On January 30, 1878, as storm clouds grew and rain began to pour, Henry Wells was looking down from the garret roof of the Pickens County Courthouse at a mob bent on lynching him. In a flash, a bolt of lightning struck a nearby tree and arched across to the Courthouse where Wells was standing. His anguished features are still visible in the glass of that garret room today.
The legend surrounding Henry Wells and the 1876 burning of the Pickens County courthouse has been local folklore for years. The details remain clouded, but there are a few things we know for sure from court records and news articles that were preserved from this time period. In 1876, Pickens County’s newly erected courthouse burned to the ground, just as the original structure had done 12 years earlier at the hands of Union soldiers under the command of General John T. Croxton - as they passed through Carrollton on their way from Tuscaloosa after burning the University of Alabama. Circuit Court minutes show that Henry Wells, a freed slave living in Carrollton (Providence Beat), was accused and convicted of the act. Two years after the courthouse burned, Wells was apprehended in Fairfield, Alabama (South of Aliceville) and died soon after his arrest from gunshot wounds sustained while attempting to flee authorities. And finally, we know that for 130 years since his death, individuals looking up at the courthouse have witnessed an eerie image peering out from the structure’s upper window. Even today it remains a ghostly reminder of Wells’ supposed threat in protest to his arrest — that being, to haunt his accusers for the rest of their lives.
Read more about this haunting tale in:
Stories Regarding the Face in the Courthouse Window:
Songs About the Face in the Courthouse Window: