By Danny Crownover
The Vagabond finds much of interest in occasional drives around Gadsden and Etowah County. Last week, I passed by what used to be the Allis-Chalmers plant in East Gadsden. It was recalled that back in the 1940s the plant was built by the U.S. government as a shell plant during World War II.
Back then, the plant was a large facility. Both the buildings and the locomotives had the letters “G.O.P”. painted on them, which caused much head turning. At that time, Etowah County was almost 100 percent Democrat, so many wondered what was going on. Of course, most of us know that G.O.P. stood for the Grand Old Party, more or less known as the Republican Party.
After much head scratching and questions, it became known that the letters actually stood for the Gadsden Ordinance Plant.
Gadsden has had many amateur weather prophets, but T.H. Hatfield was easily the most interesting one. Back in September of 1926, it was reported that Hatfield told many folks that a heavy snow would fall in this area on November 14. Moreover, he predicted that the approaching winter would be the coldest the country had ever known. Hatfield was a student of things around him who frequently been able to foretell snow very accurately. He rarely missed it more than a day or two, and come November 14, Gadsden received some heavy snowfall of an amount not seen in years.
Hatfield said that the north side of trees had more moss on them. Cats, squirrels and opossums had unusually heavy coats of fur, and corn had two or three coverings of shucks against one in past years. All of this was in preparation for freezing weather of unusual intensity. He added that that the moon was rising in a different spot from what it normally did, which was influencing the seasons more than ever.
Back in May of 1899, several persons complained that a preacher was creating a disturbance in a neighborhood on Second Street and asked that something be done about it. They said that many people were greatly excited and that some of them had quit work, all because a preacher named Tom Hughes had died twice, had gone to hell and then to heaven. It was noticed that the whole neighborhood seemed to be in a ferment over the man’s two deaths and resurrections.
Finally, the city council was forced to take notice and it instructed police chief Bailus M. Pike to open an investigation. He was told to get at the bottom of the trouble and report back at once.
Chief Pike went to the home of Hughes, who apparently was near death from consumption, a disease caused by bacteria that usually attacks the lungs and what is known today as tuberculosis. At the turn of the 20th century, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in the United States.
When asked why he was causing such a disturbance, Hughes told the Chief Pike that on the previous Saturday night, he had died twice. He had gone straight to hell the first time.
Hughes said that Satan had “gotten after me” with a vengeance and told him to go back and preach less and pray more.
“I was glad to get back from the tortures of the home of the doomed,” Hughes remarked.
Hughes next took a trip to heaven. He claimed, “I walked through the pearly gates, where a most resplendent sight greeted my eyes. The streets were paved with gold and silver, sweet music filled the air and angels with white wings were on every hand.”
Pike reported that Hughes failed to state why he left such a peaceful and happy home to return to this sinful earth. He was of the opinion that Hughes would soon make a real trip to one of his imaginary places, as he was evidently dying.
After a few days, Hughes did indeed die. A doctor confirmed as much, and Hughes was buried. Some of his neighbors, however, wanted and see if Hughes might not “rise again.” They wanted the burial to be put off in case such an event might happen, but the authorities were adamant and not in any humor for such foolishness.
When it became known that Hughes was indeed deceased for a third time, the neighbors really put on a show but were finally quieted. Many of them believed the story of his two deaths and his visits to hell and heaven, and it was said that Hughes possessed enough education and had sufficient experience as a prea-cher to vividly describe his experiences.
Hughes did not come back a third time, and after a long wait, his followers gave up all hope of his resurrection.