During the 1930s, Great Depression era, many writers were employed to interview people and write stories about life in the United States. The program was named the U.S. Work Projects Administration, Federal Writers’ Project and it gave employment to historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and other white-collar workers. This is one of the unedited legends about the Earle family from Alabama that was recorded but it has two different heroines. Here are both versions. The colonial home mentioned in the stories where the sword was buried in the tree is Arlington and is still standing.
First story A Civil War Romance
November 18, 1935
On the South Ensley car line at 103 – Third Avenue North is located the colonial home of the Greene family. A blade protruding from a large oak tree on the grounds, recalls a wartime romance. Robert Earl made a vow to his sweetheart, regarding this blade. He promised his faithfulness so long as the blade remained in the tree. This promise was made during the turbulent days when the two sections of the county could no longer amicably settle their differences, with agreement or compromise. So Robert Earl was called to defend his country land.
Civil War soldiers (National Park Service)
Bravely faced his departure
This promise was made to Emma S. Smith, who, too, was of the “Old South”. She bravely faced the order of his departure to the battlefields, requesting only some token of faith and love. He offered the blade with these words, “As long as the blade remains in the tree, I’ll be true to you”.
During the tumultuous days which followed, the tree grew around the blade, holding it fast. Time elapsed and near the close of the struggle came and ill-fated message releasing Earl from his promise, though the blade remained in the tree as a silent token. Emma Smith felt that the promise was binding and throughout her life, remained true to her vow. The oak has grown to a giant tree, and still, the blade remains, a token of faith and love.
Clippings from Birmingham Public Library. For the correct name of heroine indebted to Mrs. E. R. McDavid, 3115 Clairmont Avenue, Birmingham, Alabama.
A Romance of the War-Between-The-States
On the front lawn of the Colonial home of the Earle family, in Birmingham, stands a large oak from which protrudes a steel blade, that suggests a war-time romance of members of two aristocratic Birmingham families.
More than sixty-five years ago, as Robert Earle was leaving to join the Confederate army, he bade his sweetheart farewell and plunged his sword into the oak tree saying: “As long as this blade remains in the tree, I’ll be true to you.” He then rode away.
The beautiful girl he left behind was Molly Mudd.
During the soldier’s absence, the sword remained in the tree just as he left it, and Molly often gazed on the blade and lost herself in reverie.
Near the close of the Civil War, word was received that Robert Earle had met death on the field of battle.
Years passed and the sword remained in the tree which grew large and stately.
Death claimed Molly, who, believing herself bound by a plighted troth, never married.
“A Civil War Romance,” Birmingham Age-Herald, August 2, 1921
Sword actually a scythe
According to Haunted Birmingham by Alan Brown, the sword is actually a scythe, and over time “the handle of the scythe eventually rotted off, leaving only the rusted blade in the tree. In the 1960s, during the construction of an apartment, the old oak tree was cut down, and the chunk of wood containing the scythe blade was taken to Arlington.” The scythe was misplaced for a time in Arlington, but it was discovered again on top of a secretary when the house was being remodeled. Now it is on display in Arlington. It is rumored that the spirit of the girl whose lover was killed in the Civil War often makes her presence known by slamming doors and rocking chairs in the mansion.