Monday, February 15, 2016

BUCKET LIST UPDATE No. 258: Visit the Boyington Oak in Mobile

Mobile, Alabama's Boyington Oak.
Simply put, the Boyington Oak in Mobile is one of the most unusual locations in all of Alabama. I first heard about this mysterious tree years and years ago, and I’ve always wanted to see it for myself in person, which is why I put a trip to this oak on my “bucket list” several years ago. Last Thursday while in Mobile, I took a detour on the way home and officially saw this tree up close for the first time.

As best that I can remember, I first heard of the Boyington Oak when I was in elementary school and read about it in Kathryn Tucker Windham’s 1982 book, “Jeffrey’s Latest 13: More Alabama Ghosts.” Windham devoted an entire 13-page chapter to the Boyington Oak and relayed the story behind its unusual origin. For those of you unfamiliar with the tale, here’s the gist of it.

According to Windham and other sources, a printer (and reputed gambler) named Charles R.S. Boyington moved to Mobile from Connecticut in 1833. On May 11, 1834, witnesses saw Boyington walking with Nathaniel Frost, who supposedly owed Boyington money, near Mobile’s Church Street Graveyard. Not long after that, Frost was found stabbed to death beneath a chinquapin tree near the cemetery.

The next day, Mobile city officials responded to this “most atrocious murder” by offering a $250 reward for the arrest and conviction of Boyington. Boyington fled Mobile, but three days later two Mobile newspapers reported that Boyington had been captured on the steamboat James Monroe at Claiborne, in Monroe County, not far from where I live today. A sheriff’s posse returned Boyington to Mobile aboard the steamboat Currier, and he was placed in the Mobile City Jail on murder charges.

Boyington was eventually found guilty of Frost's murder, and he was executed by hanging on Feb. 20, 1835. However, before he was put to death Boyington told the assembled crowd that a “mighty oak tree would spring from his heart as proof of his innocence.” After his death, Boyington was buried in the potter’s field section of the Church Street Graveyard and an oak tree – the Boyington Oak – eventually grew up out of his grave.

If you’d like to see the Boyington Oak for yourself, it’s easy. Just head to downtown Mobile and take Government Street to South Bayou Street. Then take South Bayou Street toward the Big Zion AME Zion Church, and as you approach the church, the Boyington Oak will be on your left, on the east side of the street between the curb and the brick wall around the Church Street Cemetery. If you make it to Church Street without seeing the oak, you’ve gone too far and need to turn around.

Last Thursday afternoon, around 3:30 p.m., I took a few minutes to see the Boyington Oak for myself. I parked on Church Street beside Big Zion AME Zion Church and took a number of pictures of the Boyington Oak as I approached it on foot. There were a few people around, but not many, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them knew the story behind the somewhat infamous Boyington Oak.

In the end, how many of you have visited the Boyington Oak? What did you think about it? What other “spooky” locations would you recommend visiting? Let us know in the comments section below.

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