'Forgotten Alabama' author coming to Jasper

By JENNIFER COHRON
Posted 4/7/19

The rusted 1957 Chevrolet sitting on the side of the road between Childersburg and Sylacauga was not Glenn Wills' assignment in the fall of 2007. He saw lots of interesting things while driving …

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'Forgotten Alabama' author coming to Jasper

Posted

The rusted 1957 Chevrolet sitting on the side of the road between Childersburg and Sylacauga was not Glenn Wills' assignment in the fall of 2007. 

He saw lots of interesting things while driving a Birmingham TV station's satellite truck all over the state, but deadline pressures usually prevented him from stopping to investigate. On this day, he took the time.

"What you can't see from the highway is that it's about 30 or 40 acres of ancient, rusting cars dating back to the 1920s. Nothing was newer than the mid-1960s. It was totally fascinating. It was like the Twilight Zone where you've stepped back to 1965 in a salvage yard," said Wills, who will be at Jasper Public Library on Tuesday as part of National Library Week. 

In 2009, Wills and eight other employees were laid off by the station.

Some freelance work helped him pay his bills, but the idea for a photography project that had been a fleeting thought for years came to fruition in 2012 when he bought his first Nikon camera.

On Dec. 3, 2012, Wills made his first post on a blog he named "Forgotten Alabama." He laid out his plan: "I am going to throw some stuff in my truck, a camera, a few other odds and ends and Cato my cat and we're going to go see what there is to see. Capture what I can while it's still there. As I go I will post some of my work here and write about what I saw."

Wills was intentional about setting out in winter. There would be fewer leaves to obstruct the scene, no vermin to battle and no bright, sunny days to interfere with the gloomy mood most appropriate for abandoned, decaying structures.

"I'm trying to capture so many mixed emotions — melancholy, sadness, loneliness," Wills said.

In early 2013, Wills returned to the junkyard of classic cars on Highway 280 and was disheartened to learn that the owner had sold off most of the collection and the rest were no longer accessible to the public.

The experience was a harbinger of the fate that awaits all of Alabama's forgotten remnants of the past. Only a short time remains to admire them and photograph them before they're gone for good.

After a period of disorganization that left him paying far too much in travel expenses, Wills developed a more efficient system. He divided the state into 16 sections and used satellite maps to help him zone in on sites that were interesting enough to warrant a visit.

By 2016, Wills had logged more than 25,000 miles and taken at least 10,000 photographs.

The blog eventually evolved into a Facebook page that developed a devoted fan following that has now grown to nearly 105,000. 

He released his first book of photographs, "Forgotten Alabama," in January 2016 and followed it up later that year with "More Forgotten Alabama." 

A third book will soon go to print. At 264 pages, it is the largest in the series and features at least 20 different images of sites that no longer exist.

Wills will be at Jasper Public Library from 4 to 5 p.m. on Tuesday. The program, which will include several photos that Wills took in Walker County, is part of National Library Week celebrations. 

His books will be available for purchase.