Tourism Tuesdays December 13, 2016

New UK Representative for Alabama

Candlelight Tours continue at Governor’s Mansion next Monday night

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio to open door for tours next month

You can buy honey made from the walls of Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals

Smithsonian:  How to experience a mission to Mars

Chicago Tribune:  Alabama’s captivating culinary scene and the ‘100 dishes to try’

Frommers: Been to Birmingham lately?  You’re in for a surprise

See the view from the roof of the Empire Building: historic hotel set to open in spring

Watch new trailer for Zelda Fitzgerald biopic series ‘Z: The Beginning of Everything’

William Christenberry’s Haunted South

So small, not one computer: Awe in Alabama at John Glenn’s Mercury trainer

City to consider selling Carnival Museum’s home to its operators

SELTI short story award winner recognized

Main Street new city application workshops

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events



New UK Representative for Alabama

Andy Facer will be the new Alabama representative in the United Kingdom and Ireland for Alabama Tourism, taking over duties in January from Della Tully.  Facer has more than 23 years experience within the travel industry, including 19 years working for Thomas Cook, Europe’s second largest travel company, where he spent several years working on their USA program in sales, product and purchasing roles.  In his final years with Thomas Cook, he was responsible for more than 40 million Euros worth of hotel product for their Greece charter program.

Prior to joining Global Travel Marketing, Facer worked for as Product and Purchasing Director. As part of his focus on the southern region of USA for he visited Alabama on a post Travel South International FAM trip from New Orleans to Mobile and Gulf Shores.  Venessa Alexander, Global Travel Marketing CEO, says Facer “has a great network of connections at leading UK Tour Operators and is well-liked and respected by the UK travel community.”

Facer has been working for Global Travel Marketing for two years as an Account Director and looks after all aspects of sales and marketing, product training, event planning and FAM trips.  He replaces Della Tully who has resigned from Global Travel Marketing to pursue a new opportunity.

Andy will travel to Alabama for a five-day tour in early 2017.

The change in account representatives should strengthen Alabama’s international efforts in the UK, says Grey Brennan of the Alabama Tourism Department. “Andy has vast experience in the UK tourism market and is eager to build on the excellent work that Della has done for the past eight years. In addition, Della will still be promoting the South in her new job at a UK representation firm that recently secured the Georgia Tourism account for the U.K., Ireland and Scandinavia.  We wish Della the best and welcome Andy to the Alabama team.”

To contact Andy Facer, email   For more information on the Alabama Tourism Department’s marketing efforts, contact


Candlelight Tours continue at Governor’s Mansion next Monday night

The second Monday of the candlelight tours attracted a crowd of more than 700 despite another night of rainy weather.  Gov. Robert Bentley will open the Governor’s Mansion for the last night of the candlelight tours on Monday, Dec. 19 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. did a special 24 photo slide show presentation about the candlelight tours and the decorations at the governor’s mansion that can be viewed at

Designers have volunteered their time to decorate the Governor’s Mansion and the neighboring Hill House for the candlelight tours.  “The Governor’s Mansion belongs to the people of Alabama and I want to share it with them during this wonderful season,” said Bentley. 

Tickets for the tours are available free of charge at the gift shop prior to the tours.  The gift shop is located at 30 Finley Ave. across the street from the side entrance of the mansion. 

The interior design companies working on decorating the mansion include Lynne Coker Interiors and Katherine Trantham Interior Design.

Choirs scheduled to perform on Monday include the Oxford Christian School Choir and Alabama School of Law’s The Footnotes.

The Governor’s Mansion is a 1907 Colonial Revival house located at 1142 South Perry St. in Montgomery and has served as the official residence for governors of Alabama since 1951.  The neighboring Farley-Hill House became part of the Governor’s Mansion complex in 2003 and will also be open for the candlelight tours.

The mansion will be open for candlelight tours from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 19.   More information is available about the Governor’s Mansion candlelight tours by going online at


Muscle Shoals Sound Studio to open door for tours next month
By Robert Palmer,, Dec. 8

A fundraising event at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios raised enough money to open the doors for regular tours in January.

Debbie Wilson, of the Alabama Tourism Office, said the Nov. 10 invitation-only event raised more than $26,000.

“We’re waiting for some more to come in, but we’re very excited because we had very few expenses associated with it,” she said.

