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Pickens County Courthouse

A mysterious and ghostly tale is told about the Pickens County Courthouse in Carrollton, Alabama. It concerns a supposedly innocent man being lynched, the evidence of which is still there for all to see today.

During the American Civil War, Federal troops destroyed the original Pickens County Courthouse. They burned it to the ground in an act intended to symbolise the defeat of the Confederate forces in the area. After the war the townsfolk rebuilt the courthouse at much personal cost and it stood as a token of local tenacity and resistance.

When the new courthouse was destroyed by arson on 16 November 1876 in an apparent burglary attempt, less than 12 years later, the people of Carrollton were enraged. They demanded harsh justice for the perpetrator, whoever he might be.

Suspicion began to fall on a former slave named Henry Wells who lived just outside of town. Wells was a cantankerous man who was known as an aggressive drunkard and who carried a razor which he often used in bar brawls. Wells' history (as well as the fact that he was black- this was the southern United States in the 1870's) went against him and he was arrested on suspicion of the crime. Wells was ironically held in the third courthouse (under construction at the time) while he awaited trial.

As word gathered of Wells' arrest that night a thunderstorm began to pick up and a crowd of angry townspeople assembled outside the courthouse, intent on lynching the accused man. Wells, looking down on the crowd from a garrett window, yelled "I'm an innocent man! If you kill me you will always be haunted by my face!"

As Henry Wells spoke these words a bolt of lightning struck the courthouse, burning an image of Wells' frightened face into the window from which he spoke.

The mob was not convinced by his pleas of innocence and proceeded to storm the courthouse, dragging their victim outside and meting out their bloody vengeance. Wells was brutally beaten and hanged from a tree close by.

The next morning, the townsfolk were astonished to see the face of Henry Wells glaring down at them from the garrett window of the courthouse, a look of fateful horror on his face. Try as they might, no amount of washing would remove the image. The people shuddered as they remembered the hanged man's words- "If you kill me you will always be haunted by my face!"

The window pane has been replaced several times but each time the image mysteriously reappears. On one occasion it was said that every window in the courthouse was broken during a violent hailstorm- every window, that is, except the garrett window.

Even today, Henry Wells' face looks down on the town of Carrollton. Not letting its people forget that nearly 150 years ago an innocent man was murdered by their forbears.

P A McHugh

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Ian Topham
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Re: Pickens County Courthouse

According to another source, in January 1878 Henry Wells was shot whilst being arrested and died of his wounds a few days later after confessing to the arson. The garrett windows were not installed until a few weeks following the death of Wells. As for being hung by an angry mob, slightly earlier, on 26 September 1877, a murderer called Nathaniel Pierce was dragged from the courthouse and so killed. Perhaps the three incidents happening close to one another all got mixed together to create the tale.



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