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9 Facts about Bibb County, Alabama

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Murder mystery podcast S-Town has been breaking download records and electrifying social media since its March 28 release. If you're one of the listeners responsible for the show's 10 million downloads, you may know just as much about the rural county where the story takes place as you do about what really happened in S-town. To satisfy your curiosity, here are nine facts about Bibb County, Alabama.

1. IT WAS NAMED FOR ALABAMA’S FIRST GOVERNOR.

Originally called Cahawba County, after the river that runs through it, Bibb County was renamed to honor the first governor of Alabama, William Wyatt Bibb. Virginia-born Bibb started out as a doctor and then entered politics in Georgia, serving in their state legislature. He went on to represent the Peach State in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. In 1817, President James Monroe appointed Bibb governor of the newly created territory of Alabama. When that territory became a state in 1819, Bibb was elected its first governor. He died in office during his first term, succumbing to internal injuries in 1820 after being thrown from his horse. Five months after his death, state legislators renamed Cahawba County in his honor.

2. RICH NATURAL RESOURCES ONCE MADE IT A HUB FOR CONFEDERATE IRONMAKING.

The area that would become Bibb County was previously inhabited by the Muscogee group of indigenous peoples, who were steadily displaced in the early 19th century. White settlers began moving to the area—which was densely forested with pine and oak trees and rich in natural recourses like ore, coal, and clay—around 1815, four years before Alabama became a state. Most 19th-century residents of Bibb County made their living through farming, with crops including food products like rye, corn, and wheat—but the dominant crop was cotton, and by mid-century, nearly half the county’s population consisted of slaves.

The area’s other principal industry was iron production, and during the Civil War, the Bibb County Iron Company produced cannons, plate armor for ironclad ships, and other military products for the Confederate war effort at their Brierfield Furnace facility. In 1863, the Confederate government purchased the ironworks, making Bibb County home to the only iron production facility owned by the Confederacy. Union cavalry troops wrecked the ironworks in 1865, setting the buildings and equipment on fire.

A former Confederate officer attempted to rehabilitate the facility after the war, and the ironworks operated intermittently until 1894, then lay abandoned until it was turned into a state park in 1978. Modern-day visitors to the Brierfield Ironworks Historical State Park can see the historical brick furnace, coke ovens, remains of the wrought iron rolling mill, and other remnants of 19th century iron production. The park also features hiking trails, cabins, and camping, is a popular site for bird watching, and offers a quirky setting for weddings.

3. IT’S A RURAL, PRIMARILY WHITE COUNTY.

Today, Bibb County covers 625 square miles of central Alabama and is home to about 22,600 people. Around 75 percent of Bibb’s residents are white, while African-Americans make up about 22 percent of the population. The largest city in Bibb County is Brent, with about 4900 inhabitants, followed by the county seat, Centreville, with about 2700 residents. Within a 75-mile radius of this rural county lie the metropolises of Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and Montgomery.

4. THE BIGGEST INDUSTRY IS MANUFACTURING.

Lumber was the primary industry in Bibb County at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, the largest portion of workers in the county—around 20 percent, according to the 2015 American Community Survey—work in manufacturing. And that number may soon increase, since the German company MöllerTech announced a plan in October 2016 to build a plant in Bibb County near the town of Woodstock. The plant for MöllerTech, a Mercedes-Benz supplier, will manufacture interior parts for the brand’s next-generation SUVs, employing about 220 local residents.

Other common jobs in Bibb County include work in health care, education, construction, and retail. About 80 percent of the county’s residents graduate from high school, while a significant 22 percent live below the poverty line, according to the Census Bureau.

5. OFFICIALS HAVE FORBIDDEN THE SALE OF ALCOHOL THERE FOR OVER A CENTURY.

Bibb County first banned the sale of alcohol in 1881 and has been dry ever since. The Baptist church became a strong prohibitionist force in Alabama following the Civil War, and Christian leaders remain at the forefront of the fight to keep parts of the state dry to this day. 

In 1915, the entire state of Alabama outlawed the sale and manufacture of alcohol—or any liquid that “tastes like, foams like, or looks like beer.” A 1935 change in the law left it up to individual counties to choose to be wet or dry. Though Bibb has voted on the matter many times—holding referenda in 1974, 1979, and 1984 on whether to begin allowing alcohol—the county continues to ban the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages within its limits—with a few exceptions.

Beginning in 1984, Alabama cities inside dry counties could choose to sanction alcohol by vote, and in 2010, the town of Brent went wet. That same year, a contested wet/dry referendum in the town of Centreville necessitated a court hearing, after which 37 absentee ballots were thrown out, with a recount pushing “wet” over the top by just 8 votes.

Brent and Centreville are wet oases in the midst of dry Bibb County, but in the larger landscape of Alabama, Bibb is the anomaly: it’s entirely surrounded by alcohol friendly counties. (While the production and sale of alcohol are illegal in most of Bibb County, Alabama law allows residents of dry counties to keep small amounts of alcohol for personal use.)

6. IT’S THE LOCATION OF A MEDIUM-SECURITY STATE PRISON.

The Bibb County Correctional Facility, which opened in 1998, spans 250 acres and holds about 1880 male inmates, according to the most recent available statistics from the Alabama Department of Corrections [PDF]. The medium-security prison has faced staffing shortages in recent years; it currently employs 141 local residents—reaching just 35 percent of the desired staffing level. Meanwhile, operating at over 200 percent of its designated capacity, the facility is bursting with inmates. The Bibb facility has a 25-to-1 ratio of inmates to correctional officers, the worst ratio among Alabama’s state prisons.

In July 2015, 16 inmates barricaded the door of a dormitory inside the Bibb County Correctional Facility, proceeding to trash the place and starting a small fire. Though that particular incident was deescalated without violence, correctional officers within Alabama’s prison system have reported that state-wide staffing deficiencies cause danger for guards and inmates alike.

In October 2016, the federal Department of Justice launched an investigation into the state of Alabama’s men’s prisons, in response to reports of the sexual abuse of inmates by staff and other prisoners, excessive use of force by guards, and generally unsafe and unsanitary living conditions.

7. IT’S SURVIVED A LOT OF TORNADOES.

Alabama, a part of “Dixie Alley,” averages about 47 tornadoes per year, with March, April, and May the most tornado-heavy months. Since 1950, nearly 100 tornadoes with a magnitude of 2 or higher have touched town in or near Bibb County. The most destructive of these hit the town of Brent on May 27, 1973, demolishing 90 percent of the town, including 127 homes. The tornado ripped up 12,000 acres of timber and picked up homes, dropping them yards from their foundations. Five people in Brent were killed, while over 50 were injured.

8. IN 2006, BIBB EXPERIENCED A RASH OF CHURCH ARSONS.

Between midnight and 3 a.m. on February 3, 2006, Bibb County made national news when five Baptist churches were set ablaze; three burned to the ground, while two others were damaged. A few days later, four other churches in Pickens, Sumter and Greene counties were set on fire. Christians throughout the state worried their own sanctuaries might be next, and some even took to sleeping inside their churches to protect them.

A month later, federal agents arrested three college students from upscale Birmingham suburbs as the perpetrators. Apparently, Benjamin N. Moseley, Matthew Lee Cloyd, and Russell L. DeBusk Jr. had been hunting deer and drinking when they started setting the fires “as a joke.” After public reaction to the first rash of fires, Moseley and Cloyd selected three other churches around the state to set aflame in hopes of confusing investigators. Convicted on both federal and state charges, Moseley and Cloud each spent a decade in prison, while DeBusk was released after about seven years.

9. IT'S HOME TO RARE LILIES.

The Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge, as well as part of the Talladega National Forest, are located in Bibb county. Established in 2002, the Cahaba River Refuge protects a number of endangered and threatened species of fish, snails, and mussels, like the goldline darter and the round rocksnail. The area also shelters the largest known population of the Hymenocallis coronaria flower—otherwise known as the Cahaba lily. This white spider lily, only present in a few Southern states, grows in shoal areas, where bulbs and seeds lodge in the crevices between rocks. It requires shallow, shift-moving water and lots of sunshine to thrive.

