Thursday, May 16, 2013

Goober Day


It was well known that UNA graduate George Lindsey didn’t like to be called “Goober;” however, on April 23, 1966, Mr. Lindsey managed to put aside his personal feelings and enjoy a day named in honor of his Andy Griffith Show character. Arriving at Muscle Shoals Airport on the preceding Thursday, Lindsey spent the better part of three days signing autographs for his fans, among them a young “Danny” Klibanoff, brother to Florence’s future Pulitzer Prize winner Hank Klibanoff.

Lindsey spent most of Friday, April 22, on the campus of what was then Florence State College. He later appeared on WOWL television’s local program Outlook, and ended the day with a banquet in his honor at Florence Golf and Country Club. WOWL owner Dick Biddle acted as master of ceremonies, and Lindsey’s former college coach Hal Self presented him with a set of golf clubs. During the banquet, the comedian joked that Florence insurance agent L.L. Whitten, who had scheduled the weekend’s activities, had given him three minutes to shave.

Goober Day on Saturday was organized by Downtown Florence Unlimited and featured a parade that began at Rogers Hall and continued down Court Street. Lindsey disappointed local industrialist Elton Darby when he refused the offer of a helicopter ride the few blocks from his accommodations at the Holiday Inn to Courtview. The motorcade, complete with local bands, stopped at the Tennessee Street intersection where Mayor Alfred C. Putteet gave Lindsey a key to the city.

Mr. Lindsey then visited with his fans for over two hours, signing autographs, and regaling the audience with his homespun wit. The day’s festivities were capped with an invitational “Beat Goober” golf tournament at Florence Golf and Country Club.

Since the event was sponsored by the DFU, most downtown stores didn’t miss the opportunity to engage in a sale or two. Some retail establishments gave away Tom’s Roasted Peanuts in honor of Goober. Even the Holiday Inn employees got into the act by sporting purple and gold beanies.

As George Lindsey left to return to his home in Los Angeles, he stated he wanted to quote Sheriff Andy Taylor. Commenting on the day in his honor, Lindsey said he “Shore did ‘preciate it.”

Bette Favor Terry holds a B.A. in history from UAH.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Fort Willingham

Fort Willingham was built in Florence in 1937. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s possibly because the military facility was almost universally referred to as the “National Guard Armory” or simply the “Armory.” Located on a large block situated between Royal Avenue and Tennessee, Mobile, and Oak Streets, it was originally home to the 101st Engineers, or light ponton company, as it was then called. “Ponton” is the French word from which the English “pontoon” is derived.

It was headed by Capt. W. H. Cromwell who had petitioned the Alabama governor for funding to establish a guard unit in Florence. Begun in 1935 as a WPA project, the armory was completed two years later. The Florence unit consisted of three officers and 132 enlisted men with an additional 170 local men applying for membership as war in Europe threatened. Fort Willingham’s total payroll was $20,000.00 annually, and it initially contained as much as $200,000.00 in armaments and equipment. The 101st Company stood ready to be activated in time of national emergency. Divided into three groups, each patrol could erect a ponton bridge in one hour’s time.

After Germany declared war in Europe, the scope of the Alabama National Guard began to evolve, and the 115th Signal Battalion was organized in Florence on December 1, 1940. After the end of WWII, Maj. L. A. Bonifay commanded Fort Willingham for several years as its mission changed to meet the needs of a cold war military climate. An addition more than doubled the square footage of the armory and was celebrated in January 1958 by an open house attended by Gov. James Folsom.


From the historical marker on the former site of Fort Willingham: Originally the 2nd Battalion, 151st Engineers, it was organized a number of times from 1940 to 1959 as its mission was changed to meet the Nation's military requirements. In World War II it was designated as an Engineer Combat Regiment (later Battalion). During the Korean War it was on active duty as the 104th Anti-aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion.

As the United States continued to upgrade its military facilities, so did the Alabama National Guard. In the late 1970s, a new armory was built on Helton Drive, and Fort Willingham was razed. The area lay relatively unattended until the Oak Park Garden Club took over landscaping for the large tract now also bordered by Florence Boulevard, a major gateway to the city.

Realizing the land where Fort Willingham once stood was underutilized, the City of Florence proposed to locate a park on the tract. In May 2012, Memorial Grove Park was officially dedicated at a ceremony centered around a monument to fallen Florence Police officers. The park is still in its infancy, and more memorials are planned. 

Bette Favor Terry holds a B.A. in history from UAH.