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Black Belt ghost trail expected to boost tourism

Sometimes in the dead of night, if you look carefully at the corner room of the St. James Hotel on Water Avenue, you can see a shimmering light. Only, this isn’t a guest having the middle-of-the night willies. It’s likely the outlaw Jessie James looking out for the law.

The story goes, according to Bill Ezell, manager of the St. James, that the James brothers stayed here as they visited relatives in Selma. Each would take a room, preferably on the corner, so they could keep an eye out for the law. At one time, so the legend goes, the law came after them. Jessie and his brother, Frank, jumped out the window, into the Alabama River and escaped.

This and other ghost stories could start a tourism trend in this part of Alabama. And if it’s left up to Linda Vice, tourism director for Rural South Western Alabama, that’s what will happen.

“We have so many good stories here, and people will come to our area to hear them,” she said.

In fact, Vice and others believe this so much, they’ve begun to construct a ghostly tour of sorts Candace Johnson, tourism director for Selma and Dallas County, explained. Next week a team of four students from the University of Alabama Honors program will travel the Black Belt to film 13 short clips of local ghost stories for the Alabama’s Front Porches Tourism Web site. The clips will feature stories from Dallas, Perry and Wilcox counties.

“The clips will be posted on the Web site and will be the basis for a ghost trail that will eventually extend throughout the 11-county region. There will also be a downloadable MP3 audio version that tourists can download from the Web to use for a driving tour,” Johnson said.

The two tourism specialists expect the tours to really take off. “After all, who can resist a good ghost story?” asked Vice.