Each May, during the flower’s blooming season, the town of West Blocton hosts the Cahaba Lily Festival. Festival-goers can see the lilies growing along the river, or rent canoes to row among the flowers.

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Medicine
Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Words
Beyond Wanderlust: 30 Words Every Traveler Should Know
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For those who travel, wanderlust is a familiar feeling. It’s that nagging voice in your head that says, “Yes, you do need to book that flight,” even if your bank account says otherwise. Regardless of how many passport covers this word may adorn, it doesn’t begin to cover the spectrum of emotions and experiences that can be revealed through the act of travel. Here are 30 travel words from around the world to keep in your back pocket as you're exploring this summer.

1. VAGARY

From the Latin vagari, meaning “to wander,” this 16th-century word originally meant a wandering journey. Nowadays, "vagaries" refer to unpredictable or erratic situations, but that doesn’t mean the old sense of the word can’t be invoked from time to time.

2. SELCOUTH

An Old English word that refers to something that’s both strange and marvelous. It's a great way to sum up those seemingly indescribable moments spent in an unfamiliar land.

3. FERNWEH

Who hasn’t felt a strong desire to be somewhere—anywhere—other than where you currently are? That’s fernweh, or “farsickness," and this German word has been described as a cousin of wanderlust, another German loan word.

4. DÉPAYSEMENT

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Anyone who has traveled abroad will recognize this feeling. The French word refers to the sense of disorientation that often sets in when you step outside your comfort zone, such as when you leave your home country.

5. DÉRIVE

Another gift from the French, this word literally translates to “drift,” but thanks to some mid-20th century French philosophers, it can also refer to a spontaneous trip, completely free of plans, in which you let your surroundings guide you.

6. PEREGRINATE

To peregrinate is to travel from place to place, especially on foot. Its Latin root, peregrinus (meaning “foreign”), is also where the peregrine falcon (literally “pilgrim falcon”) gets its name.

7. PERAMBULATE

Similar to peregrinate, this word essentially means to travel over or through an area by foot. So instead of saying that you’ll be walking around London, you can say you’ll be perambulating the city’s streets—much more sophisticated.

8. NUMINOUS

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This English word could appropriately be used to describe the Grand Canyon or the Northern Lights. Something numinous is awe-inspiring and mysterious. It's difficult to understand from a rational perspective, which gives it a spiritual or unearthly quality.

9. PERIPATETIC

The young and the restless will want to incorporate this word into their lexicon. The adjective refers to those who are constantly moving from place to place—in other words, a nomadic existence. It stems from the Greek word peripatein (“to walk up and down”), which was originally associated with Aristotle and the shaded walkways near his school (or, according to legend, his habit of pacing back and forth during lectures).

10. WALDEINSAMKEIT

You’re alone in a forest. It’s peaceful. The sun is filtering through the trees and there’s a light breeze. That’s waldeinsamkeit. (Literally "forest solitude." And yes, Germans have all the best travel words.)

11. SHINRIN-YOKU

In a similar vein, this Japanese word means “forest bathing,” and it's considered a form of natural medicine and stress reliever. There are now forest bathing clubs around the world, but you can try it out for yourself on your next camping trip. Take deep breaths, close your eyes, and take in the smells and sounds of the forest. Simple.

12. SOLIVAGANT

In those moments when you just want to run away from your responsibilities, you may consider becoming a solivagant: a solo wanderer.

13. YOKO MESHI

This Japanese phrase literally translates to “a meal eaten sideways,” which is an apt way to describe the awkwardness of speaking in a foreign language that you haven’t quite mastered, especially over dinner.

14. RESFEBER

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You just booked your flight. Your heart starts racing. You’re a little nervous about your journey, but mostly you just can’t wait to get going. The anticipation, anxiety, and excitement you get before a big trip is all rolled into one word—resfeber—and you can thank the Swedes for it.

