Tired of the hustle-bustle urban life in Athens? I recommend a therapeutic day trip to tiny Aliceville in Pickens County, Alabama where life
is slow and folks are friendly. Recently I accompanied Athens residents Bill Ward and Jerry Crabtree there to visit the Aliceville Museum, touted as “Home of the Largest World War II German POW Camp Collection in the U.S.” Bill, a board member of the Alabama Veterans Museum, is a native of Pickens County. Jerry Crabtree is President of the Veterans Museum, and a retired Athens cop. I soon learned that when Bill Ward is driving, having a cop onboard is mighty handy.
We departed Athens at 7 a.m. and drove to Moulton, where I hoped to have a fine breakfast to sustain me during the 3-hour drive. When we headed down scenic Alabama 33, (that meanders through Bankhead Forest,) my stomach growled in protest. There would be no breakfast. At Double Springs, a blue and white cruiser did a U-turn, and flashed on blue lights.
“Sir, you were doing 65 in a 35,” the young cop said, pulling out his ticket book.
“Yes sir, I’m awfully sorry,” said Bill apologizing. I’ve never witnessed such boot licking in my life, but it worked!
“Well, I’ll just give you a warning ticket,” the cop finally said.
That’s when Jerry Crabtree flashed his cop card and the officer wilted like a vampire before a cross.
“Ya’ll have a nice day,” he said, and we sped off.
“Just professional courtesy,” quipped Crabtree.
My stomach growled. “I’m hungry.”
“After touring the museum we’ll eat at the Plantation House in Aliceville,” Bill said. “It’s a fine place.”
A hungry man doesn’t care how fine a restaurant is; he wants food, now! Bill pulled in at Barbara Ann’s place, a logger’s hangout. While he
pumped gas, I gourged down a giant chicken biscuit. My stomach stopped complaining and converted into a grease trap.
At Carrollton, we stopped at the courthouse to see “the face in the window.” According to Bill, after being arrested for burning the courthouse in 1876, Henry Wells was placed in the garret of the newly-built courthouse for safe keeping from a mob. While looking out at the mob, lightning struck and imprinted his likeness on the glass. I didn‘t believe it. We stood in the middle of the street in a rain shower looking up.
“Look!” said Bill. “Do you see it?”
“Well, I’ll be doggone,” I said, seeing a face. Whether it was Henry Wells, I can’t say, but the face is there.
At the Aliceville Museum, housed in a 1940’s Coca- Cola bottling plant, we were welcomed by a friendly brunette named Bobbie Renee Unruh, its Director. By the way, admission is only $5.00 for adults, and $4 for senior adults, Military and students.
After Rommel’s proud Afrika Corps crumbled before British forces advancing across North Africa in 1942, 6,000 German POWs arrived by train in tiny Aliceville on June 2, 1943. There they were confined behind barbed wire on 400 acres. The Geneva Convention
was strictly followed. Officers didn’t work, and, if the enlisted men chose to work outside the camp, they were paid 10? an hour. They were fed foods that many Americans couldn’t obtain because of rationing. Peanut butter on white bread, something that they had never heard of, was their favorite. The POWs organized an orchestra, produced plays and concerts, wrote poetry, and promoted the arts. The walls of the museum display drawings, portraits and paintings, and in the courtyard are three sculptures. The museum is also chocked full of American military memorabilia, and for the record, Pickens County boasts two Medal of Honor recipients. Remarkable!
Finally, Bill decided it was dinner time and took us to the Plantation House, a roomy, two-story former family home that has been converted into a restaurant. A salad bar and large buffet of fried chicken and such made the waiting worthwhile. The museum is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4p.m and by appointment on Saturday. The Plantation House is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
So, get out of your rut and visit the Aliceville Museum. Remember, there is no Cracker Barrel in Bank Head Forest and don’t dare speed in Double Springs – that is, unless you have a cop card! A plate of fried chicken at the Plantation House will make your trip worthwhile.
By Jerry Barksdale