The historic studio, which was restored with a grant from Beats by Dr. Dre, will open for tours after New Year’s Day, Wilson said. The studio has been restored to its early 1970s appearance, including vintage recording equipment.

The studio was bought in 2013 by the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, and was open for a short time for tours, though the building was empty. The foundation’s plan is to operate the studio as a tourist attraction during the day and as a working studio at night.

Wilson said the Alabama Tourism Office will promote the studio heavily in the coming year.

Bill Canary, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, attended the fund-raiser. He said the council will promote the studio, as well.

“This puts our footprint on the global music economy,” Canary said. “We’re proud to be promoting it.”

Muscle Shoals Sound Studios opened in 1969 and operated at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield until 1978, when it moved to more spacious quarters in a building on the Tennessee River.

The studio was run by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section — Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett. They played on many hits at Rick Hall’s FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals before setting out on their own.

Among the artists who recorded there were the Staple Singers, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, Leon Russell, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Boz Scaggs and Traffic. More recently, the Black Keys recorded an album there.

The lobby of the studio is open daily for a few hours. Souvenirs are on sale there, with the money from the sales used to supplement the operating budget, Wilson said.

Judy Hood, chairwoman of the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, said tourists continued to visit the studio while it was closed for restoration. About 40 percent of the visitors were from overseas, she said.

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You can buy honey made from the walls of Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals

By Haley Laurence,, Dec. 7

Some of the world’s great musicians have graced the halls of Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals.

Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and many more have recorded at the historic studio over the decades, but a few years ago the owners found some unwelcome guests.

“About four years ago, employees noticed a large swarm of bees coming out of our studio,” Fame Co-President Rodney Hall said. 

The bees were congregated around the walls of Studio B and, well, they were pretty noticeable — and a bit of a nuisance. But Hall and his co-workers didn’t want to kill them.

“We knew about the plight of the bee and that they’re dying off, (so we) didn’t want to exterminate them,” he says.

So they started to brainstorm ideas, and Hall’s wife, Cindy, came up with a solution: Call Steve Carpenter from the local Jack-O-Lantern Farm. The family already shopped at the farm and knew Carpenter was a beekeeper and may have a solution. 

After Carpenter examined the scene, he told the Fame folks not to worry — he’d take care of it and make sure the bees were well cared for.

But removing the unwelcome guests wasn’t a one-day job. Gathering bees isn’t a quick, easy process. It takes a long, long time. 

“You have to trap them,” Carpenter says. “(And) you don’t get them all at one time.” 

So he prepared for the long haul. He would visit the studio about once a month and set traps for the insects. After about a year of Carpenter’s work, Fame was officially bee-free.

BBBBut Carpenter’s job wasn’t over. He then took the bees to a hive near his farm and raised them.

He had about 47 hives, but he kept the insects he trapped at Fame in their own hives — “to keep the other (bees) from robbing them out,” he explains. But later on, when it got time for the Fame bees to mingle with the others, he decided to keep them separate.

“I didn’t see any use in moving them,” Carpenter said. 

Now, after four years of work, you can taste the fruit of his labors — Carpenter and Hall are selling the honey produced by the bees that populated the studios. Carpenter gathers the honey and puts it in a jar, and Hall slaps on a label he made that says “From the walls of Fame: Genuine Muscle Shoals honey.”

Carpenter and Hall are splitting the proceeds from the sales. You can purchase it for $25 a pound online.

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Smithsonian:  How to experience a mission to Mars

Travel writer Jennifer Bilock visited the state in October as part of an Alabama Tourism Department press trip conducted by Verna Gates with assistance from the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

By Jennifer Billock, Smithsonian

In 2015, Space Camp hosted its oldest participant in history: 100-year-old Mercedes Fox. In the 1980s, while she was in her 70s, Fox had originally applied to be the teacher aboard the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger; but it wasn’t until almost 30 years later that the space enthusiast accepted an invitation to attend a four-day training session and mock mission, along with a group of 42 teachers, at Space Camp’s Hunstville, Alabama, campus. 

Fox was living out a decades-long dream of being a pseudo-astronaut—and you can, too. Space Camp doesn’t just cater to kids; adults ages 18 and up can go for a weekend-long spin at Adult Space Academy and have the same out-of-this-world experience. 

