|Hopewell Methodist Church at McWilliams, Alabama.|
I read in last week’s edition of The Progressive Era that the 39th Annual Hank Williams Festival will be held this coming Friday and Saturday in Georgiana. This festival is held each year to celebrate Hank Williams, who is known far and wide as one of the most famous Country and Western singer-songwriters of all time.
Hank Williams’s life was cut short at the age of 29 when he died on New Year’s Day 1953 on his way to a concert in Charleston, West Virginia. Hank and his mother, Lillian Skipper Williams, are both buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery, many miles from where Hank’s father and stepmother, Elonzo H. Williams and Ola T. Williams, are buried in Wilcox County.
With all of this in mind, the other day I found myself in McWilliams and took a few minutes to visit Elonzo and Ola’s graves, which are in the cemetery beside the old Hopewell Methodist Church on Hopewell Road, off State Highway 21, between McWilliams and Oak Hill. I parked in the empty lot across the road from the church and watched as a family of ugly brown and black lizards hurried beneath the front-door wheelchair ramp. The sign over the church entrance said, “Organized 1875.”
I got out of the truck, circled the building on foot and entered the cemetery through the gate behind the church. There, just a few steps inside the graveyard, I came upon the plot shared by Elonzo and Ola. Elonzo was born on Dec. 22, 1891 and passed away on Oct. 23, 1970 at the age of 78. Ola, who married Elonzo on Sept. 12, 1942 in Wilcox County, was born on Oct. 6, 1909 and died on Sept. 25, 2000 at the age of 90. Both of them were members of Hopewell Methodist Church.
|Grave of Elonzo H. and Ola T. Williams at McWilliams, Ala.|
Like his famous son, Elonzo lived an interesting life. He served in the U.S. Army in France during World War I and went on to work for the railroads and timber companies. During his life, he moved around a lot, living in various places in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
And although his tombstone bears no visible indication of the fact, Elonzo was also a Freemason. Hank’s birthmother, Lillian, was also a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic women’s group, and her headstone in Montgomery bears a prominent OES marker. Their Masonic affiliations played heavily into the story of their famous son, whose official birthname was Hiram King Williams. “Hank,” which was his nickname, was actually named “Hiram” by his parents in honor of Hiram of Tyre, a famous Phoenician king, who plays a prominent role in Masonic traditions.
Before leaving the Hopewell Methodist Church behind, I made a slow tour of the cemetery, which contains a number of old, unique graves. I found a number of graves belonging to Civil War and World War I soldiers as well as several century-old graves with coffin-shaped ledger stones unlike any I can remember ever seeing before.
Later at home, I poured through Masonic records in an attempt to determine which lodge Elonzo belonged to, but I was unable to determine which lodge he was a member of. Cokerville Lodge No. 75 in McWilliams was chartered on Dec. 6, 1856 but forfeited its charter in 1934, well before Elonzo’s death in 1970. In the end, if anyone in the reading audience knows what lodge or lodges Elonzo belonged to, please let me know because it will be an interesting fact to hammer down since it figures so heavily in the story of one of Alabama’s most famous musicians, Hiram King “Hank” Williams.