Every single town has legends that everyone swears are true with nothing but hearsay and tall tales to back them up.
Huntsville is no different so here are two famous Huntsville urban legends that are wonderful stories, but not totally realistic.
Not True Huntsville Legends
The Legend of Mary Bibb Rocking in Her Grave
I’m sure you have heard the oft told tale at Maple Hill Cemetery of Mary Bibb who at a young age was buried in her mausoleum sitting in her rocking chair, and if you knock on any of the walls she will start rocking in acknowledgement.
This is a great urban legend that has been tested thousands of times over the years, with as many people saying they have heard the rocking as have those who haven’t.
Mary Chambers married into the Bibb family in 1835, but on her wedding day she was inadvertently poisoned. Mary held onto life for several weeks before succumbing to her ailments. Both the Bibb and the Chambers family were upset by her death and wanted to honor Mary, so they had the first mausoleum in Maple Hill built to do so.
Even though it persists to this day, history has lost the start of the rocking chair myth, but several true facts refute its existence. Mary died unexpectedly, and the tasks involved in securing the gravesite, and building the mausoleum took four to six months and in 1835 Huntsville, the means of preserving her body did not exist.
Simple decomposition would prevent her from being buried in a seated position in a rocking chair.
Yes, Mary Chambers Bibb’s mausoleum is totally sealed, but examining construction of similar mausoleums of the time, Mary’s would be just too small to accommodate a body and a rocking chair.
It does make a wonderful urban legend though.
The Legend of Jesse James Robbing First National Bank
Ask anyone in Huntsville about the old First National Bank on the square in downtown and chances are that they will tell you that the famous outlaw Jesse James robbed the bank and some will even go further with the story stating that after he robbed the bank, Jesse James on horseback dramatically plunged off the elevated rockface into the big spring below to escape.
Jesse James who is arguably the most known outlaw in American history has rumors such as this in many communities throughout North Alabama and many other states.
This is usually re-told as Jesse James slept here. Sadly, most of these stories including the dramatic Huntsville bank robbery are nothing but tall tales with little to no proof that the infamous outlaw stopped over.
The Huntsville story does have a little more clout than many cities though because of Jesse’s brother Frank James.
While there is no historical proof or accuracy that Jesse James was in Huntsville, it is a matter of historical record that his brother (also and infamous outlaw and James Gang member) Frank was in Huntsville. As a matter of fact, the outlaw Frank James was in Huntsville for the final criminal trial of his outlawing days.
In 1884 Frank James had surrendered to authorities in Missouri where he was given clemency, but the outlaw still had an outstanding warrant from the United States Government. Frank was accused of kidnapping and robbing a U.S. Army paymaster of more than $5000 in 1881 in Muscle Shoals. Frank was brought to Huntsville to stand trial for this crime, and upon his arrival he was an instant celebrity. Local citizens could even check James out of jail on a day pass and a large cheering crowd greeted him upon his trial, such was his celebrity.
In what was considered the trial of the century, James’ lawyer and the prosecutor exchanged legal blow after legal blow but in the end the notorious Frank James was acquitted of all charges by a jury of his peers and walked out of the Calhoun House which was used as the Federal Courthouse a free man never to stand trial again.
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- Wil Elrick hails from Guntersville, Alabama where at an early age he developed a love for both trivia and history. He has spent the last 20 odd years, fine tuning the art of communication while working in law enforcement, writing, television media, historical research, and public speaking. He lives in North Alabama with his two boys, and a neurotic German Shepherd Dog. He one day hopes that Bigfoot is proven real. Wil's new book Alabama Scoundrels is available from History Press.