“Every week you get a whole team of different personalities,” crew trainer Sandman (known as Douglas Washington while on Earth) told “It’s fun to make a cohesive team out of so many personalities. A lot of times the adults are more excited than the [children] trainees.”

Participants in the academy spend the weekend living in the onsite habitat, more or less a dorm for Space Campers, and running multiple missions. These range from building and launching rockets to flying a shuttle simulator, repairing a shuttle while in space to landing on a simulated Mars—and even constructing a space station once you’re there.

I embarked on my own mission earlier this year, donning the iconic blue space-training jumpsuit to guide my crew on a journey to the distant Red Planet. But first, we had to complete our training.

First up was the 1/6th gravity chair, designed to give you a sense of what it’s like to walk on the moon. The build-up is almost as exciting as the walk itself; the chair descends from the ceiling, you’re strapped in, and then slowly feel your sense of gravity drift away. Once you’ve acclimated to this new atmosphere, it’s time to step out onto the moon (provided you have the required helmet and closed-toe shoes, of course). We practiced three walks up and down the simulated moon ground: the bunny hop, when we learned to take short hops so we didn’t fly out into space; the side step, which can get you through a tight situation and is easier than walking; and freestyle. With these options in mind, I chose to burst through the sky like a rocket, inspired by the real ones on display in the shuttle and rocket parks just outside. Needless to say, I shot myself off the moon’s surface and had to be reeled back in with a rope tied to the back of my chair.

Our second training module was on the multi-axis trainer—a combination gyroscope and chair that spins you around at high speed, simulating an out of control tumble in space. This is a Space Camp-specific simulation; no one else has these exact trainers, and even real astronauts have trained on them, as during the Mercury program. Each go-round lasts for about 45 seconds to a minute. Our trainers assured us that those who are prone to motion sickness would not have an issue, because the spins are tied to your center of gravity. Thankfully, I was the only one on my team with a problem, and I stumbled off the chair to briefly regroup on a bench nearby.

From there, we broke into teams to complete our mock mission to Mars. We could choose between three roles: Mission Control, Mission Specialist, or the orbiter crew. I opted to be the commander on the orbiter crew, meaning it was my job, along with the pilot, to fly the shuttle out of our atmosphere and land on Mars, to create a space station there, then to fly back to Earth and complete a nice, soft water landing. (I did, by the way. It was a total success.)

Mission Control itself is straight out of a movie, and Mission Specialists have arguably the coolest job at Space Camp. They put on the big white space suits and float outside the shuttle or space station making repairs. Whatever your preference, though, everyone on your team will train for every aspect of the mission.

Checklists telling you exactly what to do—and when to do it—control every portion of your journey. And lest you think it’s all just fantasy, rest assured that you’ll be performing the exact same procedures that real astronauts do on an actual mission. It can be confusing at times, but is high energy and tons of fun—even if you accidentally allow outer space to invade the precious inner space of your shuttle, inadvertently killing everyone on your faux mission. Trust me, it happens here…a lot.

At the end of the Space Camp experience, you graduate. There’s a ceremony where your nametag (which has been on upside-down the entire time) is flipped upright, and you get a printed, ready-to-frame diploma. You’re also encouraged to apply to be an astronaut. Of course, you’ll have to meet a few requirements, but anyone is eligible.

“If you want to be an astronaut, all you have to do is apply,” Joseph Vick, manager of museum education at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, told And if you’re a redhead like he is, even better. “I like John Glenn because he was the first ginger in space,” Vick explained. “Go gingers!” Red Planet, indeed.Bottom of Form

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Chicago Tribune:  Alabama’s captivating culinary scene and the ‘100 dishes to try’

Travel writer Patti Nickell visited the state in June as part of an Alabama Tourism Department press trip conducted by Verna Gates with assistance from local tourism offices.  Articles by Nickell based on the state tourism brochure “100 Dishes To Eat in Alabama” have been featured in numerous media outlets including USA TODAY, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Houston Chronicle, the Palm Beach Post and the Dayton Daily News. Her most recent “100 Dishes” article appeared this week in the Chicago Tribune.

To the uninformed, a culinary experience in the state of Alabama might be construed as choking down bites of a jumbo dog at Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium between chants of “Roll, Tide, Roll.”

