"Often nostalgia comes down to a gauzy regret that you're not 12 anymore."
HOW ALL THIS MESS HAPPENED.........
It started with a single e-mail and a visit to Dead Malls.com!
One unassuming day in September 2003, a friend of mine in the Atlanta area, J. T. Legg, sent me a link to a website called www.deadmalls.com, knowing I'd find it of interest. Did I ever. Of course I had to check Alabama to see if Eastwood Mall was included. At the time, it wasn't.
So, on Saturday, October 18, 2003 -- a beautiful day for driving and taking pictures outside -- I made a spur-of-the-moment trip to The Magic City to gather information, do some research and take pictures to submit. Living in coastal Georgia, this meant a long day; it takes roughly 6-1/2 hours to get from Savannah to Birmingham. All in all I spent 21 hours in this endeavor ... I left at 5 in the morning, spent all day over there and got back home at something like 2 AM.
The trip resulted in much more than a bunch of pictures. It hit me when I saw the first mileage sign for Birmingham on I-20 after crossing the Alabama line: Birmingham is no longer a destination for me! It felt very strange. It felt very unsettling.
It also felt very unacceptable.
For all my life to date, my grandparents called Birmingham home - specifically, the suburb of Homewood. My family moved around a great deal while my brother and I grew up. Madison, Ala., followed by Tupelo, Miss., Cape Girardeau, Missouri ... and several places in Arkansas. Some places I enjoyed more than others. But it was difficult to call any of these places "home." Alabama was the state around which my world revolved, especially Birmingham. My grandparents' house on Saulter Road in Homewood was literally the only "constant" place in my life. I made frequent visits to Birmingham during school holidays and Summer vacations while growing up. Those visits meant going, doing, seeing .... so in that way I "grew up" in Birmingham.
Unless you count the first six months of my life living here while my Dad finished college at Birmingham-Southern, I've never lived in Birmingham. But Birmingham is more "home" to me than any place I've ever lived. In fact, for most of my childhood life, I had a yearning to return "home."
And in 1990, I did.
Well, sort of.
I moved to Troy, where I spent some ten years. And I'll go to my grave believing that south Alabama is a world apart from Birmingham and the northern half of the state. Bob Ingram, former political columnist for The Montgomery Advertiser, is right -- Alabama and Mississippi should've been divided HORIZONTALLY, not vertically. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I'll be nice and just say that I'm fiercely partial to North Alabama, especially after spending a decade at UCLA (Upper Corner of Lower Alabama).
The good thing? Birmingham was always an easy 2-1/2 hour drive away! My grandmother always had a good meal waiting for me at the end of my travel. My wife is an awesome cook, but nobody could make chicken & dumplings, "Lucille's Chicken" (long story) or green beans like my grandmother.
Moving to Savannah, Georgia in 2000 meant a further drive to Birmingham, but I still made it. How could I not?
However, nothing lasts forever. No one is immortal. My grandfather, who spent much of the '90s in decline due to Alzheimer's, died in January 2000. And then my grandmother, the stoic matriarch, passed on just days into 2003. The last time I was in Birmingham was a weekend I loaded up a Ryder truck that March to carry some furniture and other items of my grandmother's back home with me to Georgia. And seven months later, here I was driving back to Birmingham. Nobody knew I was here, except for my wife Amy. I didn't even tell my Aunt Mary Alice about it -- and while I hated missing the chance to visit with her, my trip WAS last-minute and I had only so much daylight in which to achieve my agenda. There'd be another time for visiting kinfolk.
While this gave me the time I needed, I believe it was also the most surreal day I think I've ever had! There was no grandmother to have a home cooked meal waiting for me. There was no place I needed to go "over the mountain", so that October day was spent entirely north of Red Mountain. Can you say "SURREAL"??
All day the "no longer a destination" epiphany ate away at me. You know the cliche "my life flashed before my very eyes"? Well, my childhood did much the same thing that day. Suddenly, things long gone which I remembered from my childhood became sorely-missed voids. As my mind was spinning into an abyss of fatal nostalgia, a website for Knoxville, Tennessee entered my mind, followed by James Lileks and his pages about Fargo, N.D. and Minneapolis. And it got me wondering: How about a website immortalizing old pictures and memories from Birmingham's past? You can never go back home ... or CAN YOU? Isn't the Internet a great thing??
The idea didn't last too long, as I had a very scant archive of vintage Birminghamiana. So there the matter stood.
Meanwhile, the wealth of pictures, microfilm printouts from early Eastwood Mall advertisements and information I returned home with would materialize in a website I put together at the end of October. "Eastwood Mall Remembered" was born. The content was mostly the pictures of the empty mall I'd taken -- at the time the mall was still open and being used largely by "senior citizens" to mallwalk, exercise and socialize. I talked with several people that morning, and I'll always remember one older gentleman whose mannerisms and look was eerily similar to my grandfather's. One more time, with feeling: SURREAL!
Dead Malls.com linked my page to theirs, and there that matter stood, as I assumed the website would appeal to nothing more than a niche of people who liked urban exploration, retail history and pictures of emptiness.
I was wrong. What didn't occur to me were those who remembered Eastwood Mall in its '60s heyday. I was born in 1965, and while I fondly remember Eastwood in the '70s, I was too late for the REAL glory days. I got e-mails. Some poured out their hearts to me about their memories of Eastwood and their sadness at what had become of the mall. I hadn't counted on the sizeable faction who considered Eastwood as more than just another indoor shopping mall -- it was a cornerstone of their childhoods.
