Lightning Portrait Etched in Window
Towns sometimes go to great expense to make their municipal buildings memorable, adding sculpture and monuments. The Pickens County Courthouse in Carrollton became unforgettable for free, thanks to its face in a window, also known as "The Lightning Portrait of Henry Wells."
According to local lore, Wells, a former slave, was accused of burning the original Pickens County Courthouse. He was arrested two years later. As the town had no jail, Wells was locked in the garret of the new courthouse. A mob of locals gathered outside to lynch him.
As Wells peered out the garret window on January 29, 1878, a bolt of lightning struck nearby and permanently etched his terrified expression into the windowpane. The lightning also apparently scattered the lynch mob, but Wells died less than two months later "of wounds received while attempting to escape."
The lightning photo is still visible today, only from the outside. An arrow bolted to the exterior wall, three floors up, directs you to the miraculous face.
According to one RA tipster: "Through all the years, in spite of hail and storm, which has destroyed all the windows in the courthouse, this one pane has remained intact. It has been scrubbed with soap and rubbed with gasoline by those who doubt its permanence, but it has met every test and the face remains unchanged. At close range the pane looks clear and flawless, but viewed from the ground where once gathered an angry mob, the fear-distorted face of Henry Wells can be clearly seen!"
Another lightning portrait has been reported in Clay's Ferry, Kentucky, of a slave's face burned into the upper window of a three story house. Also in Kentucky, the lightning portrait of an angry bather supposedly haunts the turret window of an old house on Hwy 79 in Russelville.
The 130th anniversary of the Face in the Window passed without fanfare in Carrollton. "I don't think anybody took the time to realize that it's been 130 years," the town clerk told us. "We just know it's there." The clerk also said that, despite reports we'd received from nervous tipsters, the Courthouse was never threatened with demolition; it was simply being renovated. Carrollton, said the clerk, would never tear down its most famous building, even if it does carry the I'm-never-leaving curse of Henry Wells.