Whiskey Bottle Tombstone
Clayton City Cemetery on North Midway Street
Clayton, Alabama

Did he love whiskey more than life itself?

The grave of William T. Mullen is one of the most visited in Alabama for an unusual reason. It is the site of the state's famed "Whiskey Bottle Tombstone."

Mullen's grave was in Ripley's Believe It or Not! as well as countless blogs, vlogs, and travel articles. He was born in Georgia and had just turned 29-years-old when he died at Clayton on July 18, 1863. Local legend claims that he loved whiskey so much that he refused to stop drinking even after his doctor told him that continuing to do so would kill him.

When Mullen died despite this warning, the story continues, his wife buried him with a carving of a whiskey bottle as his monument. In fact, there are two whiskey bottle monuments on Mullen's grave. One stands at the head and a second at the foot. Visitors often leave a few coins in the bottle tops to help the man buy a drink in the afterlife!

So what is the real story of William T. Mullen and his unique tombstone?

The truth is that no one knows. Mullen was born at Talbotton, a small town about thirty-five miles northeast of Columbus, Georgia, on June 18, 1834. He lived in Barbour County, Alabama, by 1860, however, and it was there that he met and courted Mary A. Williams. The two married at Clayton on September 11, 1860.

Alabama Marriage Records for Barbour County show that the wedding was at the home of B. Williams and the ceremony conducted by Probate Judge J.S. Williams.

B. Williams, according to the 1860 census, was the jailor for Barbour County. He and wife Rhoda Williams lived in the county jail at Clayton with their six children, among whom was 20-year-old Mary. It was common in those days for a jailor and his family to live on the bottom floor of a two-story county jail, while the inmate cells were on the top floor.
The Pig Trail Scenic Byway winds through the beautiful mountain country of the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas. It starts near Ozark and ends in Brashears.

His unit later was re-labeled as (New) Company A, 5th Alabama Infantry.
Commanded by Col. (later Maj. Gen.) Robert E. Rodes, the 5th Alabama assembled at Montgomery in May 1861 and immediately boarded a train for Pensacola, Florida.

Pensacola Bay was the scene of a major confrontation between Union and Confederate forces in the spring of 1861. Mullen's regiment took a position on the shores of the bay in anticipation of a coming battle. The Alabamians were withdrawn from Pensacola before the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, however, and sent by rail to Virginia. The 5th became part of Ewell's Brigade.

Rodes and his men played a peripheral role in the Battle of Manassas (First Bull Run) on July 21, 1861, but Lt. Mullen was not present. He resigned his commission just three days before the engagement as the Union army was marching south from Washington, D.C.

William T. Mullen returned home to Clayton where he and Mary acquired a home and had a daughter. Named Mary Arabella Mullen, the little girl was born on June 17, 1862.

The family's bliss, sadly, was short-lived. William died on July 18, 1863. Mary Arabella died just one month later.

Tradition in Clayton tells of how Mary threatened to bury William beneath a whiskey bottle shaped tombstone unless he stopped drinking. Writers from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) recorded the story during the Great Depression:

...Mullins was a heavy drinker and his wife an ardent teetotaler. In her efforts to lead him away from this bad habit she tried everything - cajoling, nagging, threats. Finally she lost all patience and told him to go ahead and drink himself to death. She threatened to put a whiskey bottle tombstone at his grave and did.  

The story appears in the 1941 book:

No doubt devastated by the loss of her husband and daughter, Mary Mullen continued to live in Barbour County. Her father died between 1860 and 1870, leading her mother, two brothers, and two sisters to move in with her. By 1880, however, she no longer owned the house and lived as a boarder in the Clayton hotel of M.L. Hull. She made her living as a milliner or hat maker. 

The Whisket Bottle Tombstone stands in the Clayton City Cemetery on North Midway Street, Clayton, Alabama. The arched entrance is between the First Baptist Church and the First United Methodist Church. As you enter the cemetery, the tombstone will be just ahead on your left.
The Pig Trail is a primary way of reaching the beautiful and wild Mulberry River. This beautiful paddling stream flows down out of the Ozarks.
If the couple's marriage license information is correct, then they exchanged their wedding vows at the county jail!

The same 1860 census lists W.T. Mullen as a bookkeeper who lived in the Clayton hotel of M.J. Screws. Other permanent residents of the establishment included law students, a music teacher, clerks, a physician, teachers, a druggist, and one man listed merely as a "gentleman." 

The downtown hotel was not far from the courthouse and jail, and both Mullen and Mary Williams were commonly seen around the square and along Clayton's main streets. They likely met in this way or were introduced by familiar friends.

It was a critical time in American history, and the young couple married beneath the looming clouds of the War Between the States or Civil War. Alabama left the Union just four months after their wedding.

Mullen was held in high regard by the people of Clayton, as he was elected 2nd lieutenant of (Old) Company K, 5th Alabama Infantry, on May 15, 1861. 
The famed "Whiskey Bottle Tombstone" in Clayton, Alabama.

Click the play button below to set the mood for a visit with Willie Nelson performing Whiskey River!