Hank slept here

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 5, 2009

The town of Goshen’s not exactly a tourist destination, but it does boast a bit of unique hillbilly history.

And, if plans come to fruition, those plans just might put Goshen on the Hank Williams Trail. Already folks are slowing when they pass Goshen Town Hall to take a gander at the unusual “trap” that is occupying a prominent place in town.

Some folks are curious about the contraption and but most locals are in the know. And, even some of those in-the-know folks are asking, “Why’s that thing out here by the street?”

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Mayor Jack Waller and Councilman Carter Sanders have a ready answer.

“Because the old Manly Jail Works jail is part of the town’s legend and lore.”

The “trap” is actually a steel jail – portable if six to eight mules were around to haul it. That old jail served the Goshen area for “pert near” 30 years. That alone would make it an item of interest, but what makes it worthy of legendary status is that “Hank Williams Sr. slept here.”

Hank Williams is a legend and he’s part of the lore of Goshen and Pike County.

Williams played with medicine shows all around the area during the mid 1940s. He met the girl that he would marry at a medicine show in Banks — a local girl from the Shiloh community, Audrey Sheppard.

“From everything that has been told, Hank Williams played with medicine shows in Goshen quite a lot,” Sanders said. “Back in July of 1943, he was with a week long medicine show here. That’s when he stayed overnight in the town’s jail and became a part of the folklore of Goshen.”

Jeanene Drinkard was a just a young girl but she remembers going to the medicine show with her cousin.

“That was back during World War II and there wasn’t a lot to do so, when a medicine show came to town, everybody was excited and we all went,” she said. “There was a platform on the back of a trailer and that’s where the show would be. There was nowhere to sit down so we just all stood around. There would probably be from 200 to 300 people of all ages. Going to the medicine show was a family thing. The show and the singing would last probably two hours but we didn’t get tired of standing. We were having a good time.”

Every night that week, town folks and folks from all around the town gathered to listen to the “barker” but they especially came to hear Hank Williams and the band.

The barker would tell a few jokes and deliver the sales pitch between songs and promise that his “medicine” was a cure-all for every ailment on earth.

“What I remember is that what he was selling was in a bottle,” Drinkard said. “He said it was medicine but most folks said it was just whiskey.”

And, for some that was good tasting “medicine” and worth every penny they spent for it.

However, others remember the “medicine” a different way.

“What I’ve heard is that the medicine was a powder that had to be mixed with water and let stand for a week,” Sanders said laughing. “A week was long enough for the medicine show to get out of town.”

Williams was known to enjoy the liquid spirits and was kind of partial to Goshen because there was beer joint on one end of town and a saloon on the other.

“He would walk the town from one end to the other,” Sanders said, laughing.

One night, the town’s police chief, Ralph Linton, took Williams on a horseback ride. The story is that they were gone for quite a while. When they came back, Williams had consumed more “medicine” than he could handle and fell off the horse. Linton helped him to his feet and gave him a bed for the night in the town’s portable jail.

“Hank Williams would have been about 19 years old at the time and he was said to be a rather cocky young man,” said Raymond Hill of Lakeland, Fla.

“My dad, B.A. Hill, was quite a fan of the hillbilly singer and he paid his bail.

When Hank Williams was told that he was free to go, he jumped down off the top bunk, brushed off his shirt and jeans and walked out without saying as much as a “thank you” to the man who paid his bail.”

The story could have ended there but it didn’t. According to the legend, Williams wrote a song titled “The One-Eyed Sheriff of Goshen.”

The song was about the lawman that got him drunk and then locked him up.

Of course, Linton wasn’t the sheriff but he did have one eye so it was rather obvious the song was about him.

No one has ever been able to find a copy of the song and some say Williams never wrote such a song. But it makes for a good story.

“But we do know that on July 31, 1943, Hank Williams Sr. spent the night in the Goshen portable steel jail made by Manly Jail Works of Dalton, Ga., patent pending,” Sanders said.

“We have a written record of his incarceration and his release on a $10 bail. That’s enough proof to make our old jail a part of the Hank Williams Sr. legend.”

So, the old jail that has languished behind “town” for many years has now been given a place of prominence on Goshen’s Main Street.

“Sheriff Russell Thomas has agreed to let some of the county’s inmates come down and scrape and paint the old jail,” said Mayor Jack Waller.

“We want to restore the jail and promote its connection to Hank Williams Sr., who is a legend and a part of Goshen’s history.”

Neither Waller nor Sanders would go so far as to say that old jail where Hank Williams slept will bring a backlog of tourist to Goshen, but they did say that it’s significant enough to be included on the Hank Williams Trail that runs along Alabama’s Lost Highway.

Whether that will happen is yet to be seen but, if the old steel jail continues to be a “show shopper,” it just might happen.

If not, it will continue to be a part of Goshen lore and give local residents a story to tell.