Spanish Fort's Blakeley State Park to host Alabama Author Day

By Allison Marlow
Managing Editor
Posted 2/17/23

SPANISH FORT — History, intrigue, murder, inspiration. Alabama Author's Day happening this Sunday has a page-turner for every mood and interest.

The annual event, hosted by Historic Blakeley …

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Spanish Fort's Blakeley State Park to host Alabama Author Day


SPANISH FORT — History, intrigue, murder, inspiration. Alabama Author's Day happening this Sunday has a page-turner for every mood and interest.

The annual event, hosted by Historic Blakeley State Park and Five Rivers showcases Yellowhammer state writers, with a special emphasis on those who hail from the shores of the Gulf Coast or focus on local history.

This year's robust schedule includes eight writers. Each will speak for 30 minutes about their work and will be available for book signings. The author sessions are free to attend.

Visitors can hear, read and even see the topics of the day's books. Throughout the day, Blakeley's boat, the Delta Explorer, will venture into the wilds of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta on five different cruises.

The excursions range from a more than two hour look at what organizers call the secret delta, to a one-hour cruise exploring the region's diverse natural habitat.

To see specific author and cruise times and book a cruise ticket, visit

Here is a peak at the eight authors who will speak throughout the day.

noon - 12:30 p.m.

Stacye Hathorn, Alabama state archaeologist

The wreckage of the schooner Clotilda was discovered in 2019 in the Mobile River. It was the last known slave ship to enter the United States, an illegal voyage made 52 years after the international slave trade was outlawed.

The book, "Clotilda," expands on what was initially reported in the archeological investigations that identified the ship, said Stacye Hathorn, Alabama state archeologist.

Hathorn said, the fact that Clotilda was hidden in plain sight, as a charted wreck whose identity was denied, and later proven through forensic archeology has opened the door for ongoing discussions about the nature and magnitude of the illegal slave trade.

"The physical survival of this one vessel – and how much of it and evidence of the crime committed with it – has survived takes it out of the pages of history. It is a powerful and undeniable physical reminder of that aspect of our history," she said.

The book touches on other wrecks in Mobile Bay, including the steamer Lake Ellijay, which has its own powerful story linked to the African-American community.

12:30 - 1 p.m.
"Hidden History of Mobile"
Joe Cuhaj

You have probably never heard the tales in Joe Cuhaj's book.

While there are dozens of books on the city's rich history, this one sets that well established narrative aside and takes readers on a walk through stories that only those who lived there might know.

"It explores the off-beat and obscure tales that most people don't know or if they do, have a slight twist that makes the story unique," Cuhaj said.

Gleaned from archived newspapers and historical records, the work is full of the unusual happenings of life in Mobile.

One of his favorite stories is that of the Washington Square Deer that stands two blocks northeast of the Oakleigh Mansion today.

Following the Battle of Blakeley, Union troops moved into Mobile with a mission to remove any vestiges of slavery. At the time there were two deer statues flanked by two more statues of African American boys tending to the animal that stood in front of a home on Springhill Avenue. Union troops tossed all the cast iron pieces into Mobile River. Their owner spent a considerable amount of time and money to locate them in the silty bottom but found just one - the deer visitors can see today.

Cuhaj will also speak about another one of his recent releases, "Space Oddities-Forgotten Stories of Mankind's Exploration of Space." Like the carefully culled tales of Mobile, Cuhaj has gathered a volume of little know tales of human exploration of space.

On March 6, Cuhaj will release "A History Lover's Guide to Mobile and the Alabama Gulf Coast." The book is an overview of Mobile's more than 320-year history told as a travel guide that leads readers to the very sites in the Port City where those historical moments happened.

1 - 1:30 p.m.
"Milly Francis: The Life & Times of the Creek Pocahontas"
Dale Cox

When Dale Cox was a child, his grandmother, who hailed from the Yuchi (Creek) Indians, told him Native American tales. One was that of Milly Francis.

Born in 1803, Francis survived three wars by the age of 15, including the Creek War of 1813 – 1814. As a teen she saved the life of Duncan McCrimmon, an American soldier who served under Andrew Jackson who had attacked the Creek Indians during the First Seminole War of 1817 – 1818.

The story of her act of mercy stuck with Cox and as an adult, he set out to find out more.

"The most important part of her story to me is that her act of mercy was done not in hopes of receiving reward, but in a true moment of kindness," Cox said. "When she explained that to military officers and the story made the newspapers of the day, it so shocked readers that it ignited the first stages of a civil rights movement for American Indians.

"Most Europeans of the time did not think that Native Americans were civilized enough to be capable of such humanitarian thoughts. In the years that followed the spread of the story, however, mothers all over the United States began naming their daughters Milly in recognition of the example that she set," he said.

Francis was the first woman to receive a special medal of honor from the U.S. Congress and was named to the Alabama Women's Hall of fame the same year as Harper Lee. Many also believe that she is the Native American woman represented on the state flag and state seal of Florida where her family fled during the onslaught of war in Alabama.

Cox said when the U.S. Civil War broke out, stories like hers were put aside, making her unheard of in future generations.

"She never received the Disney treatment that the original Pocahontas benefitted from during the twentieth century, so it has taken longer for her story to be told," he said.

1:30 - 2 p.m.
"Mississippi Mojo … and Murder"
Paula Lenor Webb

As the only work of fiction at Sunday's event, the only way to describe this interwoven tale of romance and mystery is fun.

A 60-year-old cold case. A big city sheriff seeking redemption. A missing groom. The Delta Blues. And, a love story.

Author Paula Lenor Webb collaborated with Mobile-based author Mary S. Palmer and the pair weaved a tangled web of a tale.

