My Forgotten Alabama Story


Glenn Wills

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While I've spent the last eight years doing this project in earnest, I can trace its origin back to the late 1970s. I worked for a chimney sweep named Jim Williams. He owned an old Victorian house in the Twickenham district of Huntsville. The walls of his classic old home were adorned with dozens of black and white photographs from 40 and 50 years prior. I was fascinated by them. To see life frozen in time. A mere fraction of a second from an earlier time captured for all eternity. I realized how much I enjoyed seeing photos from the past.

While I could not go back in time and recreate the photos, I could still find the remnants of what was. One day all these things will be gone and I felt it an obligation to find and document them the best way I knew how. Through pictures.

Fast forward to 2007. I was on my way to Auburn from Birmingham for my job at WVTM-TV. I noticed a classic 1957 Chevy Bel Air along the side of US 280. I stopped to look at it and came to discover it was part of a rather extensive junkyard of rusting relics. Row upon row of classic iron dating back to the 1920s. Much to my chagrin, I did not have a camera with me that day. I never traveled without one again. Since I spent a great deal of time on the road, I began to notice other collapsing reminders of Alabama's past every where I went. I got a better camera in 2012 and began to seriously pursue these vanishing remnants. During the summer of 2013, I sat down at my computer and devised a comprehensive plan to map the entire state. I broke it up into sixteen manageable sections and began going through those sections one by one. Every time I would find something I thought worthy, I would mark it on the map. What was a handful of locations initially grew to about 2000. Over the years, I came to discover hundreds more.

The plan was set and the wheels put literally in motion. Eventually I managed to make it to all 67 counties, logged over 50,000 miles and took about 40,000 photographs. My first book, Forgotten Alabama, came out in late winter, 2016. I had already gathered enough material for my second book, More Forgotten Alabama, while I was waiting for Forgotten Alabama to release. “More” was released in December 2016. By now, I more or less had this book thing figured out. I knew a third book was going to happen even as I finished “More”. However, this time, I wanted it to be the one that defined my journey. To be the most complete and comprehensive book possible. It took nearly three more years to make 200 Years of Forgotten Alabama happen. This edition is truly the one I always wanted to do. The vast majority of the book is new discoveries. It was amazing to discover over 200 new things I never knew existed. I also revisited a few old favorites with new perspectives and included many of the things we lost. Many times, I wondered if I was the last person to document something while it still existed. I will say it was always a melancholy moment to discover something that was now gone. I am grateful to have had the opportunities to capture a these lasting memories.