Resurrection—Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge

Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge
Opelika Municipal Park
Park Road
Opelika, Alabama

Things looked bleak for the Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge on June 5, 2005. Early that morning, a tree had fallen on part of this 105-year-old bridge. The damage was so severe that the entire bridge collapsed into Wacoochee Creek. Located in rural Lee County, Alabama, near the community of Salem, it appeared that this was the end for this last remaining covered bridge in the county. It was one of eleven covered bridges remaining in the state.

The Salem-Shotwell Bridge in its new location in Opelika Municipal Park. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Concerned citizens in the area soon began to salvage the parts of the bridge and placed them in storage. Later on that year, ownership of the remains of the bridge were officially transferred to the City of Opelika who, with the help of the local Kiwanis Club and historical organizations, began a reconstruction of the bridge over Rocky Creek in Opelika Municipal Park. The bridge reopened to fanfare in 2007.

For years before it’s destruction and subsequent reconstruction, stories were told about this lonely bridge. Some of the first stories, according to Faith Serafin, Michelle Smith and Mark Poe in their recent book Haunted Auburn and Opelika, were told of Native American spirits reaching up from the waters of Wacoochee Creek towards unwary travelers crossing the bridge at night. Like so many lonely bridges, this bridge acquired a reputation for other spirits over time. (see my recent entry on Cry Baby Hollow in North Alabama)

The bridge was constructed using wooden pegs, many of which were reused when the bridge was reconstructed. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

Supposedly in the 1960s, a young woman was either strangled or hung herself on the bridge. One story involves the young woman asking a young man to meet her at the bridge for a late night tryst. When the young man didn’t show up, the young woman hung herself.

The death of another woman in a fatal car accident added yet another spirit to the bridge. In this tale a young woman is driving along the country road towards the bridge in a rain storm. As she rounded the curve in the road towards the bridge, the car skidded on the slick road and crashed into the turbulent, storm-riled waters below. Her spirit is said to drift along the stream banks accompanied by the smell of burning flesh. I have not yet been able to locate media coverage to corroborate these stories.

The reconstruction only rebuilt 43 feet of the original 76 feet of the bridge’s length. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

Yet one more accident added a spirit to the bridge: that of a young boy. His pitiful spirit often attracted ghost hunters and curious legend trippers who would leave small toys and gifts behind for the child. It is possibly his spirit who has accompanied the bridge to its new location. The authors of Haunted Auburn and Opelika speak of children playing near the reconstructed bridge playing with a young boy that only they can see.

Sources

  • Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 3 December 2012.
  • Serafin, Faith; Michelle Smith and Mark Poe. Haunted Auburn and Opelika. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.

Of Crying Babies and Bridges–Hartselle, Alabama

Cry Baby Hollow
Kayo Road Bridge
Hartselle, Alabama

Southern legends and lore are filled with tales of “Cry Baby” and other haunted bridges. Some are modern highway bridges while others are ancient, rickety affairs, perhaps even a historic covered bridge, on lonely dirt roads in the woods. Regardless, stories have become attached to these bridges. Some of the tales are typical: either a mother, an infant or both die in an accident in this lonely spot, thus haunting the place until peace may be found in the afterlife. Another typical version has the mother dropping her infant into the waters under the bridge as she is unable to care for the child. Other bridges are the scenes of deadly accidents, the dumping ground for murder victims. Occasionally rituals appear in these legends with those wishing to encounter the spirit stopping their car on the bridge, bringing candy, flashing headlights, sounding the horn or perhaps calling the name of a particular spirit.

The Decatur Daily of Decatur, Alabama reported on one of its local cry baby bridges, this one located in Morgan County, near Hartselle. Sadly, the article only promotes the legends surrounding the location and provides no information to prove or disprove them.

US-31 sign Alabama
A sign for US-31 in Alabama. Photo 2017, by formulaone, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The old bridge on Kayo Road, off US-31, is an unkempt, lonely, and apparently a little used bridge. From some of the photographs circulating the internet, it appears that trash has been dumped along the road, though the bridge may also be popular with fisherman. The article describes a local ghost hunting team, Paranormal Research Alliance of Cullman, who investigated the bridge both at night and during the day. The team did feel uneasy at the location, though this is not a true sign of a haunting. Video taken at the bridge had possible moaning or talking in the background, though this may simply be the sound of cars from US-31 some two miles away. Otherwise, the team did not capture any conclusive evidence that there may be paranormal activity in the location.

There seems to be no lack of stories about the desolate bridge. Many of the typical cry baby bridge stories have been applied including a mother losing an infant in an accident at the site, though, as I mentioned above, the article provides no evidence if any of these things actually occurred. The other primary legend associated with the bridge is that of a serial killer who supposedly operated in the area by the name of Frank Hammond or Hammon.

The article includes a story (from the internet, imagine that!) that speaks of Mr. Hammond’s activities in the 1940s. Gory details such as living quarters with human skins tacked to the walls and a family being brutally murdered one by one with the child witnessing his parents’ deaths before being beaten to death with a hammer are included. The killer was finally caught and died in a Georgia prison by his own hand. One would think his heinous activities would have him serving in Alabama prison for many decades before serving time in neighboring Georgia. While the details make for a memorable story, they just don’t all add up. There is no evidence that this particular serial killer existed, except in the minds of storytellers. Indeed, it seems that serial killers are far less common than urban legends and lore indicate.

Jessica Penot explores this location in her book, Haunted North Alabama. In gathering stories for the book, she encountered a multitude of origins for this legendary location. According to her, the story may predate European settlement of the region and one story involves a local native woman whose child was swept away by flooding during torrential rains. She also notes that some versions of the legend for this spot include bringing candy bars which may be left to appease the spirit.

It does appear that these stories seem to be told about lonely and desolate places. These places tend to spawn urban legends (or perhaps “rural legends” given this specific location). Is there activity at this old bridge on Kayo Road? Perhaps, but the legend is still interesting in spite of it.

Sources

  • Hill, Jennifer R. “Hartselle’s haunting: Cry Baby Hollow: Urban legend or forgotten truth?” Decatur Daily. 31 October 2012.
  • Penot, Jessica. Haunted North Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010.