However, after a weeklong road trip with my friend Verna, an Alabama native, I know there’s a lot more to the culinary scene here than stadium fare. Armed with an Alabama Tourism Department list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die,” we two road warriors traveled from Mobile to Huntsville, on a relentless quest to discover the best the state had to offer. (Download the guide or get the app at

If we didn’t make it through all 100 Dishes, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Starting in Mobile, we headed to Wintzell’s, where a sign over the bar advertises that you can have your oysters “fried, stewed or nude,” and where the signature bloody mary, using Whiskey Willy’s bloody mary mix from nearby Orange Beach, contains — I swear — at least four of the seven major food groups.

Known as the Weekender, it may take you that long to finish it, but don’t worry. Willie Brown, who has been shucking oysters at Wintzell’s for 40 years, will present you with a platter of Oysters Four Ways (Monterey, Bienville, Rockefeller and Chargrilled) to go with it.

Mobile’s contributions to the “100 Dishes” list include the shrimp and grits at the Blind Mule and the Diver Scallops at the city’s historic Battle House Hotel. At the famous Spot of Tea, a Mobile institution for 22 years, there are two: Bananas Foster French Toast and Eggs Cathedral, which satisfied diners liken to “a religious experience.”

Verna introduced me to Miss Ruby, Spot of Tea’s owner, who joined us for our meal. When Verna persuaded her to tell me how her husband, a gambler, put three kids through college on his wits alone, I decided she was as unique as the dishes she served.

From Mobile it was on to Birmingham, Verna’s hometown, where celebrity chef Frank Stitt rules the culinary roost.

From his James Beard Award-winning restaurant, Highlands Grill, to its more casual sister property, Bottega, and his take on a Parisian bistro, Chez Fon-Fon, Stitt’s mastery in the kitchen offers a dining trifecta.

At another legendary Birmingham eatery, Niki’s, it’s “My Big Fat Greek Lunch” Alabama-style. Niki’s steam table has 70 offerings with a Southern take on traditional Greek favorites — collard greens instead of eggplant, country ham instead of moussaka and sweet potato pie instead of baklava.

We popped in for dinner one evening at SAW’s Soul Kitchen (SAW is an acronym for owner Mike Wilson’s high school nickname, Sorry Ass Wilson). There was nothing sorry about the pork and greens, the restaurant’s delectable entry on the “100 Dishes” list.

Afterward, we stopped in at Avondale Brewing just down the street to sample one of the 16 rotating hand-crafted beers on tap. Avondale began as a brothel (try the Brothel Brown Beer) and once had a beer-guzzling elephant as a mascot. It’s now the starting point for the city’s Wacky Tacky Christmas Lights Tour.

On another day, we ran into a traffic jam in the tiny town of Pell City, just outside of Birmingham, which on closer inspection proved to be a waiting line for a Texaco Station.

My first thought was they had to be selling gas for a dollar a gallon, but it seems the real draw here is Butts-to-Go, a BBQ pit in the parking lot where grill master Wade Reich smokes beef, ribs and something he calls “Drunken Chicken.” A devoted clientele, whose motto is “Gas up and pig out,” makes it unwise to even think about showing up on weekends without reserving your cut of meat.

It might seem strange to discover a philosopher of French food — Reich spent 14 years in Paris — now grilling in a Pell City parking lot. However, I can attest that his Boston Butt Baby Back Ribs can hold their own with Beef Bourguignon.

In Montgomery, the state capital, our first stop was at Chris’ Hot Dogs, a family-run establishment that next year will celebrate its 100th year in business. Martin Luther King Jr., Bear Bryant and Elvis Presley all ate here, and former Gov. George Wallace once placed an order for 2,000 dogs.

But I was sitting on the stool that was reserved for Chris’ favorite customer, country legend Hank Williams, who always ordered his hot dog with a shot of whiskey chased by a beer.

When I asked current owner Theo Katechis what made Chris’ dogs so special, he claimed it was their secret sauce.

With a sly wink, he says, “Only three people in the world know it.”

Montgomery and its environs are also home base for two young Alabama food and drink entrepreneurs. For those who like it hot, 29-year-old Auburn native Jessi Norwood provides it scorching. I sampled her classic cream cheese and pepper jelly with a jalapeno pop during breakfast with her at a local hot spot, Davis Cafe.

