Category Archives: history

An opportunity for all to go to the Calico Ball (after all)

imagefrompostercalicoBy New Year’s Eve in 1873, Birmingham’s residents were ready to forget what may have been the worst year in the fledgling city’s history. A cholera epidemic decimated its population. Those that could fled to the country; most remaining contracted the illness and died.

Many doctors stayed in Birmingham to nurse the sick and help bury the dead – and so did the girls employed by our most famous madame, Louise Wooster. The prostitutes working for Wooster assisted doctors and undertakers until the disease was under control.

Local businessman Charles Linn hosted the Calico Ball to celebrate the end of the cholera epidemic and everyone’s return to the city. Doctors, lawyers, businessmen, society dames – the invitation list was a veritable “who’s who” of early Birmingham.

Conspicuously absent from the Ball were Ms. Wooster and her ladies.

Almost a century later, the “residents” of Oak Hill Cemetery are righting that wrong. They will leave the comfort of their resting places and mingle with the living at Avondale Brewing Company to celebrate the Calico Ball After-Party.  Host Louise Wooster and her sister Maggie Bracken welcome Charles Linn, John Milner, and many others for an evening of period music and dancing while dancing to the sounds of The Calico String Band. Slots on the ladies dance cards will be available for a small donation.

Avondale Brewing Company’s historic home has a rich and infamous history, having been home to a several businesses – including a post office, a firehouse, and the Long Branch Saloon. The upper floor of the building was at one time a secret bordello, servicing the saloon’s patrons below, making it a somewhat ideal location for the fundraiser. There are even rumors the building is haunted by a former lady of the brothel.

Terri Hicks, aka Louise Wooster, has been a volunteer at Oak Hill for over four years. “Oak Hill Cemetery is not only a beautiful and historic location that requires a lot of upkeep and maintenance, but it is also a repository for the early history of the Magic City, said Hicks.

She continued, “Many of the movers and shakers who came to Jones Valley in the 1870s with stars in their eyes and money in their pockets, are buried there. From iron and steel magnates to infamous murder victims, the cemetery houses them all.”

“It is important that the citizens of Birmingham remember what a diverse and exciting place the city was from the very beginning and how many people were involved in creating the place that has grown into The Magic City that we know now.”

The Calico Ball is the anniversary fundraiser for the Oak Hill Memorial Association to support activities at the Cemetery, the oldest working cemetery in Birmingham.

“The cemetery is an outdoor museum that is open to the public every day of the year. It was the first Alabama cemetery to ever be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The cemetery only hosts approximately 12 burials per year, and although there is still limited space available for purchase, it has virtually no avenue to produce income,” said Stuart Oates, cemetery director. “The cemetery was initially known as the City Cemetery, and to this day is property of the City of Birmingham. The City does provide funding for routine maintenance, but the Oak Hill Memorial Association is dependent on gifts and donations to continue restoration and preservation efforts that lie beyond the scope of routine operations.”

The Calico Ball After-Party takes place this Saturday, February 2, from 7-10 p.m. Tickets are available in advance for $20 via TicketLeap; they will be available at the door for $25. The event is sponsored by The Magic City Post, Weld for Birmingham, and Naked Art Gallery.

Cemetery preservationists to meet in Birmingham

OHC Chapel with APCOThe Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance will hold their annual membership meeting and cemetery preservation workshop (PDF – site may still be down due to recent storms along the East Coast) this Saturday, November 3, at Samford University and Oak Hill Cemetery.

The meeting and workshop are open to members and nonmembers and will feature a variety of speakers and presentations. The Samford portion begins at 8:30 a.m.; the group will leave campus for Oak Hill Cemetery around 2 p.m. (tentative). Registration is $30 for nonmembers and $25 for members.

The 11th annual meeting and workshop is themed “Tools for the Cemetery Preservation Toolkit.” Topics include:

  • How do we as the ACPA get involved with cemeteries
  • Samford University Library records available
  • How to register a historic cemetery with the Alabama Historical Commission
  • How cemeteries play a part in our history and why they should be preserved
  • Stone Cleaning & Repair
  • Decoration Day and rural southern cemetery features
  • Reflective light and rubbings
  • Dowsing for Graves

Attendees can sign up on site at either Samford’s Dwight M. Beason Hall (morning) or at Oak Hill Cemetery (afternoon).