The Vagabond: Greatest hoax ever in Gadsden

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By Danny Crownover

Back in the 1870s and 1880s, the medicinal value of spring water that flowed in a tiny trickle from around the Noccalula Falls area was known far and wide. Many people visited from other towns and even other states to drink the eaters of Black Creek, most of them on the advice of physicians.

Many folks who owned spring properties in the area had visions of creating a fine health resort under a plan to build an attractive park. A number of persons, including boys who were raising money for college, hauled the water in jugs and delivered it all over town. There was hardly a store in Gadsden that did not keep spring water on tap for its customers.

In June of 1897, one of the greatest hoaxes ever pulled off in Gadsden was planned and engineered by two little barefoot boys. The scene was at Drunkard’s Spring on a curve in the road leading from the City of Gadsden to Noccalula Falls. The spot was almost directly across the road from the two city reservoirs.

One day a man came into town and excitedly announced that somebody was talking from inside the rocks around the spring. He said the voice undoubtedly came from the bowels of the earth and that it wasn’t human.

Not much attention was paid to his claim.

A few days afterwards, a farmer came in to say that he stopped at the spring to get a drink and somebody began talking to him inside the rocks.

“The man told me he was talking from hell,” the fellow reported.

The report did not stir up much excitement, however.

Then came a man who reportedly stopped at the spring to get a drink and that ‘”the devil” spoke to him, saying he was waiting for him to “come on down.” The man caused a ripple of excitement when he ran off and left his team of mules at the spring and wouldn’t return unless accompanied by somebody in authority.

Some police officers went back with the man, and their report aroused the area. They said that somebody who recognized them talked to them from inside the mountain and that the voice seemed to come out of the spring. It was later learned that the officers were greatly embarrassed by what the voice said about some of their personal shortcomings.

Every day, hundreds of people visited the spring to hear the voice from the underground, but none of them could explain just what was going on. Most certainly they heard somebody talk, apparently from far down inside the mountain. Everybody said the voice came through holes in the rocks around the spring. The excitement grew daily.

Reports that the “devil was talking from hell through some rocks near Gadsden” brought newspapermen here from Chattanooga, Atlanta and Birmingham. They were as bewildered by the performance as the local people and could offer no solution.

One day, a barefoot boy standing across the road from the spring felt a vibration under his feet and at the same time the mysterious voice sounded off.

“Here’s your ghost,” he called to the crowd. While several hundred people gazed at the boy, he got down on his knees and began pulling the end of a steel pipe from underneath a small persimmon bush. As soon as they saw what it was, a few others began helping him.

The pipe was traced to a huge log about 150 feet away, and behind that log were two boys entirely covered over with leaves. They had conceived and carried out the plan all by themselves.

Long afterwards, those boys enjoyed describing the antics of the men and women they had frightened. They said some of the victims talked back at them in an attempt to deny they had beaten their wives or cheated on their husbands, but in every such instance they left the place running.

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