Also joining us for breakfast was another millennial, Wes Willis, who just may be the cleverest marketer of his generation. His company, Alabama Sweet Tea, offers the beverage in 16-ounce bottles and gallon jugs, and even though in these parts, it’s all about sweet tea — labeled Southern — he hasn’t forgotten those who live “up North.”

He offers them an unsweetened tea called Yankee, and for those who can’t make up their minds, there’s a third brand, Mason-Dixon, which he describes as “half and half.”

On the way to Huntsville, the final stop on our foodie road tour, we made an obligatory detour to Decatur to sample the barbecue at Big Bob Gibson’s. Yes, there really was a Big Bob, and now his great grandson-in-law, Chris Lilly, is the pit master at the restaurant that has won two World BBQ Championships.

In Alabama, which Verna acknowledges to be a “red sauce state,” Big Bob’s is noted for its white sauce, especially good on chicken.

Huntsville had two of my favorite places, occupying different ends of the dining spectrum. At breakfast at the Blue Plate Cafe, a typical diner housed in what was formerly an auto parts store, I unashamedly gorged on their cocoa biscuits.

Dinner was at Cotton Row, a sophisticated restaurant on Courthouse Square, dating to 1821 and once occupied by a cotton merchant. Checking our trusty “100 Dishes” guide, we ordered the braised Meyer Ranch beef short ribs served with creamy grits.

From mid-March to mid-October, there is one dining experience that you can only find in Alabama: sampling authentic German fare in the beer garden under the shadow of the Saturn V Apollo Moon Rocket at Huntsville’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

The Saturn V is one of three remaining Saturn rockets that first took man to the moon. I couldn’t swear that my brat and sauerkraut tasted better eating it in the presence of history, but it sure seemed to.

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Frommers: Been to Birmingham lately?  You’re in for a surprise

By David Landsel,

Built on the backs of the labor that manned its mines, furnaces, and mills, and quite famously a flash point in the Civil Rights struggle, Birmingham, Alabama, has been a tough sort of town pretty much from day one. For much of its life, it seemed as if the surrounding region all but had its back turned on the heavily industrialized center of town, for decades growing every which way but in. 


Quite suddenly now, the city—sometimes referred to as the Pittsburgh of the South, for good reason—appears to be on a do-or-die mission to reinvent, this time not running away from its heritage, but rather building directly on a complex, often fascinating past, in the process becoming one of the most compelling destinations in the Deep South. Headed that way? Here are just a few great ways to get acquainted. 


Coffee and a walk. Have a seat at the bar at Revelator Coffee Company (1826 3rd Avenue North) and watch the talented baristas at work on the shop’s custom Slayer machine—if you’re not the espresso type, competent pour overs and local pastry should have you feeling right in no time. This is just one in a growing number of small businesses working to make downtown the place to be, rather than avoid. Next, do the short stroll to Railroad Park. Something like the city center’s front yard, this sculpted, 19-acre oasis isn’t just a place to get some exercise, but it’s also a symbol of the local renaissance, drawing curious visitors from around the region. Here over the holidays? There’s a skating rink, until mid-January. To get there, cross beneath the railroad tracks at 18th Street—just look for the colorful lighting that turned a formerly foreboding underpass into one of the city’s favorite works of public art. Artist Bill FitzGibbons’ work has been such a hit, and the lights (which at first appear to be neon, but are actually computerized LEDs) now stay on 24 hours a day (1600 1st Avenue).


Hang around some old factories. From vacant towers to silent smokestacks, reminders of Birmingham’s heritage are everywhere, but at Sloss Furnaces, a National Historic Landmark, where iron was produced for nearly 90 years, the past comes alive with tours, classes (Cast Iron Sculptures for Beginners!) and popular even—there’s also a rotating cast of artists-in-residence (20 32nd Street North). If it’s a weekend, head across the railroad tracks to Pepper Place. Once a Dr Pepper bottling plant, the city’s best farmers market is held here Saturdays (Apr–Dec).  Sample from a wide selection of local produce and artisanal eats before settling in for a pick-me-up at The Red Cat, a smart cafe. Here on a quiet day? The neighborhood is known for its collection of design-centric shops—all are worth a browse (2829 2nd Avenue South).  


