Edward Wolfgang Poe, founder of the Birmingham Historic Touring Company, recently spoke to the Rotary Club of Jasper about the walking tours his company provides to history and horror buffs in the area.
Poe said that he discovered in 2011 there were no ghost tours (or any other guided tours) through the history of Birmingham. He said that he locked himself in the Birmingham Public Library for months, digging through reams of old newspaper archives and stacks of dusty archive records to create the basis of his original Birmingham Ghost Walk.
“The walking tour through downtown Birmingham became so popular that I did enough research for a second haunted tour,” Poe said. “Doing the tours and meeting new people all the time is really a cool way to make a little money. It is something that I enjoy greatly.”
The Birmingham Historic Touring Company is dedicated to providing entertaining and educational tours, Poe said. Tours provided by the company now range from a tour of historic downtown churches to a tour of civil rights history in Birmingham as well as the popular ghost walks.
“We try to uncover the dark and fascinating history that is all around us,” Poe said. “Our tours bring our guests a step closer towards that history and on a select few events even providing an experience more akin to that of a real paranormal investigation or field study.”
Poe said he was a chef for 30 years before starting the Birmingham Ghost Walk.
“When you’re an older chef, it can be tough to find jobs with such a strong resume,” he said. “Everyone expects you to open your own restaurant, but you have bills to pay, so you have to move into your parents house. I was moping around and figured out there wasn’t a ghost tour. At that time, people wouldn’t go downtown. There are about 2,000 that actually live downtown now. It is booming, and so this tour came at just the right time.”
Poe said a current personal project of his is documenting cemeteries in Jefferson County. He said there are between 480 and 500 cemeteries in the county with some long-lost cemeteries even being under landmarks such as Legion Field, the Birmingham Zoo and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
“If you go visit the zoo and gardens, you are walking around on a 4,000-person cemetery,” Poe said. “Every now and then something ‘comes up.’ They talk about it in the paper sometimes around Halloween, but every now and then it is a little more drastic than that. When they built the new alligator exhibit, they had a problem one day because one of the alligators went floating by with a human leg bone in its mouth.”
Poe said for his visit in Jasper, he looked up the number of cemeteries in Walker County, which he counted at more than 350.
“I have roots in Walker County,” he said. “My great grandfather owned a 125-acre farm near Parish back in the early 1900s.”
Poe said that great grandfather was Razie Poe.
“He is famous for being in the last known duel in Alabama when he killed my great, great grandfather in Walker County,” Poe said. “That’s my family.”
The Mountain Eagle reported on that duel in April 1903:
“There was a fatal duel near Corona on Saturday afternoon.
The principals were W.W. Simmons and Razie Poe, both well-known citizens of that community, and as a result, Simmons is dead and Poe is in jail.
It appears there had been bad blood between the two men for some time, and each had been carrying a pistol for the other.
Saturday afternoon both men were in Corona. In going home both had to travel the same road. Simmons, accompanied by a young son, was in a wagon, and Poe, accompanied by his brother, Jesse Poe, and Thomas Amerson, were together, traveling the same road. Out a little distance from town the two parties met. The old quarrel between Razie Poe and Simmons was renewed, which culminated in each drawing his pistol and opening fire on the other. Each pistol was a six-shooter and when firing ceased Poe’s pistol was empty and that used by Simmons only had one unexploded cartridge in it, which shows that eleven shots were exchanged between the two men. Simmons was hit three times. Once in the leg, once in the upper part of the shoulder, the ball plowing through the flesh and entered his breast just under the collarbone, thence following the breastbone to the opposite side; the other shot penetrated his right side and ranged, apparently, straight through. Death resulted almost immediately. Poe was hit in the leg, but his wound was not serious.
Poe went immediately to Corona and gave himself up, as did his brother, Jesse Poe, and Amerson. The two latter claim they had nothing to do with the trouble and they are corroborated by Razie Poe, who says he alone fired the shots that killed Simmons, and that he acted in self defense. However, Amerson and Jesse Poe were also placed in jail to await preliminary investigation.”
Edward Wolfgang Poe said the duel was initiated because Simmons did not want his daughter to marry a “scoundrel” like Razie Poe. He said that his great grandfather left Walker County for the Birmingham area in 1923 after an argument at the bank where Razie Poe decided to take his crop and luxury vehicle, leaving his farm to the bank.
For more information on the Birmingham Historic Touring Company, visit its website at bhamhistory.com or call 205-440-2720.