It was the last full night of the year and the weather In Birmingham was rainy and cold. Further up the eastern side of the country—where this duo of gentlemen was headed—the weather was getting nastier and causing travel delays. Despite the many miles the two had to go before they could properly sleep in Charleston, West Virginia, they decided to stop for the night at a hotel.
The car pulled into Birmingham and the driver carelessly made a U-turn in the middle of the street in order to pull up to the front of the city’s famed Tutwiler Hotel. The U-turn attracted the attention of a police officer who spoke to the college age driver. The passenger sitting in the back seat wearing a blue serge suit, white shoes, and a white felt hat, spoke up and ordered the young driver to mention to the officer that he was driving Hank Williams, the famed country music star. At the mention of Williams’ name, the officer was not impressed and he told the pair to move along.
Hank Williams slumped back into the car’s back seat as they headed towards Birmingham’s hotel row on 5th Avenue. At the REDMONT HOTEL (2102 5th Avenue, North), Williams and his driver, Charles Carr, a college student, procured two rooms for the night before making a 500-mile trek to West Virginia the following day. Before they could properly settle in, however, three women appeared. Williams asked where they were from and one breezily replied, “Heaven.” Looking over the trio with a sly grin, the music legend said, “Well, in that case, you’re the very reason I’m going to hell!”
The journey the next morning did not exactly lead to hell, but it took Hank Williams to the end of the line. After a stop the next night at Knoxville, Tennessee’s Andrew Johnson Hotel, the gentlemen drove through to West Virginia where they stopped in the small town of Oak Hill. When Carr opened the back door he discovered Hank Williams was dead.
Though he’s passed beyond the veil, it seems that Hank Williams spirit is almost as busy in the afterlife as he was alive. A specter wearing dark pants and a white shirt has been seen prowling the halls by staff, some of whom believe this is Williams’ shadow. He has also been reported at his mother’s home in Andalusia, Alabama where he spent part of his childhood, in the Andrew Johnson Hotel where he also stopped on this trip in Knoxville, the Elite Café in where he played his final performance, and near his grave in Oakwood Cemetery, both in Montgomery.
Hank Williams’ spirit may not be the only spirit in residence at the Redmont. A more sophisticated, gentlemanly spirit has been spotted checking up on the hotel staff. This may be Clifford Stiles, one of the hotel’s former owners. After he bought the hotel, he reserved the elegant penthouse for himself and his family. There he hosted glittering parties that drew luminaries and the city’s elite.
In his introduction to Haunted Birmingham in 2009, author Alan Brown notes that the city’s ghostlore “is not nearly as rich as that found in much older cities, such as New Orleans, Charleston, and Savannah.” Indeed, Birmingham is not as old—it was incorporated after the Civil War in 1871—but it seems that it’s paranormal history has only recently seen much exploration. The city certainly possesses a magnificent handful of oft-explored major hauntings such as Sloss Furnaces, the Tutwiler Hotel, and the Linn-Henley Research Library, and there are numerous hauntings that have been brought to light in recent years.
The Birmingham Haunted Tour aims to introduce you to these spectral residents of Birmingham. From country to vaudeville stars, executed criminals, dedicated librarians, and the restless dead at points throughout the city. The tour is organized by author and investigator Kim Johnston (Haunted Shelby County, Alabama; Haunted Talladega County; and Haint Blue) with help from author, investigator, and haunted collector Kevin Cain (My Haunted Collection, The Legends of Indian Narrows, Tammy Baby, Patty Doll), and myself. The three of us will be taking over tour guiding duties. Please join us on this two-hour ride through Birmingham’s haunted past!
- Brown, Alan. Haunted Birmingham. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
- Escott, Colin, George Merritt, and William McEwen. Hank Williams: The Biography. NYC: Back Bay Books, 2004.
- Powell, Lewis O. Southern Spirit Guide’s Haunted Alabama. LaGrange, GA: Southern Spirit Press, 2015.