In the summers of the late ’90s, before my brother, cousins or I could drive, we were at the constant mercy of our grandfather, Jim Shaffer. Jim was the only retired, or nonworking, family member at the time, and it was at his sole discretion as to what the day would hold for us. (Funny enough, adults like Matt Hare have told me stories of being held captive by him as well and waking up at the beach.)
Lucky for us kids, he loved SnoBiz more than we did, so that is usually where we would start.
He had a blue-ish green Buick, and he would cart us from Alexander City to Roanoke to Horseshoe Bend National Military Park and back more times than I can remember. What I do remember specifically, though, is when he took us to Gravity Hill in Sylacauga – nothing like a 40-minute drive up the highway to waste a little time.
A quick cruise on the internet revealed that many local Sylacauga folks claim that it is, in fact, haunted.
I was sitting in my house one Sunday morning, trying to come up with a topic for this column better than Gravity Hill because I didn’t really feel like driving up there. But I had wanted to do this for a while.
I knew I needed for someone to go with me to take photos and film it, and the person would need to be up for a nonsensical morning. I texted my best friend Alana Collingsworth, and she was instantly game for the trip – as long as she didn’t have to put makeup on.
In the spirit of Jim Shaffer (Alana logged a lot of miles with him, too), we loaded up on a bright, clear Sunday, armed with coffee and a sense of adventure, and off we went in search of Gravity Hill.
The phenomenon of this place is that when your car is in neutral, it will roll uphill.
Remarkably, this is a common illusion found in numerous locations around the world, which have become tourist attractions. I found an article from 1996 by Philip Gibbs that explained it: “Usually it is a stretch of road in a hilly area where the level horizon is obscured. Objects such as trees and walls that normally provide visual clues to the true vertical, may be leaning slightly. This creates an optical illusion, making a slight downhill look like an uphill slope. Objects may appear to roll uphill.”
So, while it seems there is some magnetic force at play, it is really only an illusion. The biggest factor is the obstructed horizon.
The mysterious street is located right off U.S. Highway 280. You really have to know where to look because there is no street sign. We finally pulled off on an unassuming road that looked like any another. ‘This better still be a thing!’ was my first reaction upon arrival.
We pulled onto Gravity Hill, and it took us a moment to get in the right spot. We were dying laughing, as I was not doing it the right way at first. Finally, we got into the correct position, and Alana hopped out to document the monumental occasion. Miraculously, once my Jeep was in neutral, it did indeed roll uphill very slowly and ghostly. I was just as mind blown as I was 25 years ago. It was totally worth the trip.
So the next time you are coming or going through Sylacauga, or are looking for a Sunday adventure, pull over and gift your passengers with a trip to Gravity Hill. And while you are at it, make up a good ghost story about it.
If it’s summertime, stop at the SnoBiz in front of the Walmart, too. I know Jim Shaffer would.
~ Lacey Howell is a recovering English major from Auburn, who now lives on Lake Martin, sells real estate, rides horses and loves good wine. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram @LaceyHowell.