Follow the Leaders

It came as a real surprise when the Land Trust of North Alabama asked us to lead one of their fall series hikes.  We’ve been on a few of the guided hikes and really enjoyed them, and learned a lot on each one.  The leaders seemed so confident and polished and knowledgeable and prepared, so we knew the bar was set pretty high.  Despite that, we jumped at the chance to lead a hike.  It’s flattering to be asked, and it didn’t hurt that we were asked to head a Hiking 101 excursion on the Nature Conservancy’s Keel Mountain Preserve.

We had about a month to prepare, and had thought at the time we might use the blog to drum up interest in the hike after the Land Trust announced their fall hikes series.  When the announcement came out, people started signing up right away, and in no time we had a waiting list!  So we never needed to promote the hike, as these guided hikes are very popular.  In fact, the entire fall series was just about filled to capacity before the first scheduled hike.  Which was, in fact, the hike Ruth and I were leading.  Yep, the rookies were batting leadoff.

We thought about the guided hikes we’ve been on, and considered what worked and what didn’t.  The hiking part was easy — it was the talking part that was going to take some preparation.  The hike description said that we were going to teach people all we knew about hiking — good thing it was a short hike!  We were also to cover safety tips, recommended gear, survival, and how to respect the trail.  So there were the main topics of our outline, plus we thought we’d throw in a short bit about the Land Trust and Nature Conservancy and also something about the geology of Keel Mountain.

Since we had the advantage of having two guides on our hike, we figured out a plan for dividing up the speech-making and research.  One thing we’ve noticed on previous guided hikes (with one guide) is that conveying information can be tricky when you have a large group of hikers all moving at a different pace.  It usually resulted in the guide stopping somewhere and everyone waiting until the last hiker arrived before the guide could start the presentation.  We hit upon the scheme that Ruth would lead the hike, and would present the first topic (preparing to hike) in the parking lot.  Then she would head down the trail to a predetermined location and give the next spiel (respecting the trail).  I would be the sweep, at the end of group, so that when the faster hikers were ready to move on, I’d arrive on the scene with the slower-paced folks and repeat the presentation while the hares went ahead with Ruth to the next stop.  Overall, we planned two stops on the way up, a longer presentation at the Lost Sink, and one last stop on the way down.

Though we’ve hiked the Lost Sink trail on Keel Mountain several times, we knew we should have a look at current conditions so we’d be less likely to be surprised.  So we took a practice hike the weekend before and picked out the locations where we’d stop to do our presentations.  We also noted a few of the plants in bloom or berry (the American beautyberry was in rare form) and decided we’d point out a few of our favorite trees (smoketree, shagbark hickory, persimmon, and hackberry).  We went up to the top, where the waterfall was disappointingly puny, due to the dry weather.  After that, over the next week we researched and outlined our presentation.

We caught a major break in the weather, as it rained profusely the week before the hike, and cleared up on the day before, which helped dry out the trail and also knocked down the high temperatures.  We laid in a huge supply of water, printed out a couple of handouts, grabbed a few bags of candy as a post-hike treat, and headed out on Saturday morning to make the drive across the county.

We arrived a little later than intended, but still arrived before most of the group so we had enough time to get organized.  Folks arrived on time or a little late, as we expected, but by 9:20 Ruth had finished her presentation on pre-hike planning, gear, and other hiking tips and we took a group photo before 23 hikers, one dog, and two guides headed up the trail.

From our perspective, the hike went really well.  The group was a mix of ages, though we didn’t have any children on this hike, and they did space themselves out on the trail so that our “instant replay” strategy on the presentations seemed to work.  Ruth’s group got to the Lost Sink quite a bit ahead of the trailing group, but they were polite enough to wait for me to come chugging up and deliver my remarks on geology.  It was on the way down the trail that Ruth and I (separately) realized a flaw in our plan.  We had left the candy and handouts locked up in the truck, and I had the only key!  So the hares arrived in the parking lot with only the satisfaction of a nice hike, and the tortoises came along later and snarfed up all the candy.  Indeed, the race was not to the swift, and time and chance favored the more moderately-paced hikers that day.  In retrospect, Ruth should have brought her keys, or I should have handed off the keys at the top.  We were able to email the handouts to the participants later.

