When someone says “ghost town,” our imaginations tend to turn to the ghost towns Hollywood assures us are littering the landscape west of the Mississippi River.
In reality, ghost towns can be found throughout the world ,even right here in Alabama. While our most famous ghost town may be Cahaba (the site of Alabama’s first capital city), it is not the most interesting – that title goes to tiny fictitious-yet-real town of Spectre.
As luck would have it, it is only a short road trip away.
Sitting on an island in Lake Jackson near Millbrook, the town was built by Hollywood director Tim Burton for the movie “Big Fish.”
While Burton may have commissioned the building of the set, the town was the brainchild of Alabama author Daniel Wallace who wrote the novel on which the film is based. In both the book and the movie, protagonist Edward Bloom wanders into the town, a mystical place no one ever wants to leave.
It is filled with colorful characters and at times flirts with being a character itself.
If you have seen the movie or read the book, you know that luminous town of Spectre turns dark and decrepit later in the film so crews had to distress the buildings, which were actually just shells of homes and stores. It is in this state that the buildings were left when the movie was finished.
According to the owners of Spectre, the film crew offered to tear down the buildings, but the family wanted to keep them. Over the years, many of the buildings have taken a great deal of wear and tear, some have been completely destroyed, and many are near collapse.
While the description above may make Spectre sound like a less-than-desirable destination, it is truly a magical place. There are two trees remaining from the scary forest constructed for the film, and visitors love to step between them for photo opportunities and a unique view of the town. I am able to replay the scene from both the book and the movie and feel the same sense of wonder the character did.
In the movie, there was a line stretched between two poles where the Spectre residents hung their shoes. That line is still there, and visitors to the site over the years have added their own shoes, almost as a rite of passage. So, be sure to bring a pair of old shoes to throw over the line.
If members of your group are unsure about visiting a ghost town, never fear because Spectre shares space with Jackson Lake Island which in itself is a destination featuring camping, fishing, and kayaking among other activities.
If you go, know that the access to Spectre is through a locked gate, but the owners will grant you access for the tiny sum of $3. It will be the best three dollars that you can spend. You can also inquire about the costs of fishing and camping, by calling 334-430-7963.
In the final line of Big Fish is Will Bloom says
“A man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories. They live on after him. And in that way he becomes immortal.”
Truer words were never written. We all love stories, and for many of us, that is why we take road trips. Making memories, weaving those memories into stories, knowing that those stories we shared, will live on past us. If you get a chance, make a visit to Spectre part of your story.
By the way, I totally recommend the camping.