Maybe they’re names you know, or maybe you don’t know the name but you know what they did. Whether they kicked a planet out of the solar system or inspired a Disney character or set a record for television audience or weighed a half-ton, Huntsville has had an impact on famous figures that have had an impact on the world.
In this first part of a series on famous Huntsvillians, we celebrate four larger-than-life locals, and give suggestions on how your visit to Huntsville could include a fun diversion to pay homage to the greats.
The Huntsvillian: Huntsville’s most famous actress, Tallulah Bankhead was born here in 1902 and went on to be a star of screen and stage in the U.S. and England, originating multiple classic roles on Broadway. She was also well-known for her off-screen exploits and larger-than-life personality; among the characters she inspired was Disney’s Cruella De Vil, whom the studio described as "a manic take-off on famous actress Tallulah Bankhead."
The Pilgrimage: Bankhead’s birthplace is located on Huntsville’s courthouse square, cattycorner from Harrison Brother’s Hardware. Walk by the home and then go get something to eat or drink in one of several restaurants or bars a short distance away.
The Huntsvillian: His Twitter handle says it all: “@plutokiller.” Most astronomers are known for the things they discovered, and Mike Brown’s roster of worlds he spotted in the outer reaches of our solar system secures him a place in astronomy history. But he’s best known for his role in the demotion of Pluto, as told in his book, “How I Killed Pluto And Why It Had It Coming.” Brown is a native of Huntsville and graduated from Grissom High School (named for an astronaut) here in 1983.
The Pilgrimage: Get in touch with your inner astronomer at the INTUITIVE Planetarium at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. There’s a show perfect for you whether you’re wanting to inspire your kids to be the next Mike Brown (Is Mercury next?) or enjoy a romantic date night under the “stars.”
The Huntsvillian: Today Huntsville is “The Rocket City,” famed for our cutting-edge role in technology and science. Back in 1892, however, we got our first electric lights because of a cow. To be fair, however, this was not just any cow – Lily Flagg was deemed one of the four greatest Jersey cows in history and barred from butter-producing competition because she was so far out of the league of other cows she was “acknowledged to be unapproachable.” The lights were for a party given by her owner, Samuel Moore, when she set a world record for butter production.
The Pilgrimage: Drive by the Moore-Rhett House at 603 Adams St SE, the home of Lily Flagg’s owner that he once painted butter yellow in her honor, and then head to Cozy Cow in Big Spring Park for some ice cream.
The Huntsvillian: He’s not a Huntsville native and his time here is less well-known, but Alex Haley, author of Roots, Queen and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, spent his adolescence in the Huntsville area while his father taught at Alabama A&M University on the north side of the city. The miniseries based on Roots broke the record for television audience, and his work raised public awareness of African-American History.
The Pilgrimage: Walk in Haley’s footsteps by visiting Alabama A&M University’s historic and beautiful campus where he spent time.
Do you have a favorite famous or historic Huntsvillian you’d like to see included in a future entry? Let us know!