And then the Eastwood site received the attention of Tim Hollis, noted author and Birmingham pop-culture guru. He began sending me CDs chock-full of vintage photographs. The late Alvin Hudson graciously allowed Tim use of pictures from his archive, which Tim just as graciously shared with me. Suddenly my Eastwood Mall site evolved from an "external section of Dead Malls dot com" into a full-blown tribute, with a history, pictures of its construction and early photos from the interior.
Then Tim brought up the idea of a nostalgic website dealing with Birmingham in general. He has a mind-boggling amount of Birmingham history in his archive, but did not have web design experience. I, in turn, had the experience but not content. Tim soon began lighting a fire underneath my hindparts to bring this mutual dream to fruition.
In January 2005, BIRMINGHAM REWOUND made its debut. Well. I guess you can "go back home."
The one person over and above all else who made this possible is Tim. Without his contributions, I'd be doing well to have a handful of basic pages! Tim gave me many of the 'bricks' I used to build REWOUND.
For the first 18 months, the site resided on my own personal webspace as part of my internet account. But in May 2006, a fellow Alabama road enthusiast, Dan Cole, generously offered webspace from his internet hosting firm for REWOUND. And on June 1, a long and convoluted internet address became a much simpler one: www.birminghamrewound.com
And not a moment too soon. As of the time I began transferring everything to the new location, BIRMINGHAM REWOUND was occupying 26,176,018 bytes. Or, more simply, just over 26 MB. Comcast's limit is 26,214,400 bytes. I was 38,382 short -- literally a small jpeg photo away from exceeding my allotted webspace. The traffic was pretty substantial, and I sat in dread of receiving nastygrams from my ISP.
Those worries ended thanks to Mr. Cole. The new location and hosting service translated to a dramatic increase of real estate to play with. I now have hundreds of thousands more space I had available on Comcast. And this allowed me to start offering a big-byte feature: audio clips! I have a small collection of vintage Birmingham radio jingles and recordings (or, "airchecks" as they're known), and in 2009 I added an "audio clip of the month" to our popular This Month In History feature. Perhaps some video might be offered in the future, provided the space and bandwidth is available and won't force unpleasant alternatives, which leads me to this next issue:
Unlike other "city nostalgia" websites, who either charge you admission -- or, even worse, extorts pictures from people in order to allow them to access their site -- BIRMINGHAM REWOUND is not about that. I'll take this website down and walk away before I charge people to look at pictures, share memories, and read them. Yeah, I eagerly seek pictures that document Birmingham's past. I want them badly. But I'm not going to base access to this site on them; my parents didn't raise me that way. ;-)
The interest many have taken in this website is truly humbling. It's my pleasure to have it available, and I have every plan of expanding and offering even more as time and material allow. Thanks to one and all for helping make this possible.
|A FEW WORDS ABOUT BIRMINGHAM'S
Perhaps the most memorable e-mail I've received in response to this site was by a gentleman from Leeds, who wrote: "I'm especially impressed that there's not a single picture of a fire hose or snarling German Shepherd on the entire site."
I'm as aware as anyone that Birmingham, Alabama is a city with a self-esteem problem. She's had many black eyes over the years, especially in the turbulent 1960s, when the city was thrown into a very unpleasant and negative spotlight. You know the drill: every time Birmingham is mentioned on a national news program, you can set your watch by how quickly The Footage appears.
Ahhhh, Bull Connor and his dogs 'n' hoses!! What so many don't understand is, Birmingham's turbulence was by and large caused by this single figure, considered by many a "loose cannon." And that 'riled up' all of Connor's disciples, who then felt it was okay to start setting off more explosives than Wile E. Coyote!
The Magic City was by no means a paragon of perfection, but in actuality was very progressive and moderate -- ESPECIALLY compared to other cities in the South (e.g., Montgomery!) and other states (Mississippi, anyone?). But none of that mattered -- Connor had his 'novel' way of dealing with people who wanted to sit down and eat lunch the way everyone else did, and that's what most folks have been 'trained' to associate with Birmingham.
Of course, what those same people will never tell you is what happened to Birmingham in 1970: she received the highly-coveted All-America City designation from the National Civic League. This was not some honor doled out willy-nilly like a J.D. Power award; the AAC is a real feather in a city's cap. Birmingham was cited for this designation because of its "racial progress." This award was a shining monument to how far the city had come in a very short period of time.
Just some food for thought.
Nobody can deny what happened in the past, or should they cover it up as if it never transpired. It did. They are indeed unfortunate scars on Birmingham's face. But you know ... that's the beautiful part about history: we can LEARN from it!
"The Footage" serves only to rub Birmingham's face in it, more a half century later. There's not much we can do about those who wish to continue to paint Birmingham as a Klan-infested backwater .... but they can't keep us from being proud of our roots. There has always been so much good about Birmingham, so many great places to go and to see. To put it simply, Birmingham was (and is) a great place to grow up. If this website helps in putting a positive spin on being from Birmingham, Alabama .... well, then, it's icing on the cake.
In any event, you could say that BIRMINGHAM REWOUND is my gift to the city in which I was given life, and has over the years given me so many fun times and memories.
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This page last updated 01/31/2015 -- 1213 AM EST