The Phantom Pianist
A Little About Detroit, Ala.:
The census of 2000, reported that there were 247 people, 102 households, and 78 families residing in the town. The population density was 182.3 people per square mile (70.6/km2). There were 125 housing units at an average density of 92.3 per square mile (35.8/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 79.35% White and 20.65% Black or African American. This is a real town sitting astride the Alabama/Mississippi line at northwest Alabama, but the town is really smaller than the fictitious town of “Mayberry,” N.C., where we all watched the weekly-goings on of “Andy Taylor,” (Andy Griffith) and “Barney Fife,” (Don Knotts). God rest their souls.
There were 102 households out of which 40.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.9% were married couples living together, 21.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 23.5% were non-families. 23.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.42 and the average family size was 2.85.
18 Years Later . . .
and the town of Detroit, Ala., has remained much the same as it did in 2000 when (that) census was filed. The only thing keeping this small, picturesque southern hamlet from being one of those small southern towns is the rolling tumbleweed that the wind always carries (from left to right) once the cameras roll when making a truly scary little town.
One of those scary little towns that leaps to mind is Texarkana, Texas located in Bowie County where the horror classic The Town That Dreaded Sundown was filmed. This film was a 1976 American horror film by producer and director, Charles B. Pierce, who also co-stars as a bumbling police officer named A.C. Benson, also known as "Sparkplug". Pierce's fifth film is narrated by Vern Stierman, who had previously narrated Pierce's 1972 film, The Legend of Boggy Creek where Ben Johnson (actor) Ben Johnson_(actor) stars as Captain J.D. Morales, the fictionalized version of real-life "Texas Ranger Division," M. T. "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas.
With Realism Meeting Reality
and the truth (about incidents in these small southern towns) being such a fragile commodity, one can certainly understand why the producers of these towns had the daunting task of keeping a sensible balance of fantasy mixing with the reality of what horror was caused by the events of real life and what events were exaggerated to enhance the "horror" effect in the films to keep the audiences' attention--this is why films such as The Legend of Boggy Creek and The Town That Dreaded Sundown are considered cult classics today in 2018.
The Truth About This Piece
is not about Detroit, Ala. Although this small town in southwest Alabama is very friendly and the people there are very caring, this piece is topically-centered about one location on one dirt road settled on the outside of this town’s northern city limits and the road is mainly used by local teenagers who find it necessary to chug cases of beer while riding in their older brother “Bobby’s” tricked-out ‘58 Chevy truck. These teenagers are all of silent conscience about the lonesome dirt road and more silent about the goings on about a deserted frame house that once carried the name: “The Randall Place.” So far, you can just hear “Bobby’s” truck, his little brother and his buddies yelling, “Power to the South!” and popping their third cold six-pack now being mixed with a bottle of Wild Turkey. No one ever said that these children were boring.
Personally, I will tell you that the following people did witness and live to tell about what happened on one cool summer night in June when in a few moments, lives were changed and some even gave up drinking. But the truth is still being whispered today in 2018.
This piece of the story takes place in 2002 and the people you are going to hear about: Michael Nash, and his little brother, Jason, their friends, Chad Clark, Shane Nowlin and Michael and Jason’s dad, Truman. This happening at the “Randall Place” happened to the entire group of people and I talked to them—some two at the time, and some one-on-one, but one thing is certain: they everyone told the exact truth about this deserted frame house that had three bedrooms, a front and back porch and when you stood at front of the house, you could hear some of the most beautiful piano music ever to be heard by the human ear.
I remember well the Friday night when my wife and I were dining-out at a local eatery, the Riverchase Restaurant in Hamilton, Ala., and while we were chatting about jobs, money and so forth, Michael Nash dropped by the restaurant to meet with our daughter, Angie, to talk about going with him on a weekend trip to Meridian, Miss., Nash was the service manager at a local mobile home factory in Guin, a small town near Hamilton.
Nash sat down with us and somehow the topic of going on a late-night cruise to the outskirts of rural Marion County to which Nash said that he would love to do that because he and the rest of his friends—Shane Nowlin; Chad Clark; Truman Nash, Michael’s dad and little brother, Jason, would love to go searching for “haunted” houses, cemeteries and other myths that were known in Hamilton and the mysterious piano playing that could be heard at the “Randall Place,” near Detroit, Ala.