Eat a pile of meat, then swing through the trees. Just a short drive from downtown, the reputation of Saw’s BBQ stretches far beyond Birmingham. Its empire is growing, but the Homewood location is where it all began. Get here shortly before it opens at 11 o’clock and line up for ribs and/or smoked chicken, served with classic Alabama white sauce. (Recipes vary, but the primary ingredients are generally mayonnaise and vinegar). Save room for macaroni and cheese—banana pudding too, if they have it (1008 Oxmoor Road). Part of Birmingham’s distinct charm is its relatively rugged terrain—it seems as if you’re never far from a hill or a hiking trail or some kind of open space. While you’re out this way, stop in at Red Mountain Park. This incredible mountaintop preserve features fifteen miles of hiking and biking trails, a zip line, an adventure course and other fun stuff, high above town. No cars are allowed up top—you’ve got to park and walk to the good stuff. That’s fine. You just ate a whole pile of ‘cue (2011 Frankfurt Drive). 


Happy hour with the cool crowd in Avondale. Currently one of Birmingham’s hippest addresses, the section of this one-time company town abutting recently revived Avondale Park, where workers took their leisure during Birmingham’s industrial heyday, is home to three of the city’s most popular drinking dens. Start with local brews at the Avondale Brewing Company, with its inviting indoor-outdoor setup (201 41st Street South), then stop in for a round at the cheerfully dive-y Parkside Cafe—many head straight for the year-round courtyard, complete with fire pit (4036 5th Avenue South). Wrap up the crawl with cocktails and a game of shuffleboard at 41st Street Pub & Aircraft Sales—it’s known for its Moscow mules (130 41st Street South). Hungry? Post Office Pies has pizzas made in wood-fired, custom brick ovens. They are very good (209 41st Street South).


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See the view from the roof of the Empire Building: historic hotel set to open in spring

By Kelly Poe,, Dec. 6

As a developer turns the 1909 Empire Building in downtown Birmingham from a ghost that once housed banks and offices to a modern Marriott concept, Ascent Hospitality promises a blend of old and new.

The Empire Hotel is scheduled to open to the public in late March or early April after a $45 million redevelopment of the iconic building at 1928 1st Ave. as a luxury Marriott hotel with a restaurant, 117 bedrooms, a gym, lounge, meeting space and rooftop bar called Moonshine. The adjoining former Alagasco headquarters at 1918 1st Ave. N. will also become a limited service Marriott hotel with 120 rooms.

The building became vacant in 2009 when Colonial Bank moved out. As workers have begun restoring the building, they’ve collected artifacts from the past: three foot tall cast-iron elevator gears, enormous bank vault pieces and brass chandeliers caked with a nearly an inch of dust.

Ascent has hired Forrest and Garrett Millsap, two metalsmiths who work out of Stream in East Avondale, to take some of those pieces and turn them into furniture to be used throughout the hotel.

“It goes with the history of the piece of property, as well as what brought Birmingham to its claim to fame,” The Empire Hotel’s General Manager Denise Vandersall said. “This building, she is part of that renaissance and the renaissance today. She led the pack then, and she’s leading the pack now.”

A 300-pound cast-iron elevator flywheel will act as table legs. An even bigger gear will be repurposed as the fire pit on the rooftop bar. The massive old fire doors are being restored, though they’ll largely be decoration. The chandeliers are being restored, though the team is on the hunt to replace many of the broken bulbs with as many historically accurate bulbs as possible.

“We’re using old elevator parts to carry on the history of and tradition of the empire, instead of storing them in the attic,” Stream Founder Dorsey Cox said.

The 16-story Empire was built in 1909 and is part of the “Heaviest Corner on Earth.” In the early 1900s, four of the South’s tallest buildings were constructed at 20th Street and First Avenue in downtown Birmingham. A magazine proclaimed it “The Heaviest Corner on Earth.”

Chris Hastings, chef-owner of Hot and Hot Fish Club and Ovenbird, is consulting on a restaurant as part of the project. Hastings has been named top chef in the South by the prestigious James Beard Foundation.

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Watch new trailer for Zelda Fitzgerald biopic series ‘Z: The Beginning of Everything’

By Amber Sutton,, Dec. 7

Alabama native Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald will soon be in the spotlight thanks to a new series, called “Z: The Beginning of Everything,” on Amazon Prime.