Webb said she was working in Cleveland, Mississippi, surrounded by the vibrant history of Delta Blues when she was inspired to write a murder mystery based in the town.

Sure, there's a mystery to solve but in the end, the point of the story is the romantic tale of Goldie Parsons and Elenore Toller.

"These two love birds teach us that love goes on despite the circumstances," Webb said.

2 - 2:30 p.m.
"Afternoons with Harper Lee"
Wayne Flynt

Equal parts memoir and biography, this book recounts the hundreds of afternoons Wayne Flynt spent with beloved author and Alabama native Harper Lee.

Flynt and his wife became regular visitors with the author of "To Kill a Mockingbird" when she returned to Alabama after suffering a stroke. The pair spent hours listening to her tell stories, about herself as well as Alabama history, folklore and American literature.

One of Flynt's favorites, he said, was Lee's retelling of her response to a reporter who asked if she was ever mistaken for a man because the name Harper wasn't a common woman's name at the time.

Lee told the reporter, "Only once. I was speaking at a famous university and the person arranging the trip asked if I wanted to stay in the men's dorm. I declined. Reluctantly."

Flynt said it is stories like those that he hopes gives readers a look at the amazing woman and not just the storied author.

"I hope readers of my book come to know the authentic Southern woman, not just a famous marble lady on a pedestal despite the fact that her novel was voted the world's favorite book in a 2022 contest sponsored by the book review section of the New York Times," he said.

2:30 - 3 p.m.
"Our Patriots: The Men and Women Who Achieved American Independence ― a coloring book"
Laura Murray

Are your eyes tired? Why read about history when you can color it?

Laura Murray brings history to life through art. She has created a 96-page, black and white ode to America's greatest men and women.

The book was sponsored by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, so each patriot featured includes historical information about their life.

Her favorite patriot is Stephen Hopkins, from Rhode Island.

"He suffered from a palsy which we now think was probably Parkinson's Disease. When he went to shakily sign the Declaration of Independence he reportedly said, 'my hand trembles but my heart does not'," she said.

Never heard of Hopkins? This book will give its artists insights to lots of American patriots who never made the history books we all read in school.

"The historical information in this book will probably be new to most people," Murray said. "The aim of this coloring book was to showcase the everyday patriot - not just the famous ones that everyone knows about."

Murray also designed "Amazing Alabama" a coloring book that highlights the coolest sites in each of the state's 67 counties.

3 - 3:30 p.m.
"Battleship Alabama"
Daniel Rogers

Locals may only know the USS Alabama as the ship you can see moored in the muck as you cross the I-10 bridge over Mobile Bay.

In World War II the battleship and her crew earned numerous citations for helping to take Japanese-held islands in the Pacific.

In his book, "Battleship Alabama," Daniel Rogers outlines the ship's day-to-day movements through the war in a way that readers can easily digest. As he does, Rogers also explains how the ship's operations fit into the larger scope of the war at critical moments.

The book was commissioned by the Naval Institute Press as part of a series of special edition books dedicated to individual ships or battles. Rogers also authored a book for the series about the 1943 Battle of Tarawa.

The books pair the author's historical narrative with a variety of illustrations to appeal, Rogers said, to the largest audience.

"Visitors to the ship, naval history enthusiasts, and anyone interested in the ebb and flow of World War II in the Pacific will find a lot here to pique and hold their interest," he said.

What readers, and visitors to the ship might find surprising is the sophistication of the computers aboard the nearly 80-year-old hull.

Inside the plotting room sits a large, complex analog computer of immense sophistication. It was capable of inputting an enormous amount of data about enemy targets, the environment, and the ship's own movements.

"It could quickly calculate how and when to fire the main guns in order to hurl a shell the weight of a small car up to 20 miles and have a good chance of doing damage," Rogers said.

That story of that technology is often lost in the more glamorous retelling of the battles it helped win, he said.

3:30 - 4 p.m.

"The Story of a Single Tax Colony: Fairhope, 1894 – 1954"
Tennant McWilliams

Tennant McWilliams' first order of business is to tell you, he did not write this book. Rather, it was written by Paul and Blanche Alyea and published in 1956.

The couple, McWilliams said, wrote such a thorough history that the book sold successfully both locally and beyond. Historians valued it for its careful assessment of how a single tax colony functioned. Fairhope was one of just five or six such colonies formed in the U.S. in the 1890s and none, McWilliams said, have been better analyzed than Fairhope, thanks to the Alyeas.

The book was only in print about 15 years. When the University of Alabama Press decided to republish it in 2022 as part of its "Alabama Classics Series," McWilliams, a historian, author and Fairhope resident, was asked to write the introduction.

On Sunday, McWilliams will discuss the Alyeas and their ties to Fairhope and his own family. His parents knew the couple and he met them briefly as a child.
The story of the Alyeas, McWilliams said, is the story of many who are drawn to the picturesque city on the bay.

"They surely were not born in Fairhope, yet they are buried in Fairhope," he said. "It is the touching story of sunsets, speckle trout, and yes, taxes."

In their book the Alyeas don't just outline an economic ideal, touted by economist Henry George who advocated a single tax as the best way for A erica to solve its problems. They tell a tale.

"That of a group of midwesterners who were so fed up with the America they knew in the 1890s that they decided pick up and move to a piece of isolated land on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay that nobody really seemed to want and try to build a place to live that did not have the drawbacks of the America they left behind," McWilliams said.

"What makes someone do that? Pretty risky. Pretty bold," he said.

Now that the Single Tax Colony exists alongside the City of Fairhope there are physical and cultural influences of the original founders that continue to act as driving force in its citizens and their daily lives.