We made the one mile hike to the Lost Sink on Keel Mountain, and didn’t leave anyone behind on the one mile back to the parking lot.  I don’t think we had anyone fall (a good thing, because portions of the trail can be challenging), and no one got stung or overheated.  I particularly enjoyed hearing the conversations on the trail about past or planned hikes and camping trips, and old-timey recipes for herbal cures, and the latest advances in wireless technology (we were in Huntsville, after all).  We learned a lot from the research, and from the experience of the hike.  For instance, we bought and carried way too much water, but Ethel the dog appreciated it and the collapsible bowl we had in a day pack.  I think the humans enjoyed the hike too, and maybe the rookie guides started off the fall hike series with a solid base hit.

I’ll admit we were a little nervous about how things would turn out — remember, the event leading up to Gilligan’s Island was supposed to be a three-hour tour — but our preparation gave us confidence, and of course the folks on the hike were a generous and receptive audience.  We had set aside a little treat for ourselves Saturday night to celebrate a successful hike:  a couple of bottles of my latest homebrew batch of Moo-le Milk Stout.  We don’t always have a beer after a hike, but…who am I kidding?  We almost always have a beer after a hike!  But at the end of the day, the hike was great, the beer was smooth, and leftover candy wasn’t going to eat itself.

 

 

Chapman Mountain: A Family Legacy

In 1932, Bob Terry’s grandfather bought a chunk of land that took in a large part of of the east side of Chapman Mountain. At the time, the rugged land was considered to be “out in the country,” and had in the past been home to at least one known moonshine still. Mr. Terry planned to develop it into a housing development with homes down in the flat and all up the mountainside. For reasons that included difficulty in getting water to the site, this development was never built. The Terrys did farm a bit of cotton on the level parts at the base of the mountain, but for the most part the land remained pretty much untouched.

Bob Terry’s father did not follow his father’s footsteps into land development or agriculture. He was a gifted linguist who spoke 9 languages and taught foreign language at the University of Georgia for many years. His passion was education, as is demonstrated by the fact that he made sure that every one of his 11 grandchildren could get a college education.

When it was Bob Terry’s turn to pick a vocation, he picked forestry – “because I didn’t have to learn any languages,”  This self-deprecating humor is typical Bob Terry, but it’s obvious he has a passion, too: a passion for land preservation. The Harvest Square Preserve in western Madison County is on land donated by the Terry family, and Bob Terry himself has come to many a trail maintenance work day at Land Trust properties all over Madison County to lend a hand (and put to shame those decades younger who can’t keep up with his pace!)

On Dec. 3, 2017 the lives and passions of three generations of the Terry family came together at the groundbreaking for the Terry Educational Pavilion at Chapman Mountain. On land originally owned by his grandfather, now the Land Trust of North Alabama’s newest nature preserve, Bob Terry helped to ceremonially break ground for a 1,920 square foot pavilion that will be used host an expanded science and environmental education program. The pavilion will include running water for bathrooms (they’ve obviously solved the problem of getting water to the site) and solar-powered electricity. It will be the gathering point for classes, and the starting point for group camping experiences and hikes on the planned 10 miles of multi-use trails winding through the property.

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On groundbreaking day, a good crowd gathered to listen as Land Trust executive director Marie Bostick outlined plans for the project and then introduced three speakers. Bob Terry spoke about the history of the property and his family, then representatives from Vulcan Materials and Toyota Manufacturing spoke about their long involvement with and support for the Land Trust that led them to this project. Then we all climbed up towards the pavilion site to watch as the three tossed the ceremonial first shovelful of dirt.

After the dirt tossing, land steward Lori Pence led a group of around 35 on a short loop hike on the property. We started at the pavilion site and went north on the Moonshine Trail. Bob Terry verified that there had indeed been a moonshine still on this land, though he was quick to point out that the still pre-dated his family’s ownership of the land.  A heavy fall of leaves and little previous foot traffic made for a bit of an indistinct footbed, but trail diamonds plus red ribbons tied to the trees marked out the path. The trail cuts through land covered in tall, straight pine trees. Chet asked Mr. Terry if the family had planted the trees to sell for pulp, but apparently they just all grew up naturally after they stopped farming on the land.

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Soon we reached the intersection with the Terry Trail – named of course for the Terry family. This is a 1.1 mile trail that loops through most of the lower section of the property. Most of that 1.1 miles are to the right of this intersection, but on this day we turned left to head back to the south. This section of the Terry Trail  was very level and for a short time followed alongside an old rock wall. Later I was told that the rock wall used to extend all the way across what is now Highway 72. We also passed the rusted and bullet-riddled hulks of a pickup truck and a Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Given that we were headed towards the “Moonshine Trail,” there was lots of joking about whether this was evidence of moonshiners outrunning the revenuers, but seeing as the Monte Carlo wasn’t even in production until 1970 (thank you Wikipedia!) I’m sure that wasn’t the case.

