|Alabama's Face in the Window
One of the South's most bizarre ghost stories
revolves around a mysterious face in a window of
the old Pickens County Courthouse.
The Face in the Window
The ghostly face in the courthouse
window is one of Alabama's best
known ghost stories. It can be seen
in the city of Carrollton.
Old Pickens County Courthouse
The historic courthouse was built in
1877-1878 to replace one allegedly
burned by Henry Wells.
The Face in the WIndow
Legend holds that Wells was looking
from a window of the courthouse
when lightning struck, etching his
face on the glass.
THE FACE IN THE WINDOW
Alabama's Ghost in the Window
An Alabama Ghost Story
The story of the Face in the Window
is memorialized by a historical
marker on the grounds.
The South is filled with ghost stories, but so
far as is known, only the Face in the Window
in Carrollton, Alabama, can be seen any time
day or night.
One of the state's most bizarre stories of the
supernatural, the tale of the face in a window
of the old Pickens County Courthouse was
immortalized by writer Kathryn Tucker
Windham in her popular book, 13 Alabama
Ghosts and Jeffrey. The window itself is one
of the most mysterious and treasured
historic sites in Alabama.
The story revolves around Henry Wells, a
former slave freed at the end of the Civil War.
Legend holds that he was accused of
burning the Pickens County Courthouse to
The county's original courthouse had been
burned by during Wilson's Raid through
Alabama and Georgia in 1865. It was
replaced after the war, but on November 16,
1876, the new courthouse burned to the
ground under suspicious circumstances.
It was not long, the tale continues, before the
blame was focused on Henry Wells. Arrested
but pursued by a lynch mob, Wells is said to
have fled into the attic or garret of the third
courthouse, which was by then being
completed. As the mob searched for him
below, Wells peered out a window to watch.
To his shock, however, lightning suddenly
struck the window and forever etched his
image into its glass. It is widely believed to
this day that the ghostly face of Henry Wells
continues to peer down from the courthouse
Like most ghost stories, the legend of the
Face in the Window has its skeptics. The
basics of the story, however, do have a
foundation in truth. The courthouse did burn
exactly as the story relates and the Daily
Inquirer, a Georgia newspaper, reported on
February 6, 1878 that, "Henry Wells, a
notorious colored outlaw, has been captured
and confesses to burning the Court House at
Skeptics note that the windows of the
courthouse were not installed until February
of 1878 and that Wells was shot at the time
of his capture in January of that year and died
a few days later. The county court records for
Pickens County, however, indicate that Wells
actually died in February, the same month
that the windows were being installed.
The timing is close. Close enough that the
legend could very well be true. The other
question, however, is whether lightning could
really etch a photograph of a living person on
a glass window.
Scientists say it appears to be impossible,
but who can really judge the true power of
such massive bursts of electricity? In fact,
there was another case of a photograph
being caused by lightning from the same
In around 1873, Mrs. Norborne B. Powell was
standing at the window of a home at
Chennuggee Ridge, Alabama, when the
glass was struck by a bolt of lightning. Her
image appeared on the glass, right down to
a hat and cameo pin she was wearing.
The Chennuggee Ridge photograph wound
up in the hands of Mrs. Powell's grandson,
Dr. Edward H. Cary who at one time served
as president of the American Medical
Association. Believing it to be a priceless
artifact of Alabama history, he sent it to the
Department of Archives in Montgomery in
1920. Someone there, however, dropped the
photograph and it was shattered.
The Pickens County Courthouse is located in
Carrollton, Alabama, which is 35 miles west
of Tuscaloosa. The historic building is being
restored and a large arrow points to the
window and the mysterious lightning portrait.
An interpretive marker on the grounds tells
the history of the courthouse and the story of
the face in the window.
Please click here to learn more about
Pickens County, Alabama.
|Photos by Kristina Martin
|Copyright 2010 & 2017 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: May 19, 2017
Historic Sites in Alabama