“I can tell you this,” Truman said. “we stood in the front yard and listened as the classical piano music began to play and while I, along with Michael was listening and not moving, Jason and Shane crept behind the house to see if anyone could be playing a prank on them.”
Truth be told is that Shane and Jason searched thoroughly with flashlights and then in daytime the next day and no speakers, motion detectors or any electrical devices were found—not even a piano, but what was evident was the classical piano music that would play when anyone would stand in the front door of this old, framework house and not move as to hear the beautiful music.
“I want all of us to go back to this old house and really check it out,” Michael chimed in. “this time we can take video cameras as well as regular cameras and even some tape recorders as to we can have evidence to back up the beautiful music that we could hear,” Michael said.
besides Michael, Jason, Truman, Chad, Shane, and our daughter, Angie, others that this group of local people began to go to the “Randall Place,” and they too came away scared to death and some even wanted to buy the house and property in order to make money from it, but another mystery surfaced: in the courthouse of Lamar County, the county where Detroit is located, there was no records of ownership to the “Randall Place” and not even the records were found of who owned the property.
But what was found was an elderly black man and his friend, “Douglas,” his teenage grandson who was raised by the senior black man who was a retired BF&R Railroad employee of over 32 years and seemed to know the truth about the classical music that a lot of people heard and shared the pleasant memory.
The elderly black man said that in 1988, a family named, Fowler, a man, his wife and son, Jimmy, were living in the house on that dirt road and that corner of the land surveying plot records were called the “Randall Place,” and the Fowler family had its share of financial problems—the father was sickly and could not hold a job and the mother who was also sickly, could barely get around in the house, but could tend to Jimmy and help him with his school work and his mother kept the family’s clothing washed and the father cooked so the family had something to eat.
“But the day came,” the elderly black man said. “when this family had no choice, but to get in touch with a family member to move in with them to help with the household work—cooking, washing clothes, sweeping the floors and such tasks.” So an uncle Howard, the mother’s brother, who lived alone in Moline, Ill., and the mom send him a letter to tell him just how dark the family had it, so he agreed to move in and help them.
But Howard had one request that he wanted to be fulfilled before he moved in with the family. He wanted to rent a piano from some company or individual there in Lamar or Marion County and since he had saved up some money from the jobs that he had once held, he knew that he could rent the piano and let him play it while he was not working on the household work. The music he thought, would help the family to have a less-stressful time in life.
And things were going okay after Howard rented this used piano and only charged $20.00 for three months because this local citizen was so taken by his piano talent that she asked if she could visit him and the Fowler family and listen to Howard play the music that she had grew up on.
The Fowler father found a local job of being a night watchman, so an income source was going to be a big help. And his wife ran a classified ad in the local paper about sewing for the public, so it wasn’t long until this family looked like life was turning from sad to happy for them.
Then in 1999, the United States began to suffer from a National Recession which meant jobs would be outsourced or just plain phased out and other drastic measures would be taken on the local level of life in towns like Detroit and nearby Hamilton, Alabama.
The Fowler’s rural postman stopped to leave them some mail and noticed something strange: he noticed that there was no curtains in the windows of the house and he even got out of his car to look at the house only to find an empty house. No one was there at all. Not one person or anyone could be found in or near their house. And what was most confusing and mysterious was in the master bedroom, no piano was found. And this postman, a Mr. Hubert Russell, was known to tell anyone who wanted to talk about finding the Fowler family being gone along with the piano that he remembered one night when he stood in the front yard when Uncle Howard would play for hours and the people who were in the front yard would take up a small offering to help the Fowlers.
But the piano that Howard had rented was gone. Vanished. No sight to be seen. And to this day in Oct.19, 2018, that old house is still standing and even now, people who can tame their fear, can drive up to the house and listen to the beautiful music heard inside the deserted house.
Don’t ask where the Fowlers and Uncle Howard went. No one even dares to try and figure this one out.
Oct. 19, 2018______________________________________________________
© 2018 Kenneth Avery