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  • Writer's pictureJoe

Alabama

Welcome to a new year, dear readers! Surely you haven't forgotten that we reached our 25th Crapitol last year, so that means 2024 kicks off the second half of this absurd quest. Thanks for joining me.


Number 26.

My most loyal readers will recall that quite a few of my previous Crapitol visits were tacked on as side quests to various trips to facial hair competitions. There was Salt Lake City, Boise, Sacramento, Arizona, and my legendary two-for-one trip to the 2018 Great American Beard and Moustache Championships when I hit both Richmond, and Annapolis. Well, the competitive facial hair circuit had a wacky few years starting in 2020, as live events and frivolous travel were heavily curtailed due to concerns over a worldwide pandemic. You may have heard about this.


After a two-year hiatus, the aforementioned GABMC made its triumphant return in June of 2022, so the Rocky Mountain Beard and Moustache Club sent a contingent of its best furry faces to the stunningly beautiful Snowbird ski resort outside Salt Lake City, Utah to compete in North America’s premier facial hair championship. It was there at the Friday night pre-party that Adam Smalley came waltzing into our lives wearing his “Proud to be from Alabama,” t-shirt.

Fast friends.

Smalley soon charmed his way into the hearts of the RMBMC and the wider bearding world. He racked up some impressive early wins - with a GABMC title under his belt, and the coveted “Best American Moustache” commemorative Wyoming plate - all in his first few months on the competition scene. By the time he came to Denver for the 2023 Mile High Beard Bout, he had big news to share: he was putting on a competition in Birmingham, Alabama, and he needed someone to MC.

Champ.

Now technically, I had been to Alabama before. We drove through on a road trip from Atlanta to New Orleans when I was a kid, but that doesn’t really count as a proper state visit, much less a Crapitol visit. Luckily I had another excellent reason for a return trip, as I have family there. My aunt Emily and uncle Mike had lived in New York City for my entire childhood, and I saw them only a handful of times growing up. They relocated to Birmingham around a decade ago, and Auntie Em graciously offered me a place to stay. So I was on my way to Alabama in early March.

Mario and me.

I flew down late on a Wednesday night and Smalley was there to pick me up at BHM. I would spend the first night at his house in the tiny town of Dora, Alabama, and he showed me all the local landmarks: the Piggly Wiggly, Jack’s, Dora High School, home of the Bulldogs, and Wesley’s Booby Trap. We set out for Montgomery first thing Thursday morning.


After breezing down I-65 for about an hour we hit some monstrous traffic. It slowed to a bumper-to-bumper crawl for at least 45 minutes due to a gruesome-looking semi truck accident in the Northbound lanes.


Thank you Circle K.

It was wide open roads after that, and soon enough we rolled into Montgomery. After stopping at Circle K for the obligatory coffee, we proceeded to park near capitol hill and began the standard ambulatory survey of the capitol grounds. Across the street to the South of the capitol is the First Whitehouse of the Confederacy, where Jefferson Davis and his family resided for the few months in 1861. Montgomery served as the first capital of the CSA, before it moved to…… anybody remember?


AL

We did a full lap of the grounds of the gleaming white Capitol before heading inside. Sadly, there were no guided tours available, aside from the several school groups that were there. We opted not to crash those tours in favor of our own independent study program. Luckily the Alabama Historical Commission provides an informative brochure to visitors, which I will cite heavily (along with Wikipedia) for the next few paragraphs.



Montgomery was made Alabama's capital city in 1847, and a capitol was built on a piece of pasture known locally as “Goat Hill.” This may come as a shock, but that first capitol burned to the ground in 1849, so a new building was erected from 1850-1851, remarkably quickly. And that is today's Alabama State Capitol.


Gleaming.

The design and construction of the Greek-revival building was supervised by architect Barachias Holt, and much of the woodwork was done by engineer and master carpenter Horace King, a freed slave. The elegant three-story stairwell at the East entrance was likely the product of his expertise.


Swirly stairs.

The Alabama capitol is most famous as the birthplace of the Confederate States of America, as it was here in February of 1861 that delegates from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas gathered in the senate chamber and voted to secede from the Union.


Senate Chamber.

Montgomery’s reign as capital of the Confederacy last only a few short months as the seat of government was relocated to.......that's right, Richmond, Virginia in May of 1861.


The room where it happened.

Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as the first and only POTCSA on February 18th, 1861 on the East steps of the building. Alongside it’s historical ties to the Confederacy, the Alabama capitol and the city of Montgomery played key roles in the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century. The 1965 Selma to Montgomery Marches culminated in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “How long, not long,” speech on the very same steps of the capitol on March 25 1965. And of course ten years prior to that, Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus kicked off the Montgomery Bus Boycotts.



The Alabama capitol is no longer a working capitol building, as the legislative branch of the state government moved into new digs at the Alabama State House in 1985. The Senate and House Chambers have been restored as closely as possible to their Civil War era appearances. There is a very fancy furnace in the House Chamber.


Fancy pants.


House chamber.

The Governor’s office was off limits to visitors, sadly, but several Alabama Governors bear mentioned here. Most famously, the Wallaces. George Wallace, who unsuccessfully ran for President four times, is most often remembered as the staunch segregationist (“segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” ring a bell?) who survived a 1972 assassination attempt that left him paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life. It was in Forrest Gump.


Governor Wallace I

George's first wife, Lurleen Wallace became the first woman to serve as Governor of Alabama in 1967. At that time, the state constitution forbade governors from serving consecutive terms in office, so the very popular George convinced his wife to run as essentially a surrogate candidate, and she was easily elected. Tragically, Lurleen had been diagnosed with cancer as early as 1961, which was kept secret from the public all throughout her election campaign. She served only 16 months of her term, and passed away on May 7th, 1968. She is commemorated by a statue in the capitol rotunda.


Governor Wallace II

The interior of the dome is decorated with a series of murals dating from the 1920s. Scotsman Roderick Mackenzie depicted various moments in Alabama history such as the meeting of Tuskaloosa and Hernando de Soto, resulting in the 1540 Battle of Mabila (or Mauvilla), one of the earliest battles between Europeans and Native Americans on the continent.

Choose your fighter.

Another mural depicts the aforementioned inauguration of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy.


Jeff.

The dome.


Our self-guided tour was essentially complete, so I guided myself to the mens’ room in the east wing of the building to conclude my transaction with the state of Alabama. 26 Crapitols in the books. Thanks, Smalley. Couldn't have done it without you, buddy.







We departed the capitol and headed to Chris’ Famous Hot Dogs for a quick lunchtime snack. This is the only hot dog joint I’ve ever seen with a historic marker out front. Everyone from George Wallace, to MLK, to hometown hero Hank Williams, and even Elvis came here for the (very) sloppy chili dogs apparently.




We had a few sites to see before making it back to Birmingham. After Smalley took me past his alma mater we stopped on the side of I-65 to see the famous “Go to church or the devil will get you,” sign; and made an obligatory donut stop at a place called Donut Joe’s. Excellent donuts. Officer-approved.




Smalley dropped me off at my aunt’s house in a quiet, heavily wooded suburb outside Birmingham where I would stay the next three nights. It was so lovely to see her again - she reminds me so much of my grandma, and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed uncle Mike's New York accent. They fed me well and gave me rides into town and a pot of coffee was ready for me each morning during my stay. There was ample backyard birdwatching and playing fetch with Lily the sweetheart. 7 stars out of 5. Would stay again.


Auntie Em.

Lily.

Then it was time for Bama's Best Beard and Mustache Competition. Old friends started showing up from as far away as Virginia and Texas, as well as an impressive contingent from Colorado and the RMBMC. And we met new friends from Alabama, from places with names like Talladega and Sylacagua. I'm not going to go into all the details of the rest of the weekend, as words can really do no justice to this silly thing of ours. Highlights included several trips to Saw's Juke Joint for some excellent BBQ, an all-day rainstorm on Friday, winning five pounds of S'mores brownies in the raffle, and raising over $3,300 for an amazing charity, Camp Conquest. An impressive turnout for a first time competition.



Having done what we came to do, the RMBMC crew headed home Sunday evening.


Westbound and up.

I really can't say enough about how impressed I was with Smalley's efforts putting together an event like that, as well as Dan and Leslie Phillips of the North Florida Facial Hair Society, the RVA crew, Honest Amish, and everyone else who pitched in. And I'm always grateful to the friends and family members who have aided and accompanied me on this ridiculous quest of mine. Stay tuned for our next adventure, coming up very, very soon!


American heroes.


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