Anniston to Mobile, Alabama
Today’s highlight is night lights, but first let’s recap a few other treasured pleasures.
The day begins with a leisurely breakfast in the Victorian Inn solarium.
Our first roadside attraction of the journey is in Birmingham, where this one fifth scale bronze replica of the Statue of Liberty stands high atop a hill beside the Alabama Boy Scout Headquarters. Like her sister statue in New York, she was cast in France. She stands with her back to the Boy Scouts--appropriate in light of the organization’s position on respecting the rights of gay boys and men.
We spend hours today in very slow traffic that seems to clog all arteries leading to Tuscaloosa within a thirty mile radius. Eventually, after noticing that most of the cars have big red As or flags on them, we figure out that there is a University of Alabama football game today. Their cheer may be “Roll Tide,” but the cars on the way to the game are hardly rolling. After 2:30, we have the road to ourselves.
Today's second roadside attraction is Jim Bird's farm art, displayed on his ranch beside a two lane highway near Demopolis. Using hay bales and farm apparatus debris, Jim has created a motley collection of sculptures--Snoopy flying an airplane, a scarecrow girl running from a charging driftwood bull, a flying saucer piloted by a martian, a big yellow smiley face, and a bunch of other things, many of them rusting or rotting away. Towering over them all is his piece de resistance, a 32 foot tall tin man. It is worth a slow drive by, but hardly worth a real stop.
Actually, we don't find much at all along route 43 that is worth the extra time we took to drive it, rather than sticking to the interstates.
We pull into our hotel in Mobile at twilight, dump our excess baggage in the room and head down a long dark country road to Bellingrath Gardens, where over three million lights create stunning artistic displays and holiday tableaus lining nearly two miles of densely decorated paths meandering through 65 acres of formal gardens. We are awestruck by the artistry. We have never seen a holiday light display that comes close. We almost forget that the temperature is only about 40 degrees.
Halfway through the garden walk, we warm up in the Bellingrath home, which is decorated for the holidays and open for tours (but not allowed to be photographed).
Here is a little history of this fascinating place. Walter Bellingrath made his fortune as a Coca Cola bottler in the early 1900s. He was a workaholic whose doctor recommended that he take up a leisurely hobby, so in 1917 he bought a 65-acre plot of land with two fishing camp cabins on it to try some relaxing fishing. His wife Bessie, an avid gardener, was running out of land to till around their city house, so she started gardening around the fish camp. After taking a grand tour of Europe, she hired a landscape architect to help her create formal gardens to rival the ones she saw around the palaces she had visited there. After the gardens were complete and started to attract lots of visitors, the Bellingraths eventually decided they needed to spend more time out at the fish camp to entertain visitors and supervise garden operations, necessitating an upgrade to their accommodations out there. They built their elegant 10,500 square foot house in 1935, and retained ten to twelve household staff, and forty garden staff to maintain the place. Now it is run by their charitable foundation, which supports the gardens and three colleges.