year there are new treats for the traveler. After sixty years and some seven hundred historical markers, this program continues to be a vital part of the AHA’s efforts to promote interest in and the study of Alabama’s past.
Two decades after the double murder of St. Clair farmer Jacob Lutes and his second wife, Marcella, rocked northeast Alabama, the case again became front-page news with an alleged deathbed confession. John McLemore, the state's star witness against the three men charged with and later convicted of the horrific crime, admitted in his final hours that he and his father-in-law, Thomas Knight, actually killed the elderly couple, according to several affidavits. Whether three innocent men spent decades in prison for a crime they did not commit and whether McLemore actually confessed on his deathbed are still debated in the hills and hollows of Chandler Mountain.
Some reporters dubbed her “The Giggling Granny.” Others in the media gave her the nickname “The Jolly Widow.” Her given name was Nancy Hazle, and she was probably Alabama's most prolific female serial killer. History knows her as Nannie Doss.
Hazle's parents were hard-scrabble farmers that eked out an existence from the rural countryside of Blue Mountain, just north of Anniston. James Hazle, the hot-tempered, allegedly abusive man that helped rear her, most probably was not Nancy's biological father.
Born in 1906, she was going by "Nannie" by the time she was five, according to her CourtTV Crime Library profile. She and her younger siblings received only sporadic schooling, as James frequently used them to work the fields. At seven, Nannie suffered a head injury that plagued her for life and, she said, eventually contributed to her murderous impulses.
To find Bangor Cave today, you must know where to look in the deep piney woods of Central Alabama. That was not always the case. For a short but exciting time in the late 1930s, Bangor Cave was one of America's most exotic nightspots. A special spur to the cave, built by the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, brought thousands of elegantly dressed southerners to the cave's bungalow entrance. There, they waited outside for the chance to enter an underground Shangri-La. And a lucky few, usually with bulging wallets, were allowed into the private casino hidden behind a heavily bolted door.
From the Vault
Read complete classic articles and departments featured in Alabama Heritage magazine in the past 30 years of publishing. You'll find in-depth features along with quirky and fun departments that cover the people, places, and events that make our state great!