When the Terry Trail intersected again with the Moonshine Trail, we turned right to head up to the spring. I’ve actually been to the spring before, on an earlier Land Trust members hike on Chapman Mountain. It’s a lovely site and at that time there was water flowing over the rock ledge and down to form a bubbling little creek. This time, the spring was nearly dry, with just a slightly damp patch on the downhill side of the rock ledge indicating where the water might normally flow. Still, it’s a pretty location, and Lori told us that in the fall when the leaves turned, the hillside was ablaze with yellow. After admiring the spring and taking a group picture, we headed back to the parking lot.

Our GPS failed to pick up our track for this hike, but it was a short one – maybe .75 mile. The whole of the Moonshine Trail is .5 miles, and the section of the Terry Trail we hiked looked to be about half of that distance. There are currently 3 miles of trails roughed in on the preserve, but there are big plans for more trails, including many that will be multi-use hike and bike trails. In fact, Sorba (Southern Off Road Bicycling Association) of Huntsville has a received an IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) “Dig In” grant to fund a Master Trails plan at Chapman Mountain. The goal is to have 10 miles of trails on the property.

These are exciting plans, but you might be wondering what you can do at Chapman Mountain today.  The answer to that is “it depends.” The Land Trust intends to open the property to the public in February 2018, when it will be open from dawn to dusk like the rest of their properties. However, there are two ways to explore the property even before it’s open to the public – become a Land Trust member, and/or sign up for a Chapman Mountain Trail Care day. Becoming a member is easy – you can do it online – and it gets you benefits like free access to a Carto Maps app, discounted tickets to Land Trust events, discounts from partners, and most important for this discussion, invitations to free member only hikes. I heard from the Land Trust staff at the groundbreaking that they’ll be having several member only hikes on the property between now and the official opening. If hands-on trail building is more your style, you could join me and Chet in volunteering to become a part of the awesome Trail Care Crew. Though I haven’t seen a schedule, I would think there’s a good chance that trail building work is going to be happening at Chapman Mountain sometime before the public opening – maybe we’ll see you there! More information on becoming a member or volunteering can be found on the Land Trust website. Go check it out!

 

Breaking the rules: Galaxy of Lights

I have a hard and fast rule about Christmas. There will be no Christmas decorations put up, no Christmas music played, no Christmas-y activities at all –  until after Thanksgiving day.  It seems somehow disrespectful of the day set aside for giving thanks to rush past it to the next holiday. However, I do make one exception, and that is dog walking night through the Galaxy of Lights at the Huntsville Botanical Garden. For those that might be unfamiliar with this Huntsville holiday tradition, the Galaxy of Lights is a 2.5 mile trail of lighted holiday displays that winds through the Botanical Garden. Between November 24 and Dec. 31, you can drive through displays from 5:30 – 9:00 pm.  Driving through the displays is nice, especially when it is really cold outside, and you can listen to your own holiday music if you want. Cars move pretty slowly through the displays so there’s plenty of time to enjoy each one. However, as you might expect, we’re not really the driving types, so for folks like us there are walking nights starting November 16. From 5:30 to 8:00 pm on these nights, no cars are allowed on the trail so that you can walk through without dodging cars and choking on exhaust. Even better, there are two specially set aside dog walking nights for those of us who also want to bring along our furry babies. The downside to the walking and dog nights, though, is that they are only available up until the drive-through nights start. In other words, if I want to enjoy the Galaxy of Lights while walking with my pup, I’m gonna have to break my rule about “no Christmas-y activities before Thanksgiving.”  In my defense, the Galaxy of Lights isn’t purely a Christmas display. It’s a display of all sorts of scenes – most of them seasonal in some way, but there are also flowers, bees, prancing deer, snowmen, and even dinosaurs. So – not just a Christmas activity – which means I’m not really breaking my rule, right?

