October 2013 dittolanding.com
Haunted Ditto Landing
by Christy Martin from the stories of Tom Carney, publisher Old Huntsville Magazine
That place is certifiably haunted,â€? grumbled Tom Carney, the late unofficial historian for Huntsville, Alabama when I first approached him about starting Life on the Water. He was referring to the place we now call Ditto Landing. I shared with Tom that my love for the water began in childhood...but something about Ditto Landing on July 3, 1989 deepened by soul's kinship to the Tennessee River. Tom, being the storyteller that he was, proceeded to spin the legends that have risen from Ditto's waters since the inhabitance of the Chickasaw Nation.
The Chickasaw Fields The six-hundred plus acres that include the marina portion of Ditto Landing as well as Hobbs Island was once the Chickasaw Fields and was referred to as 'The Great Bend'. As you can see on a map, the Tennessee River flows north-northeast right into Ditto Landing's harbor then turns sharply to make a point. The region was inhabited by several different tribes. Most of whom fought furiously. But for three days every year, they would stop fighting and travel to 'The Great Bend' for the biggest feast/party/get-together you've ever seen. For three days, they were not enemies but rather brothers and sisters. It is believed that for those three days, the moon stayed full bright. To this day, at full moon, you can hear the laughter and music when the wind blows. (No, it isn't just AA Dock having another party.)
Huntsville, Alabama's First Hanging 1812. Huntsville was literally a baby town without the stain of crime. John Ditto had settled at 'The Great Bend' and was operating a ferry to cross the river. Flatboats traveled the Tennessee River constantly. Trade was abundant. The South was starting to flourish.
But greed has been around since the beginning of time. Customary in those days, deckhands and crew from the flatboats would unload boats then begin their walk home with cash from their journey in their pockets. Eli Newman had camped at the Chickasaw Fields with other deckhands but stayed back with a man named Fetrick when the group departed. Newman caught up with them. Suspicions mounted and the men turned back to the river to find Fetrick near the riverbank robbed and his throat slit. (The area would be between the old bridge at Ditto and the new Highway 231 bridge.) Finding the dead man's money in Newman's coat, they knew they had a criminal. On December 5, 1812 Eli Newman entered the history books of Huntsville, Alabama as the first hanging ever. Close to the riverbank where Fetrick's body was found, groaning sounds and voices have been heard by area fishermen...but only when it's a new moon.
The Judge Lawler Murder 1916. Murder, blackmail, payoffs, rigged elections, suicide that often involved multiple gunshots. Madison County was a hotbed of corruption, money laundering and political scandal. Probate Judge W.T. Lawler was believed by some to be the savior that would correct the injustice. Others believed he was a ringleader of 'mafia'-type protection. On June 5, 1916 Judge Lawler's badly beaten and cut body was found at the Hambric Slough Bridge on Aldridge Creek by a ferryman, Percy Brooks. Weighted by heavy pieces of iron later identified as coming from the Madison County Jail, Brooks accused C.N. Nalls, Madison County Court Clerk, and David Overton, a former police chief that was running for Probate Judge. Emotions ran so high that the Governor ordered three divisions of National Guard to maintain control in Huntsville.
One by one, politicians began falling like flies. Sheriff Bob Phillips shot himself leaving a note that he couldn't bare to be accused in Lawler's murder. An attorney for Lawler committed suicide. The Chief of Police and patrolman resigned. The story came out in the trial. Overton had met Lawler at the courthouse and driven down Whitesburg Pike to a store building on the Tennessee River (at what is now Ditto Landing). They stopped at the Aldridge Creek Bridge to talk (the current bridge that is closed). Lawler wanted Overton to fix a grand jury investigation to cover up election fraud. Overton refused and Lawler, furious, slashed him across the face with a knife. Overton pulled a gun and smashed him in the head. He said he lost his mind and cut Lawler savagely with the knife Lawler had used. Overton admitted the crime to Sheriff Bob Phillips who was only too glad Lawler was out of the picture. More deaths and bad fortune fell upon those involved in the case. The truth was never really revealed. To this day, visitors to Ditto Landing have reported seeing the figure of a man hanging over the bridge then falling to Aldridge Creek below when the moon shines just right on the metal.
This article dedicated to the memory of Tom Carney. Subscribe to Old Huntsville magazine at email@example.com or call (256) 534-0502. Find Tom's books about Old Huntsville and his amazing stories at Shaver's Books now located at Railroad Station Antique Mall in Downtown Huntsville. (256) 533-6550 Railroadstationantiques.com