By Ed Walsh
You don’t usually associated the word unusual with Alabama or Montgomery but we’ll bet you didn’t know that most of the things below happened in, or were located in, Montgomery itself. See for yourself how many you already knew of:
1.First Flying School
Since the invention of their flying machine at Kitty Hawk, the Wright Brothers wanted to train pilots who could then fly their aircraft at shows around the country. They chose an area just outside Montgomery, Alabama, to be the location of that training school. While the school itself was not to be a success and only one pilot ever graduated, the area went on to become the prestigious Maxwell Field.
2. John Wilkes Booth
Famous as the man who shot President Abraham Lincoln, did you know that Booth was himself quite an accomplished actor? Ironically, Lincoln actually watched Booth perform in Ford’s Theater in 1863 during a performance of The MarbleHeart. Booth was an actor here in Montgomery on Monroe Street and starred in several Shakespeare plays. Sadly, while it was theater that gave Booth his life, it was theater too that ultimately took it away from him.
3. F. Scott Fitzgerald Museum
This museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to the author of the world-famous The Great Gatsby and his wife, Zelda (his wife was originally from Montgomery, Fitzgerald himself was actually from St. Paul, Minnesota). Ironically, the book didn’t bring Fitzgerald much money at the time it came out and he had to take a job as a screenwriter in Hollywood. The museum is filled with artifacts from their lives.
4. Historic Union Station
This Victorian building now houses the Visitor’s Center and Depot Gift Shop but at one point the town of Montgomery actually had six railroads running through it. Alas, the depot fell into disrepair and it wasn’t until 1982 that the structure was given a second lease of life as an office building. Later, after another 17 years, it was turned into the offices of the Visitor’s Bureau. The professional workers here will be sure to keep you on the right “track”, just as much as those railroads of old did.
5. The First Electric Street Car
No, it wasn’t in San Francisco as you might imagine. The first street car was in fact here in Montgomery, back in the 1880s. Having previously gotten around town by horse and buggy, residents of Montgomery could now live further out of town and development in non-city areas increased. The streetcar system lasted for 50 years until it was replaced by buses. It was the end of an era and fanfares and celebrations marked the occasion on the last day the streetcars were used.