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On the last dog walk night for the season, November 20, Chet and Casey and I met up after work and headed out to start our adventure. I have to be honest with you, this is such a popular event that I always dread this part. Traffic backs up more than a mile from the entrance as everybody and their brother (and their pups) seem to converge on the Botanical Garden at about the same time.  If you’ve never been before, you might make the rookie mistake of heading for the normal Garden main entrance. Don’t do it. For the Galaxy of Lights, all cars are routed in via Phantom Road, which is a road off  Bob Wallace near I-565. There is a large “Enter Here” sign that is pretty unmistakable. That and the massive line of cars should tip you off about where to go. Once you creep the mile or so into the Garden itself, they have an army of helpful volunteers directing you to open parking spots. In all the years I’ve been going to this event, I’ve never not been able to find a parking space. Some years I was farther away than others, but they always seem to find a way to get everybody safely parked. This year, they had arranged for access to some of the parking around the new Louis P. Morris Elementary School, which probably helped a lot. We parked in this area this year and were soon walking over towards the pavilion to buy our tickets. And now’s the time to mention another tip – if at all possible, buy your tickets in advance. We did not, and as we walked over towards the pavilion we saw a line of humans and their dogs stretching away into the distance on our left. It was the line for tickets. My heart sank and I cursed myself for not thinking ahead, but a helpful volunteer pointed out that we could also just run down the hill to the main Guest Center and buy our tickets there. From the looks of the line, that would save us some time, so we headed that way. The Guest Center itself was a bit of a zoo, with people lining up for tickets at the main desk while folks who had finished the walk were weaving their way through the crowds in the lobby to get to the exit, but I was fairly quickly pointed to a cash-only register in the gift shop and soon had tickets in hand. Then it was back up to the entrance, where the line actually seemed to have gone down by quite a bit. I was thinking we hadn’t maybe saved much time after all with our jaunt down to the guest center when another kind volunteer pointed us to the “pre-purchased tickets” entrance which saved us from any line at all, and with that we were through the gate, had our “members only” hot chocolate and cookie tickets, and were on our way.

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First up, Casey the Hound had to sniff (and pee on) every.single.luminary along the path. I’m pretty sure that as far as he’s concerned these luminaries are the whole reason for coming. He could not possibly care less about all the lights, though he does enjoy greeting every other dog there as well as reveling in the occasional scritch behind the ears from some appreciative dog lover outside of his family.

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For the humans with him, though, the reason to come is for the light displays. Each of the nearly 200 displays is sponsored, often by a business, but sometimes by a family or individual. Some are big, and some are small.  Most are animated, a few are not. There’s really something for almost everybody. I’m not going to detail every one of them here, but I did want to highlight a few of my favorites, or at least a few that we got decent pictures of. Apparently taking pictures in the dark is not one of my skills.

After passing under a set of suspended snowflakes, the path winds past several displays and then passes two spots of interest – the place where Santa hangs out for the younger set, and the “spirited coffee” stall right next to it. (Draw your own conclusions about that juxtaposition.)  Just past here, we came to a very popular light display – “Sweet Home Alabama,” and just after that was one of my favorites – the “Cinderella’s Castle” tableaux. The “North Pole” Elf also caught my eye.

Next up was the icicle forest. We moved off to one side to get a picture and I heard several groups in a row come by and say “Oh this is my very favorite one!” It is beautiful and while I’m sure it’s nice to drive through, I think it’s even more fun to walk through – particularly if the snow blower towards the middle is going. Kids especially get a kick out of walking through the fake snow. Past the icicle forest we came to dinosaur-land, then some lovely (but not really seasonal) flower, peacock, and bee displays, and a beautiful menorah.

At about the half way point along the trail, there is a tent set up where you can buy hot chocolate, cookies, or brownies. As a garden member one of our perks is that we get a ticket for a free hot chocolate and a cookie. For just a couple of dollars I upgraded us to a brownie (they were delicious) and we settled on a nearby bench to enjoy our snack. There are also several picnic tables set up here, so finding a spot to sit for a minute is not hard. On really cold nights, the outdoor heaters they have running are probably much appreciated. It’s a nice spot to take a little break.

Just past the hot chocolate stand is another one of my favorites – the student art display. While I could not find anything recent about the rules, I know that at one time the Garden hosted a student art contest. Students would submit seasonally themed drawings, some of which would be chosen for display during the Galaxy of Lights, with their names, school, and teacher identified. I don’t know if that’s how they still do it, but however it’s done, I’m always impressed by what these young kids have produced!

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In the home stretch now, we passed a large nativity scene, the Huntsville Depot in lights, and another of my favorites, Old Man Winter.

We finished up by going through a forest of sparkly green trees and then followed the path around Little Smith Lake back to the Guest Center. As we made our way back across the parking lots to our car, we stopped to chat with one of the volunteers who told us that this was a record breaking night. They’d had 1700 dogs come through that night (not to mention the humans that came with them). She said that is almost twice what they saw last year!