The trailer for the series, which stars Christina Ricci as Zelda Fitzgerald, premiered today ahead of the show’s release on Jan. 27, 2017. The cast also includes David Hoflin, Jamie Anne Allman, David Strathairn, Corey Cott, Jordan Dean, Natalie Knepp, Christina Bennett Lind and Holly Curran.

Amazon release the following description of the show:

Z: The Beginning of Everything” is a ground-breaking concept: a fictionalized bio series of the life of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, the brilliant, beautiful and talented Southern Belle who becomes the original flapper and icon of the wild, flamboyant, Jazz Age in the 20s. The series begins the moment Zelda meets the unpublished writer F. Scott Fitzgerald in Montgomery, Alabama in 1918 and moves through their passionate, turbulent love affair and their marriage — made in heaven, lived out in hell — as the celebrity couple of their time.

Z: The Beginning of Everything” will show us the alcoholism, adultery and struggle with dashed dreams and mental illness that leads to Zelda’s tragic, untimely end. It dives into the fascinating life of a woman ahead of her time, an artist determined to establish her own identity in the tempestuous wake of a world-famous husband. A modern take on one of the most notorious love stories of all time, Z: The Beginning of Everything will be played out in salons and speak-easies from Montgomery, Alabama to the Cote D’Azur. “

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William Christenberry’s Haunted South

The Daily Beast, Dec. 3

The noted photographer returned each year to obsessively and meticulously photograph the ever changing Alabama landscape that shaped his vision

William A. Christenberry, known for his elegant and haunting photographs of his native rural Alabama, died recently from complications with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 80.

Christenberry began as a painter, but it was his small photographs—originally intended as studies for his expressionistic paintings—that made him one of the most influential photographers of the modern era. He was influenced by Walker Evans’s Depression-era photographs included in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a collaborative effort, with the author James Agee, to document the lives of three tenant-farmer families in poverty-stricken ‘30s Hale County, Alabama. But while Evans documented the South as an outsider, Christenberry was a native son who called his corner of the country “my muse.” For decades he returned each summer to chronicle the harrowing of time and weather on the works of man.

Pace/MacGill Gallery
in New York is currently featuring a selection of Christenberry’s work in an exhibit, “William Christenberry: Summer | Winter.” It juxtaposes the photographer’s classic subjects in the different seasons and is open through Jan. 21, 2017.

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So small, not one computer: Awe in Alabama at John Glenn’s Mercury trainer

By Lee Roop,, Dec. 10

The couple stopped before the small, gray capsule at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville Friday morning.

The massive, eye-popping Saturn V rocket’s five engines were almost directly overhead, but the center’s star attraction this day wasn’t the Saturn V. It was this tiny “procedures simulator” where John Glenn trained for his historic three orbits around the world.

Smaller than a Volkswagen “Bug,” the simulator built by McDonnell Aircraft (now McDonnell Douglas) is a thing you might walk by at the rocket center, where a real Saturn V, a moon rock, and an Apollo capsule are among the displays competing for attention inside the Davidson Center for Space Exploration.

But this week was about this unique, historic trainer, an exact duplicate of the interior of the Friendship 7 capsule Glenn flew three times around the world on Feb. 20, 1962. Glenn, the last of America’s original Mercury 7 astronauts, died on Dec. 8.

The curator’s job

It’s rocket center curator Ed Stewart’s job to protect historic pieces like the simulator. He spends a lot of time researching and thinking about them, and he talked about the exhibit on Friday.

“It’s a single-person spacecraft,” Stewart said. That’s what impresses him the most about it.

“So small,” Stewart said.

America stopped building solo capsules after the Mercury program. After it, the nation flew pairs, trios and finally teams of astronauts into space. One person never sat alone again on top of a military rocket originally designed for something else.

“Not a computer chip on it,” Stewart continued.

Just like Glenn’s real capsule, the simulator’s switches, timers and relays were mechanical and connected by cables to a nearby control room. Technicians could watch lights shine on that panel when Glenn flipped a switch during training. At the center, you can lean in close and see the switches through a plastic shield.

All 7 Mercury astronauts

Each of America’s seven original astronauts trained in this simulator at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. To make it more realistic, they sometimes wore inflated suits. Looking at the simulator now, it’s hard to imagine how they even got inside.

