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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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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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15 Surprising Facts About Scarface
Universal Home Video
Universal Home Video

Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Scarface, Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1983.

1. IT WASN'T THE FIRST SCARFACE.

Brian De Palma's Scarface is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized—though it still pays respect to the original film. De Palma's flick is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.

2. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SIDNEY LUMET FILM.

At one point in the film's production, Sidney Lumet—the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men—was brought on as its director. "Sidney Lumet came up with the idea of what's happening today in Miami, and it inspired Bregman," Pacino told Empire Magazine. "He and Oliver Stone got together and produced a script that had a lot of energy and was very well written. Oliver Stone was writing about stuff that was touching on things that were going on in the world, he was in touch with that energy and that rage and that underbelly."

3. OLIVER STONE WASN'T INTERESTED IN WRITING THE SCRIPT, UNTIL LUMET GOT INVOLVED.


Universal Home Video

Producer Bregman offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay, but Stone—who was still reeling from the box office disappointment of his film, The Hand—wasn't interested. "I didn’t like the original movie that much," Stone told Creative Screenwriting. "It didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, [was that] Al had seen the '30s version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor/partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece."

But when Bregman contacted Stone again about the project later, his opinion changed. "Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal," Stone said. "Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea."

4. UNFORTUNATELY, ACCORDING TO STONE, LUMET HATED HIS SCRIPT.

While the chance to work with Lumet was part of what lured Stone to the project, it was his script that ultimately led to the director's departure from the film. According to Stone: "Sidney Lumet hated my script. I don’t know if he’d say that in public himself, I sound like a petulant screenwriter saying that, I’d rather not say that word. Let me say that Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."

5. STONE HAD FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER.

In order to create the most accurate picture possible, Stone spent time in Florida and the Caribbean interviewing people on both sides of the law for research. "It got hairy," Stone admitted of the research process. "It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie."

Unfortunately, while penning the screenplay, Stone was also dealing with his own cocaine habit, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by leaving the country to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.

"I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world too because that was another problem for me," he said. "I was doing coke at the time, and I really regretted it. I got into a habit of it and I was an addictive personality. I did it, not to an extreme or to a place where I was as destructive as some people, but certainly to where I was going stale mentally. I moved out of L.A. with my wife at the time and moved back to France to try and get into another world and see the world differently. And I wrote the script totally f***ing cold sober."

6. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN'T WANT TO AUDITION MICHELLE PFEIFFER.


Universal Home Video

De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.

7. YES, THERE IS A LOT OF SWEARING.

According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. In 2014, Martin Scorsese more than doubled that with a record-setting 506 F-bombs thrown in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. TONY MONTANA WAS NAMED FOR A FOOTBALL STAR.

Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.

9. TONY IS ONLY REFERRED TO AS "SCARFACE" ONCE, AND IT'S IN SPANISH.

Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to Tony as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.

That chainsaw scene, by the way, was based on a real incident. To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.

10. VERY LITTLE OF THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN MIAMI.

The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.

11. ALL THAT "COCAINE" LED TO PROBLEMS WITH PACINO'S NASAL PASSAGES.

Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera for Scarface, the "cocaine" used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But just because it wasn't real doesn't mean that it didn't create problems for Pacino's nasal passages. "For years after, I have had things up in there," Pacino said in 2015. "I don't know what happened to my nose, but it's changed."

12. PACINO'S NOSE WASN'T HIS ONLY BODY PART TO SUFFER DAMAGE.

Still of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (1983)
Universal Home Video

In the film's very bloody conclusion, Montana famously asks the assailants who've invaded his home to "say hello to my little friend," which happens to be a very large gun. That gun took a beating from all the blanks it had to fire, so much so that Pacino ended up burning his hand on its barrel. "My hand stuck to that sucker," he said. Ultimately, the actor—and his bandaged hands—had to sit out some of the action in the last few weeks of production.

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTED A SINGLE SHOT.

De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.

14. SOME COOL TECHNOLOGY WENT INTO THE GUN MUZZLE FLASHES.

In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gunfire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.

15. SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS A FAN OF THE FILM.

The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.

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