Walking nights are over for this year, but you can still drive through the displays most nights starting November 24.  There area  couple of nights that are closed due to fun runs so be sure to double check the calendar before you go, but there’s still plenty of time to get out and enjoy this Huntsville holiday tradition, and maybe next year, you can join with me in breaking the rules and experiencing this delightful tradition on foot.

 

I See Dead People: Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll

As I’ve noted before, October is my favorite month in the Tennessee Valley.  The weather cools down (well, not so much this year).  Autumn paints the leaves in brilliant colors (well, the drought has put a dent in that).  Two of our three favorite festivals take place (the Fiddler’s Convention and the Athens Storytelling Festival), and two other fun outdoor events take place (Oktoberfest and the Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll). Fiddler’s was great this year, with Maddie Denton becoming only the second female fiddling champion in the 50-year history of the competition (and well-deserved, too — she was great).   We stopped by Oktoberfest in Cullman on our way back from a hike, and well, our advice is don’t go to an Oktoberfest in Cullman on a Sunday.  The Storytelling Festival is this weekend, and it never disappoints.

This week’s post is about the Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll.  Maybe it’s a stretch to call this an outdoor adventure, but it’s a Huntsville tradition that involves walking around outdoors and looking at interesting things (in this case, costumed characters from Huntsville’s past), so it’s not all that different from a hike.  01monumentThe Cemetery Stroll is an annual event, usually held in mid-October, sponsored by the Huntsville Pilgrimage Association.  The Association, whose object is “to advance the appreciation of the historic heritage of Huntsville and Madison County,” is a volunteer group that organizes the Cemetery Stroll and a springtime walking tour of historic Huntsville homes.  The Cemetery Stroll is free, but donations are accepted (my observation is that the overwhelming majority of attendees donate a few dollars), and the funds raised are used to restore grave markers in the cemetery.

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Virginia Clay Clopton, portrayed by her descendant Virginia Henshaw

Maple Hill Cemetery was established in 1822 and contains over 80,000 graves.  It is the oldest and largest cemetery in Huntsville, and is the final resting place of five governors of Alabama, five U.S. senators, ten U.S. representatives, Confederate leaders, and other notables in U.S., Alabama, and local history.  During the Cemetery Stroll, dozens of its denizens are portrayed by actors in period costume, who relate the life history of their subject, along with a dose of local folklore.  The cast of characters changes from year to year, though some of the deceased have been played by the same actors for many years.  Some of the actors are actually descendants of the characters they portray!

Though this is a popular event, the sheer size of the cemetery dissipates the crowds so that the actors are usually performing to small groups.  The 2016 edition had 76 different sites within the cemetery (some sites had more than one actor), with 17 new characters added.  To add to the festivities, four musical groups performed throughout (a string band, a Celtic band, a barbershop quartet, and a gospel trio) and a number of beautifully restored antique cars were on display.

To me, the biggest appeal of the stroll is the wide variety of characters portrayed.  Here are just a few of the ones I enjoyed this year.  I could have written about many more!

Mary Chambers Bibb, played by Janie Clasgens.  05mary_bibbMary Chambers Bibb has one of the more tragic stories on the tour.  She married the son of an Alabama governor, but in 1835 died at 19 soon after her wedding, due to an illiterate servant accidentally poisoning her.  Buried in her wedding dress, local lore holds that she was entombed sitting in a rocking chair, in the first mausoleum in the cemetery.  There’s a superstition that you can hear her chair rocking, and during the tour I noticed several kids sneaking around to the back of the mausoleum and putting an ear up to the stone wall.

Elizabeth Dale Gibbons Flannigan Jeffries High Brown Routt, played by Jan Dorning.  06eliz_routtAs you might guess from her name, this lady was married six times, and is known as “the Black Widow of Hazel Green.”  Many of her husbands died under suspicious circumstances, though of course her version of events is more favorable.  Poor Philip Flannigan, husband #2, is buried in Maple Hill.  In case you were under the impression that the stroll is just a dry recitation of facts, many of the characters tell their life stories from their unique points of view.  The Black Widow and another perennial stroll favorite, Madam Mollie Teal, are at their best when they invite the watching gentlemen in the crowd to pay them a visit.  The actors often interact with the audience, and are glad to answer questions.

