Government Building: Pickens County Courthouse


Pickens County Courthouse in Carrollton, Alabama

Location: Carrollton, Alabama, USA
Built: Unknown
Operation Time: ? – Present
Type: Court
Status: Open

History:

During the Civil War, the first courthouse in Carrollton was burned downed by the Union Army during the Civil War; this was done as an act of humiliation rather than an attack. The second built courthouse, the Carrollton Courthouse caught fire and burned down on November 16th, 1876. The cause of the blaze is still unknown to this day. The third courthouse’s construction began. Everyone blamed a rowdy African-American man named Henry Wells, who lived outside of town for the fire. The sheriff arrested him and locked him up in the attic of a building that would become the new courthouse.

Wells wasn’t exactly a good man; he had a horrible temper, had been involved in several brawls, and rumors about him saying he carried a straight razor with him wherever he went and “was not afraid to use it”. Very little evidence supports his burning of the courthouse. But, being in Alabama in 1878 and being African-American led to his conviction, based only on his race. His charges were arson, burglary, carrying a concealed weapon, and assault with intent to murder. He was relocated to the sheriff’s office, which was inside the new courthouse, in order to await the trial.

In February, 1878, word spread about Wells’ arrest, and people began to want him dead. The sheriff took Wells to the high garret in the courthouse and told him to keep quiet. The lynch mob outside gathered around the courthouse, and Wells’ fear got to him. He went to the window and showed his face to the crowd, and defiantly yelled, “I am innocent. If you kill me, I am going to haunt you for the rest of your lives!”. Just after he said that, lightning struck nearby.

The mob took Henry Wells outside even despite the fact he continued to explain he was innocent. All of the mob men ignored Wells’ predictions of hauntings. The next morning after the lynching, a member of the mob passed the courthouse and saw that the garret window beared Wells’ face from the night before. He called out to the other members of the mob, who all remembered Wells’ grave words – “If you kill me, I am going to haunt you for the rest of your lives!”.

The face remains at the Pickens County Courthouse today. No one has ever been able to wash it off. Once, during a hailstorm, every pane of glass was broken…except for the one with Wells’ face.

Another version of the tale says that Wells was falsely accused of raping a white woman. While awaiting trial, a thunderstorm rolled in. The lynch mob gathered below, and he yelled out, “If you lynch me, you will forever see my face”. Moments after he said this, the window in front of him was struck by lightning, and his face appeared on the pane, only to remain forever more.

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