Lots of stimulation today in Alabama! Let’s start with the birthplace of Jesse Owens, the fastest man alive for many years, and the guy who really upset Hitler at the 1936 Olympics. He started out as a sickly child in Oakville, Alabama, the 10th child of a sharecropper family. He never actually used walking as an early form of locomotion. After recovering from a childhood illness, he just got out of bed one day and started running up and down the rows of cotton. And he never stopped running.
There are so many stories that we have heard about people like Jesse, who started out in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely nothing, yet became part of our American story. You stand in this humble cabin, where 10 children slept on the floor, and think of how this very shy man was both a force of nature and symbol of something very large. They celebrated his 100th birthday here on Saturday, so his legend lives on.
And then there is the music that this area is known for. In another log cabin, this time in Florence, Alabama, was born W.C. Handy, the father of the Blues. Determined to be a musician, he created music that gave voice to a culture and rhythm that is also uniquely American. Some real treasures in this little museum, like an autographed copy of “Rhapsody in Blue” from George Gershwin.
But there’s music all over this area. Does the address 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama mean anything to you? It might. It’s the site of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio – and the name of an album Cher recorded there. Luminaries who have recorded in this place include: The Rolling Stones; Herbie Mann; Paul Simon, Cat Stevens; Dylan and Bob Seger. Doesn’t look like much, does it? But there are a series of studios like this here, where the world came to record. It’s not the middle of nowhere at all.
That was the musical part of our day. Now for the touching part. We went next to Tuscumbia, Alabama, birthplace of Helen Keller. Her family home is preserved here, and it’s rather breathtaking for those of us weaned on The Miracle Worker. Stand in the dining room where she had the fit that propelled her father to hire Annie Sullivan. See the “little house” where Annie took her away from her family to civilize her and stop their spoiling. See the bedroom where they both slept. See the artifacts of Helen’s remarkable life. And after all of that, you still won’t be ready for the sight and feel of the pump, where Annie first broke through to Helen with the word “water.” Nothing really prepares you for that.
Our final episode of the day was a visual one – the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Alabama. Having seen many of his houses, we had to agree that the Rosenbaum House was the only one we could actually imagine living in. It is a Usonian house in which four boys were raised – albeit in military-style bunk beds -but it would be a treat for two.
Had to get this all down before tomorrow’s adventures, but have to admit today was a bit over-stimulating. It’s hard keeping up with Alabama, and we couldn’t even find a guide book for this state!