Huggin’ Molly | Abbeville, Alabama
The Legend of Huggin’ Molly has many versions, and they all vary. A description often depicts her as a giant of a woman. The figure was said to be as much as 7 feet tall, wearing dark clothing and a wide-brimmed hat, and as big around as a bale of cotton. Some say her ghost still walks the streets of Abbeville late in the night, sweeping her black skirt as she goes. If she happens upon you, she chases you down, gives you a huge hug and screams in your ear. The black-hooded woman roamed the town’s streets for many years, reportedly for the purpose of catching unsuspecting citizens and hugging them to death. Claims are that this character actually was not a “ghost”, and appeared as a human with unusual powers. A number of Abbeville natives encountered the hooded “lady in black” and lived to tell about it.
“…..On a cold, dark, rainy night…..so bitterly cold, damp, and dark…..when even street lights won’t burn, and the striking of a match refuses to yield the tiniest flame….on nights like this, Huggin’ Molly comes out of her lair and roams the streets of Abbeville to see whom she can find.”
Thus began the ghostly tale of Huggin’ Molly, a story that frightened and thrilled children and teenagers of Abbeville, Alabama, from the early 1900s through the middle of the century and beyond. Legend claims a phantom woman would appear to children, but only at night. She would squeeze them tightly, then scream in their ears. She never harmed them, other than perhaps causing some ringing in their ears. One version of the story claims Molly was the ghost of a woman who had lost an infant who dealt with the tragedy by hugging local children. Another state Molly was a professor at the former Southeast Alabama Agriculture School who was trying to keep students safe by keeping them off the streets at night.
So fearsome was the name of this man or woman in the town that children in play at the elementary school scurried for the safety of their homes upon hearing, “It’s time for Huggin’ Molly!” Abbeville’s young people of that time frequently heard this cry, and even hulking six-foot teenagers were not immune to the terror engendered by the awesome creature.
One account given by Mack Gregory, who was born in 1901 and owned Abbeville’s Lawson Gregory Grocery Store for over sixty years, described a “meeting” of sorts with the infamous creature as a teenager. After delivering groceries for the store on a Saturday, he trudged toward his home on East Washington Street. Dark had descended upon the town, and in those days, there were no lights on the side streets. Soon he found he could barely see the path ahead. He heard footsteps and realized that someone was following him. When he turned around, he could barely discern a large black-robed shape about ten yards behind him. The form appeared to be keeping pace with his steps, so he immediately began walking faster. The figure in black walked faster, closing the gap between them. Gregory, afraid and anxious to be rid of the creature, slowed his steps to see what his tormentor would do. The man or woman, who he now believed to be Huggin’ Molly, adjusted his gait to that of Gregory’s.
The frightened teenager, afraid to run for fear the large hooded figure could easily outdistance him, kept a fast trot toward his lighted house, now less than a city block away. When young Mack drew close enough to see the steps of his home, he broke into a run and jumped onto the front porch. The unlocked door opened easily in his hands (people rarely locked their houses in those days), and he escaped into the safety and security of his home. He managed, however, to complete future grocery deliveries in Abbeville well before dark
During the 1950s and 1960s, various Abbeville citizens shared similar tales, all passed down from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who encountered Huggin’ Molly and lived to tell about it. Due to the nature of oral tradition, it is likely that the present-day stories of Abbeville’s Huggin’ Molly are partly fact and partly a product of an imaginative storyteller or two, trying to frighten his listeners; some could be the result of multiple re-tellers’ interpretations and embellishments. No one seems to have clear answers as to this individual’s identity, and even less information exists as to why he or she chose to don a hooded black robe and frighten the townspeople, often children and teenagers. Since a number of Abbeville citizens, both black and white, reported more than a few sightings at different times, natives assumed Huggin’ Molly was one of their own, rather than an outsider.
The following story is an account of another version of this tale: Shortly before the turn of the century, a young woman of Abbeville became pregnant out of wedlock. In those times, this was a circumstance forgivable only by God and slowly, if ever, forgotten by man. The mother gave birth to a baby boy but never married the father, a young Abbeville man from a prominent family, and she died soon after the baby’s birth. According to Dr. Blacklidge, who attended her at birth and shortly afterward at her death, the young mother died from poisoning. The presumed father of the baby was soon arrested and convicted of the murder. Rumors around Abbeville at that time suggested that he tried to get the mother to nurse the baby, but she refused, realizing that she had consumed the poison. The young man, convicted of the crime and sentenced to hang, escaped and fled Abbeville for Texas, a place where, at that time, one could simply disappear. The baby grew up and, according to Mrs. Glover’s account, was often seen lying across his mother’s grave crying for her. The town’s old-timers say he lived a sad, short life.
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