Lizzy Cruse (played by Katherine Welch) and Lily Flagg (played by Van Brown).  07cruse_lilyLily Flagg is the only non-human to appear as a character in the stroll.  She’s the world-famous dairy cow owned by Samuel B. Moore who won a blue ribbon at the 1893 World’s Fair for her prodigious butter production.  Usually Lily is accompanied by her owner, but this year her narrator was a young neighbor of Moore’s, who told the story of the gala held at Moore’s home to celebrate her bovine accomplishments.  This one is a big crowd-pleaser for the kids.

Annie Bradshaw Clopton, played by Melissa Pollick.  08cloptonOne of the charms of the stroll is that these are not just the stories of the rich and famous.  Annie Bradshaw Clopton made appearances on TV shows like What’s My Line to stump audiences and panelists on her particular specialty:  creating paintings on spider webs.  How do you do that, you ask?  Very carefully, of course.  She collected spider webs, then carefully painted portraits and landscapes using a pointillist method with a tiny brush.  And if that wasn’t enough, she also formed the first Girl Scout troop in Alabama and became a champion breeder of persian cats.  Her gossamer painting are still on display at the Burritt Museum and the Smithsonian Institution.

Pvt. Turner Mayes, played by David Hitt.  09turner_mayesMaple Hill contains the graves of soldiers and sailors from the Revolutionary War to the present day.  Though some of the interred were well-known leaders, the stroll also tells the stories of the rank and file soldier.  Turner Mayes was a private killed with only three weeks left to run in World War I, slain in a foxhole by a mortar shell in France.  A highlight of his story is Hitt’s wry recollection of the number of times Mayes was “honored” by being disinterred and moved to another graveyard.

David Todd, played by Steve Johnson.  12david_toddDavid Todd was a Confederate officer with an unfortunate family connection — his brother-in-law was Abraham Lincoln.  Todd was the half-brother of Mary Todd Lincoln, though there was a 14-year difference between them.  David Todd ran away from home at the age of 14 and became a soldier in the Mexican-American War.  He gained a taste for battle, and as an eager Confederate soldier rose to the rank of Captain.  He commanded the Libby POW Prison in Virginia (infamous for its inhumane treatment of prisoners) during the “War of Northern Aggression” before getting a minor command in Vicksburg, where he was injured and sent to Selma to recuperate.  He met the lady he was to marry there, and settled in Huntsville after the war, eventually succumbing to illness and his wounds in 1871.

John Hunt, played by Guy Collins.  11john_huntCollins gives one of the more spirited (ha!) portrayals on the tour, as he recounts the history of Huntsville’s founder and his feud with “that polecat” Leroy Pope.  Hunt built a cabin by the Big Spring in 1805, having heard about the location and “running faster than an eight-legged dog” to squat on the land in hopes of claiming a large tract by just paying a registration fee.  Congress decided to hold a land sale, and since Hunt had not registered his claims he didn’t get a preemptive right to his property. Wealthy planter Leroy Pope outbid Hunt to gain title to most of today’s downtown Huntsville, leaving Hunt to resettle in the area now known as John Hunt Park.  Hunt isn’t actually buried in Maple Hill; in fact, his actual gravesite isn’t marked, but is somewhere in the vicinity of John Hunt Park, near the garbage dump or maybe even around Joe Davis Stadium.  But his spirit is there in Maple Hill, shaking his fist in fury at Leroy Pope (portrayed by another actor about 50 yards to the southeast).

Dr. Sonnie W. Hereford III, played by Jim Donaldson.  10sonnie_hereford3This one was a personal favorite for me, as I had the great honor of slightly knowing Dr. Hereford.  Dr. Hereford is not only a new addition to the stroll — he’s a new addition to the cemetery, as he passed away earlier this year.  He’s best known as a civil rights activist who made history by enrolling his son, Sonnie IV, at Huntsville’s Fifth Avenue School in 1963, thus integrating the first all-white public school in Alabama.  He was a pioneering African American physician in Huntsville, and persevered through many hardships in his life and the pernicious indignities of racism to become a highly-respected, beloved, community leader.  Donaldson’s portrayal was spot on, no doubt informed by having had Dr. Hereford as his family physician, and his task was particularly challenging since the character he was representing is within the living memory of many stroll attendees.  I enjoyed all of the stories I heard on the stroll, but Dr. Hereford’s story is the one that everyone needs to hear.

Some wag, perhaps in anticipation of the event, wrote, “I see dead people” in chalk on a sidewalk in the cemetery.  Yes — that’s actually the idea!