Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Ghost of Sketoe's Hole - Newton, Alabama

One of the South's more fascinating ghost stories centers around a spot on the banks of the Choctawhatchee River in Newton, Alabama.

Like many such stories, the legend preserves the memory of a real event. On December 3, 1864, a local man named William "Bill" Sketoe was hanged at Newton by men from Captain Joseph Breare's company of Alabama militia cavalry. The Civil War was then raging and the men accused Sketoe of deserting from the Confederate army. The story preserved by his family is that Sketoe had hired a substitute to fight in his place and was at home caring for a sick wife.

According to the legend, Sketoe proclaimed his innocence to no avail and as he was strung up, prayed that God would forgive the men involved in his hanging.

Things did not go quickly for the man. As he dangled from the limb of a water oak, his feet touched the ground and saved him from instant death. One of Breare's men, however, supposedly used a crutch to dig out a hole under Sketoe's feet so that he could no longer touch ground. He died and was buried at the Mount Carmel Cemetery in nearby Echo, Alabama.

Sketoe's Hole, as the spot became known, was a landmark for residents of the Newton area for more than 125 years. It could be filled up with trash or other debris, but the hole would strangely be cleaned out each night. The unusual activities led to the rise of a ghost story in the vicinity and many became firmly convinced that the ghost of Bill Sketoe still swung at night from the long vanished oak limb at the site. It was said that his swinging feet brushed the hole clean.

The story achieved a measure of fame when it was told as "The Hole that will not Stay Filled" in Kathryn Tucker Windham's popular book, Thirteen Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey.

To learn something of the true history of the story and to find out what eventually happened to Sketoe's Hole, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sketoe.


Jim Faust said...

Bill Sketoe never served in the Confederate Army so he couldn't have been a deserter. I have researched this extensively and challenge anyone to produce any document to show that he was in the Army. He should have been since he was within the age group of the 2nd and 3rd Conscript Acts of the Confederate Congress. Contrary to popular belief, the Home Guard didn't hang deserters or conscript dodgers. The people who were hung in Dale County were allegedly in collusion with the 1st Florida Cavalry operating out of northwest Florida.

Dale said...

Jim, I generally agree with your conclusions. The unit that did the Sketoe hanging was actually not a Home Guard company, however, but a "Conscription Company" that operated under orders of the Confederate, not state, government. That's one update I have to the original story. I have not found any evidence that he served in the Confederate army either, although several of his close relatives were in Florida units. He was exempt from conscription as a Methodist minister. I do disagree somewhat on whether deserters or conscript dodgers were hanged in the area. Quite a few others actually were hanged. I do not believe, barring the discovery of new documentation, however, that Sketoe was a deserter. Follow the link to the main story for more detailed information.


violanders said...

Dale, I am working on a project about Windham's ghosts for school. I am an elementary school librarian. Could I use your picture of Bill Sketoe's hole in a Google Lit Trip?

Dale said...

Absolutely, help yourself! I also have some of the Face in the Window if you need those as well.