15. FLÂNEUR

Taken from the French flâner, meaning to stroll or saunter, this word describes someone who has no particular plans or place they need to be. They merely stroll around the city at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights and enjoying the day as it unfolds.

16. GADABOUT

This could be construed as the traditional English equivalent of flâneur. Likely stemming from the Middle English verb gadden, meaning “to wander without a specific aim or purpose,” a gadabout is one who frequently travels from place to place for the sheer fun of it. In other words: a modern-day backpacker.

17. HIRAETH

Sometimes, no matter how amazing your vacation may be, you just want to come home to your bed and cats. This Welsh word sums up the deep yearning for home that can strike without warning. As Gillian Thomas put it in an interview with the BBC, “Home sickness is too weak. You feel hiraeth, which is a longing of the soul to come home to be safe.”

18. YŪGEN

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This Japanese word can be taken to mean “graceful elegance” or “subtle mystery,” but it’s much more than that. It's when the beauty of the universe is felt most profoundly, awakening an emotional response that goes beyond words.

19. SCHWELLENANGST

Translating to “threshold anxiety,” this German word sums up the fears that are present before you enter somewhere new—like a theater or an intimidating cafe—and by extension going anywhere unfamiliar. The fear of crossing a threshold is normal, even among the most adventurous of travelers—but it often leads to the most unforgettable experiences.

20. COMMUOVERE

Have you ever seen something so beautiful it made you cry? That’s commuovere in action. The Italian word describes the feeling of being moved, touched, or stirred by something you witness or experience.

21. HYGGE

This Danish word refers to a warm feeling of contentedness and coziness, as well as the acknowledgement of that feeling. Although not explicitly related to this term, author Kurt Vonnegut summed up the idea behind this concept quite nicely when he said, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"

22. HANYAUKU

Here's one for those who have a beach trip coming up. Taken from Kwangali, a language spoken in Namibia, hanyauku is the act of tiptoeing across hot sand.

23. SMULTRONSTÄLLE

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This Swedish word translates to something along the lines of “place of wild strawberries,” but its metaphorical meaning is something along the lines of a "happy place." Whether it’s a hidden overlook of the city or your favorite vacation spot that hasn’t been “discovered” yet, smultronställe refers to those semi-secret places you return to time and time again because they’re special and personal to you.

24. DUSTSCEAWUNG

This Old English word describes what might happen when you visit a place like Pompeii or a ghost town. While reflecting on past civilizations, you realize that everything will eventually turn to dust. A cheery thought.

25. VACILANDO

In some Spanish dialects, the word vacilando describes someone who travels with a vague destination in mind but has no real incentive to get there. In other words, the journey is more important than the destination. As John Steinbeck described it in his travelogue Travels With Charley: “It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but doesn't greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction. My friend Jack Wagner has often, in Mexico, assumed this state of being. Let us say we wanted to walk in the streets of Mexico city but not at random. We would choose some article almost certain not to exist there and then diligently try to find it.”

26. LEHITKALEV

Backpackers and budget travelers, this one is for you: The Hebrew word lehitkalev translates to “dog it” and means to deal with uncomfortable living or travel arrangements.

27. KOMOREBI

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This beautiful Japanese word is a good one to save for a sunny day spent in the woods. Komorebi translates to “sunshine filtering through the leaves.” Does it get any lovelier than that?

28. RAMÉ

This Balinese word refers to something that is simultaneously chaotic and joyful. It isn’t specifically a travel word, but it does seem to fit the feelings that are often awakened by travel.

29. TROUVAILLE

Translating to a “lucky find,” this French word can be applied to that cool cafe, flower-lined street, or quirky craft store that you stumbled upon by chance. Indeed, these are the moments that make travel worthwhile.

30. ULLASSA

Just in case you needed another reason to plan that trip to Yosemite, here's one last word for nature lovers. The Sanskrit word ullassa refers to the feelings of pleasantness that come from observing natural beauty in all its glory.

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