William “Bill” Sketoe And The Hole That Won’t Stay Filled
Lynchings were once unfortunately common throughout many parts of America. Although common perception associates lynchings with racist violence against black Americans, many other groups were also frequent targets of lynch mobs. These included criminals of any race, Hispanic people, Chinese people and Italians, as well as anyone who deviated from accepted social norms or expected behaviour. William Sketoe belonged to this last
William “Bill” Sketoe Snr. (Born 8 June 1818 – Died 3 December 1864) was a Methodist minister in the town of Newton, Alabama. The details of why he was lynched are sketchy but there are two main versions of the legend. The most commonly told story is that Sketoe joined the Confederate army during the U.S. Civil War. He served with distinction until, in Autumn 1864, he received word that his beloved wife Sarah was gravely ill. Fearing he might never see her again, Sketoe returned to Newton to aid her recovery and care for her, deserting his army.
Another, more plausible story, claims that Bill Sketoe never joined the Confederate army, but instead stayed on as minister in Newton, secretly aiding Federal forces in the area.
Whatever the true story, Sketoe eventually ran afoul of the local Home Guard, vigilantes who had taken it upon themselves to police southern communities during the war. One day in December as Sketoe crossed the wooden bridge across the Choctawhatchee River he was ambushed by the Home Guard. They beat Sketoe and made him crawl through the sand while they prepared a noose. They attempted to hang the minister from a post oak tree, but Sketoe was too tall. Some of the soldiers dug a shallow hole beneath him which allowed enough space for Sketoe to hang.
According to legend, when Sketoe was asked if he had any last words, he asked to pray. Instead of praying for himself, however, he prayed for the souls of his murderers. This was ultimately unsuccessful as all of them died unnatural and early deaths.
The hole which was dug beneath Sketoe remained for over a century. Many attempts were made to fill the hole but the following day it would always be found empty again. It gained fame as “Bill Sketoe’s Hole” and became an Alabama tourist attraction. In 1979 a new highway bridge was constructed over the site of the hole. While the hole itself is therefore no longer visible the site remains popular with legend trippers and paranormal researchers.