Next door to the rocket center on Redstone Arsenal is NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where Wernher von Braun’s rocket team members, including American engineers from schools like Auburn University and craftsmen from the Tennessee Valley, were already thinking about an American mission to the moon.

NASA didn’t exist when the Mercury 7 astronauts began training. The space agency was formed in 1958 after a

decision to separate America’s military and scientific space programs. Huntsville did provide two Redstone rockets for the early 1960’s launches of the Chimpanzee Ham and Alan Shepard, the first American in space.

Glenn’s booster was an Atlas rocket built by the Air Force, and the space museum has an Atlas in its rocket park. People stopped in front of it on Friday, too. You could almost see them thinking: So small.

The Atlas does seem small, just like the simulator inside the museum. But not like John Glenn and the six others who willingly sat on top. There was nothing small about them.

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SELTI short story award winner recognized

By Alaina Denean Deshazo, The Selma Times-Journal, Dec. 12

The Selma and Dallas County Chamber of Commerce teamed up with the Southeastern Literary Tourism Initiative and the Alabama Tourism Department to host a writing contest, where the winner, Charisa Hagel, took home $500 cash and the 2016 SELTI Tourism Fiction Award in Dallas County.

Hagel said she was excited to find out that she won the competition.

“I was ecstatic,” Hagel said. “I couldn’t stop smiling all day long.”

Hagel’s fictional story was based at Kenan’s Mill in 1866 and was about a young boy and girl who were playing at the mill, even though they knew they weren’t allowed.

Hagel, who had never been to the mill prior to the award presentation, said she found her inspiration by digging around online.

“I started Googling attractions and the mill caught my attention,” Hagel said. “So I found pictures of it, and I saw the bridge and there’s a back window, and I thought, OK, I have a story.”

Hagel, who resides in Wetumpka, is a recent graduate of Faulkner Christian University in Montgomery and majored in English with a focus in creative writing.

“I just graduated, and I don’t have an outlet for my writing yet, so I took advantage of it,” Hagel said. “I did what I set out to do. I’m actually really pumped that I did win because that meant I accomplished my goal.”

Hagel said she enjoyed getting to visit the place she had written about, and actually walk up to the window that is mentioned in her story.

“It’s really cool to actually visit the place that I wrote about since it was really attractive in my mind of how I thought it would look, and the pictures I saw,” Hagel said. “Actually, getting to see it is like a story coming true.”

Selma native Congresswoman Terri Sewell was on hand to present Hagel with her award and to give her a Congressional Record stating her success in winning the competition.

“I just wanted you to know how proud we are of you and your story,” Sewell said to Hagel. “As a native of Selma, I have to tell you, you captured it perfectly. It was great.”

Hagel’s story was chosen out of 16 fictional stories and can be read online at

Landon Nichols, marketing coordinator for the Chamber, said he enjoyed the story and how it incorporated Kenan’s Mill.

“I loved it. I thought it was a great way to present a setting of Selma and Dallas County that you don’t always hear about,” Nichols said. “You hear so much about Civil War history and our Civil Rights history, so it’s kind of nice to look outside of those two major flash points at some of the other narratives going on in the area.”

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Main Street new city application workshops

Main Street Alabama Application Workshops explain the criteria and the process for applying to become a Main Street Alabama Designated Community and describe the assistance Main Street Alabama can offer to position downtown revitalization programs for success by implementing the nationally recognized Main Street Four-Point Approach® for downtown and neighborhood commercial district revitalization.  A unique economic development tool, the Main Street Four-Point Approach® is the foundation for local initiatives to revitalize their districts by leveraging unique assets – from cultural or architectural heritage to local enterprises and community pride.

There is no fee to attend, but registration is required. 

  • Applications will only be available to those communities represented at the workshops January 17, Athens 1-4 pm: Center for Lifelong Learning, 121 South Marion Street  Register
  • January 24, Birmingham 1-4 pm: The 880 Building, 880 Montclair Road  Register

January 31, Wetumpka 9 am-Noon: Wetumpka Civic Center, 410 South Main Street Register

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events         

Dec. 19, 5:30 p.m. –  Candlelight Tour                                               Governor’s Mansion



Tourism Tuesdays is a free electronic newsletter produced by the Alabama Tourism Department. It contains news about the state tourism department and the Alabama tourism industry.

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Alabama Tourism Department