William Gibson Gravesite
US-11 between Shelley Drive and Pinedale Road
The wind doth howl today m’love
And a winter’s worth of rain;
I never had but one true love
In cold grave she was lain.
–“The Unquiet Grave,” traditional ballad (Child Ballad #78)
Since I wrote my Alabama book, I have been searching for a haunting from St. Clair County. I finally found one, thanks to my friend, Dr. Kelsey Graham. Dr. Graham has always had an interest in the unexplained, even recently creating an organization, Abnormal Alabama. In his travels through his home state, he has explored numerous sites, including this lonely, and possibly unquiet roadside grave. My thanks to him and the members of the Hauntings of Alabama Facebook group for information!
U.S. Route 11, which stretches from New Orleans to the Canadian border in Rouses Point, New York, passes through many small towns such as Springville. It also passes a number of haunted sites including the white oak outside of Surgoinsville, Tennessee, that is the subject of the “Long Dog Legend.” Created in 1925, this U.S. Highway pieced together a number of roads under one designation to ease driver confusion and to systematically establish travel routes between major cities. Among the Southern cities linked are Meridian and Hattiesburg, Mississippi; Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Gadsden, Alabama; Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee; Winchester, Staunton, and Roanoke, Virginia; Martinsburg, West Virginia; and Hagerstown, Maryland. Dr. Graham notes that this road was originally a stagecoach route between Georgia and Tuscaloosa.
About six miles north of the town, the road passes a single gravesite with a headstone still standing sentinel over a broken marble slab. This is the grave of William G. Gibson, born 12 December 1795, who died, possibly near here, on 20 October 1827. This early grave may be the one of the oldest marked burials in the county.
There is some mystery and legend surrounding the grave’s occupant. Legends agree that Mr. Gibson was a hat salesman from North Carolina. How he ended up dying in the wilds of Alabama is mere speculation. Some stories describe him as the victim of a duel, while others say that he was gored by an ox. The most likely reason for his death was probably an illness that afflicted him as he traveled this early road.
Despite its location in the right-of-way, officials have worked to preserve this grave, even carving out part of the landscape when the road was graded and paved. However, this location just above the road can sometimes surprise drivers. A 1961 article from the newspaper in nearby Pell City describes how this gives “the illusion that it is in the road.” One motorist felt chills when he spotted “the grave silhouetted against the sunset.” Strange lights are sometimes seen around the grave, which I might attribute to cemetery lights, which are frequently seen around graveyards.
- Graham, Dr. Kelsey. “Springville AL HWY 11 roadside grave.” 29 April 2010.
- Scooter Bill. “William Gibson – St. Clair County, Alabama.” com. 25 July 2008.
- Sheppard, Emmett G. “To be no more gave about 134 years old.” Clair Exponent-Aegis. 11 May 1961.
- Weingroff, Richard F. “S. 11 – Rouses Point, New York, to New Orleans, Louisiana.” Highway History, Federal Highway Administration. Accessed 22 March 2020.