One of my favorite movies is Tim Burton’s Big Fish, a 2003 film about Edward Bloom, a former traveling salesman from Alabama with a gift for storytelling, who is confined to his deathbed. Bloom’s estranged son, Will, attempts to mend their relationship as his dying father relates tall tales of his eventful life as a young adult.
I won’t give away any more of the plot; if you enjoy tall tales such as those only a Southerner can tell, it’s definitely worth giving it a watch.
What I began to appreciate as I got older, however, were the familiar scenes. Big Fish was filmed almost exclusively in Alabama, mostly in Wetumpka and Montgomery. I’m proud to say that one of the more important scenes was even filmed at my alma mater, Huntingdon College. The one place I could never recognize, though, was the town of Spectre. In the film, Edward Bloom (played by Ewan McGregor) has taken an abandoned path through a supposedly haunted forest where he discovers a magical, sleepy little town. Spectre is made up of two neat rows of homes and businesses leading up to a humble, white church. No roads lead to Spectre, which rests on its perfectly trimmed and lush grass clearing.
(After rewatching the film this weekend, I admit that I was absolutely disgusted with how beautiful Spectre’s lawn was and sorely disappointed with my own. But I digress.)
I always assumed Spectre was a set, and I was right. What I was surprised to find was that Spectre still stands. Sort of.
I left early Sunday morning with a couple of friends and we made the hour-long trip to Millbrook, a small town just north of Montgomery off I-65. Down an unassuming dirt road we found what was left of Spectre; only some of the original buildings remain, a recent fire has destroyed the rest of them. The scorch marks are still visible on their foundations. Nature is, as it always has, slowly reclaiming what man has left behind.
I strolled down the short road and ventured into each building, mindful of rotting wood and exposed nails, and found that they most were hollow, lacking even a floor. Doors have fallen off hinges, the fake brick is peeling off the chimneys in chunks, and the roofs have begun to sag and cave in places. Over all, it was a pretty desolate scene.
But there is still some magic there. What is left of Spectre is located on a peninsula in the middle of the Alabama River, only connected to the mainland by a thin land bridge. The Spanish moss hangs heavy here, and wildflowers grow thick among the ruins. There’s a massive, broken, stone table near the edge of the water where one can sit and watch the river. Sometimes a fishing boat will roar by, but the quiet always settles again shortly after it passes. There’s a peace there, one that you will only find deep in the wilderness. Perhaps it is the one Burton intended Spectre to have.
Our trip lasted only an hour, partially hurried on by a rather cantankerous possum that had tired of our presence, but it was one I needed. I feel lucky to have had a chance to visit the town before it succumbs fully to nature, and I encourage anyone who is interested to take the journey. Though fictional, I believe that the decaying town of Spectre is still casting its spell on those who stumble upon it.