HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – You can’t always get the full story from history books or even on the Internet. But a native son of the Rocket City has engaged the citizens of Huntsville in a conversation about the past, and it’s caught on like wildfire.
William Hampton did so through the Facebook page Huntsville Revisited. The popularity of the site is no secret, but for the longest time, the identity of the page’s administrator remained a mystery.
“Concerts, restaurants, hotels that once stood — and I once told someone on the page, hey, take a picture of it — the ‘it’ being anything– because in 50 years, it won’t be here,” Hampton said.
This hometown historian’s page has hundreds of albums and thousands of photographs each with a life all their own. With just a quick scroll or swipe through the Huntsville Revisited Facebook page, you remember the last time you took a stroll through “The Mall”, bit into a Sno-Wite burger on the square or took a dip in the city pool where the Huntsville Museum of Art now stands.
Behind it all is one man and a couple thousand history-loving Huntsvillians. All agree the Rocket City’s legacy goes far beyond rockets.
“Being a native son, I love to hear the stories that my grandmother, my grandfather my great grandparents would tell,” explains Hampton.
The music manager, retail store owner and father of two says he is connected to every corner of Huntsville.
“North, south, east and west,” proclaims Hampton, “I went to eight different schools — not because of any disciplinary problems,” Hampton chuckles. “We were poor and moved around a lot.”
Hampton says his mother and grandmother worked for some of the area’s most prominent families: The Pearsalls, the Braggs and the Traylors. Growing up in households all over the city equipped Hampton with plenty stories of his own.
“Everything can’t be found in the library or in the history books or even from the history professors,” he says. “Within our own families there are stories. So Huntsville Revisited gives us a chance to go sit on grandma’s front porch and hear the stories from the elders, the uncles, the aunts.”
Hampton is a natural storyteller. He says for him, the tall tales are what it’s all about.
“The stories are so beautiful and so diverse and there are those who, believe it or not, haven’t heard and don’t know the real stories,” says Hampton. “They’re out there but I love to go and dig and I go dig in places that others don’t — I will knock on any door and I’ll ask anyone for a photo.”
Hampton says many people contribute to the Facebook page with jewels of times past on their own accord, leading to copious amounts of fan page fodder.
“Huntsville Revisited gives us an opportunity as Huntsville citizens, those who love the city, to share stories, and I might forget one little tidbit, but another friend of the page can say, no, remember that it happened this way?” Hampton says.
That active participation paired with the pointed popularity of the page creates the wholeness Hampton says he was looking to foster.
“It is certainly alive and we’re actually family and I try to promote it as such that we’re Huntsville family,” says Hampton. “It’s actually a photo album — it’s a family photo album.”
It is indeed an album that spans everything from Madison County slave dwellings to celebrity sitings. Hampton says the inclusiveness of the page is one of the reasons he initially kept his own identity a mystery.
“They’d ask hey, who are you, why won’t you tell us who you are? I’ll reveal it one day, but I wanted Huntsville Revisited to be about Huntsville, not about me as a person,” admits Hampton. “And unfortunately, there are those who would have judged the site based on who I am and I wanted it to stand on its own merit and even the issue of race — I didn’t want anyone to think it was the BET of Huntsville history — this is Huntsville’s history; beautiful, diverse, multicultural and I always tell people to stay tuned because we have so much more in store.”
It’s the darkroom of the collective story of each one of us. Whether young or old, black or white, rocket scientist or budding artist — through the challenges, adversities, triumphs and accomplishments it’s Huntsville — revisited.
“Because that legacy lives… it lives on and on,” Hampton said.
Hampton says the original Huntsville Revisited Facebook friend page reached its capacity causing him to start a second fan page. But Hampton says new stories, experiences and photographs are always welcome. A stand-alone Huntsville Revisited website is currently in the works, so stay tuned.