The Pickens County Courthouse in Carrollton, Alabama is a courthouse in west Alabama famous for a ghostly image that can be seen in one of its windows. The image is said to be the face of Henry Wells, who, as legend has it, was falsely accused of burning down the town's previous courthouse, and lynched on a stormy night in 1878.
On November 16, 1876, the people of Carrollton, Alabama watched helplessly as their courthouse burned to the ground. The Pickens County Courthouse had been a source of pride for the people of Carrollton. Their first courthouse had been burned down by invading Union Army troops during the Civil War, an act that seemed to serve no purpose other than to inflict humiliation on the town. In the difficult days of the Reconstruction, when materials were scarce and money was even scarcer, rebuilding the courthouse seemed to be an impossible task. Yet, through hard work and deep personal sacrifices, the courthouse was somehow rebuilt. It stood as a testament to the perseverance of the town, and a symbol of defiance even in the face of defeat at the hands of the Union soldiers.
Yet, less than twelve years after Union troops had set fire to their first courthouse, the new one burned to a pile of smoldering ruin, apparently the result of a burglary gone wrong. Even as work began on a third courthouse, the townspeople demanded vengeance for the horrible act. Their vengeful eyes finally settled on Henry Wells, a freed slave who lived near the town.
Henry Wells was no angel. He was said to have a horrible temper, and there was no denying he had been involved in several brawls. Rumors went even further; people said he constantly carried a straight razor, and was not afraid to use it. Despite the rumors, however, there was only vague circumstantial evidence against him in the burning of the courthouse.
But it was Alabama in 1878, and Henry Wells was charged and arrested on four counts: arson, burglary, carrying a concealed weapon and assault with intent to murder. Ironically, he was taken to the sheriff's office, located inside the newly completed courthouse, to await trial.
As word spread through the town of Wells' arrest, the sheriff could sense trouble brewing. The mood of the town seemed as ominous as the dark clouds gathering in the late afternoon sky. As the first few drunken men began heading toward the courthouse, the sheriff took Wells to the high garret of the new courthouse, and told him to keep quiet. But as the angry mob gathered below, Wells' fear got the best of him. He went to the window, and looked down on the crowd. He yelled defiantly, at the top of his lungs, "I am innocent. If you kill me, I am going to haunt you for the rest of your lives!" Just then, a bolt of lightning struck nearby, flashing the image of Wells' face, contorted with fear, to the crowd below.
The lynch mob forced its way into the courthouse, and took their victim outside, even as he continued to proclaim his innocence. His cries went in vain, as the mob meted out its drunken vengeance, and dispersed. None of them even considered Wells' predictions as they passed out in a drunken stupor. At least not until the next morning, that is.
Early the next morning, as a member of the lynch mob passed by the courthouse, he happened to glance up at the garret window. He was shocked to see Wells’ face looking down at him, just as it had the night before, when it had been illuminated by the flash of lightning. He rubbed his eyes and cursed his hangover, but when he looked back up, there was Wells. He screamed, and as others arrived, they all remembered Wells prediction. “If you kill me, I am going to haunt you for the rest of your lives!”
The face remains in the courthouse window to this very day. No amount of washing has been able to remove it, and on at least one occasion, it is said that every window pane in the courthouse was broken by a severe hailstorm; every pane, that is, except for the pane from which Wells continues to look down accusingly on the town that put him to death.
The image on the window is easily seen, although it is more face-like from some angles than from others. It is said that the image is only visible from outside the courthouse; from inside the pane appears to be a normal pane of glass.
Since this photo was taken, the city of Carrollton has installed, on the exterior of the courthouse, a reflective highway sign with an arrow pointing to the pane where the image appears. There are permanent binoculars installed across the street from the window for people who wish to get a closer look.
In 2001, the courthouse was threatened with demolition, and the face was covered with a piece of plywood spray-painted with a smiley face. Due to a public campaign to save the face in the window, the courthouse is being renovated as funds become available.