American Folklore

American Folklore: Alabama

The Folklore of America: Alabama

Like every state in the union, Alabama has its own unique folklore associated with it. Some of it is spooky, some of it is just plain weird, and some is simply fascinating. Whether of Native American or European settler origin, the folklore of Alabama is unlike any other. The geography, fauna, flora, and history of the state all make for folklore that is unique to Alabama alone. While it would take a book to discuss all the folklore that is unique to Alabama, a few of the most fascinating examples can be examined here. Here are some of the highlights of the folklore of Alabama.

Orion Williamson of Selma Vanished into Thin Air — In Front of People

There have been innumerable disappearances since humans first started inhabiting Alabama. Some have been solved, and some have not. However, none may be quite so famous in the state as the 1854 disappearance of Orion Williamson of Selma, Alabama. What makes his disappearance so intriguing? He disappeared into thin air in front of several human witnesses and was never found.

In July of 1854, Orion Williamson, a farmer, was walking on his own farmland in Selma, with his wife and a few family members in sight of him on the farmhouse’s front porch. As Orion went about his farm work, some neighbors walked by and waved to Orion, who waved back and promptly disappeared in front of everyone. Yes, that’s correct. He completely disappeared while waving to his neighbors, as if he had never been there in the first place.

Only, he had been there. Everyone present, including the neighbors, ran to where Orion was in the fields when he disappeared. Despite being on the scene almost immediately, there was no sign of him. A search party of more than three hundred men searched the fields most of the night, and people from all over the county came over the next days and weeks to look at the place Orion vanished from the face of the Earth. One journalist who wrote about the story disappeared himself fifty years later. Were the disappearances connected? No one knows.

What makes it even stranger is that Orion’s wife and son claimed they could hear Orion calling for help for weeks afterward, with the voice gradually growing softer until stopping once and for all. There was never any sign of Orion Williamson again after that.

Serpents in the Tennessee and Alabama Rivers

There have been reported sightings of large serpent-like creatures in the Alabama portions of the Tennessee and Alabama rivers since the early 1800’s. Even as early as 1822, when the first documented sighting was reported, there were already legends about these river serpents, with the going wisdom being anyone who saw one would die. In the 1822 incident, Buck Sutton reported seeing a twenty-five-foot serpent-like creature undulating in the water on the Tennessee River, and sure enough, he died a few days later. Similar incidents of people reporting sightings of river serpents on these rivers and dying shortly after occurred in 1825 and 1827. Another sighting of a large creature with fins slithering around the banks of the Alabama River before sliding beneath the surface was reported in 1877 with no reported death afterward, as was a sighting in 1993.

Hugging Molly of Abbeville, Alabama

Going back to the 1800’s, the story of Hugging Molly is a weird one that was used to urge children to not stay out too late and to hurry home to their mothers. Molly was supposedly a witch-like creature with dark clothing and a pointy black hat who would grab children who were out too late, hug them, and scream a high-pitched scream in their ears. In most sightings, she was more than seven feet tall. Interestingly, she never hurt the children she grabbed, other than the ear pain from the loud and shrill screaming. Once she was done screaming, she always let them go.

Theories about Hugging Molly range from her being the ghost of a mother who lost a baby or small child, and making up for it by being protective of the local children, to her being a living person who dressed up as a witch, trying to keep the local kids safe.

The Grave of Sally Carter in Huntsville, Alabama

Until 1982, this was a place you could really visit. The legend was that a teenager named Sally Carter was visiting her sister at nearby Cedarhurst Mansion in 1837 when she died of an undisclosed ailment that came on her during the visit. She was buried at the family cemetery on their estate in south Huntsville. Sally was apparently quiet until 1919 when a teenage boy who was staying at Cedarhurst had a dream about her. In the dream, Sally asked the boy to go fix her tombstone, which had been damaged in a storm the previous night. When the boy went there, the stone had indeed been knocked down, and he alerted the appropriate people to have it fixed.

Dozens of people have reported seeing Sally’s ghost since then, both at her grave and at the mansion. Visits to Sally’s grave were a common right of passage among the teens of Alabama for decades. However, those visits resulted in a lot of damage and sometimes outright vandalism to the tombstone. So, in 1982, the city had her remains exhumed and reburied in an undisclosed location. The mansion can no longer be visited by the general public, either, as it is now the clubhouse for an exclusive gated community.

The Haunted Playground in Huntsville, Alabama

Sally Carter’s ghost isn’t the only haunting in Huntsville. There is also a playground where the swings move on their own, without anyone on them, and where visitors and passersby often report seeing spectral orbs and outright ghosts. Two legends account for the hauntings. One is that the playground used to be a cemetery in the early 1800’s, and the ghosts of the children buried there come to the playground to play. The other is that these are the ghosts of children who were victims of a series of local and nearby abductions in the 1960’s.


Will Moneymaker founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his surname. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)