The death of legendary country music star Hank Williams is shrouded in mystery. However, there is no mystery behind visiting some of the most notable sights associated with Williams in his adopted hometown of Montgomery, Alabama.
In 1937, Hank, his mother, and his siblings moved to Montgomery from nearby Georgiana. It was in Montgomery that 13-year-old Hiram Williams started using “Hank” as his stage name. After winning a local talent show and landing a twice-weekly, 15-minute radio show, Hank dropped out of school in 1939 and began touring with The Drifting Cowboys.
He eventually moved to Nashville as his career gained momentum, but Montgomery remained close to his heart. He regularly visited his mother’s boarding house, and stayed with her briefly following a spinal fusion surgery in 1951. Hank also visited town in late 1952 before embarking upon what would be his final concert tour.
Many sights in Montgomery have changed since Williams’s death in 1953. So fans expecting to see places preserved with original pieces and reflecting the 1950s will be disappointed. However, there are still plenty of sights connected to the country legend to fill an entire day.
Here are the five key spots that every Hanks Williams fan should visit in Montgomery:
Oakwood Cemetery Annex (1304 Upper Wetumpka Road)
Any visit to Montgomery to see sights connected to Hank Williams should start with his final resting place. His grave is in the Oakwood Cemetery Annex, which is about a five-minute drive from downtown.
Fans wishing to pay their final respects to the legend can follow the aptly-named Hank Williams Memorial Circle to the grave site. The best parking spot for photographs is on the right-hand side just as you spot the bright artificial grass of the grave site. If you want to take pictures of the back of the monuments erected to honor Hank and his first wife Audrey, you should park before the grave site so that your car is not in the photograph.
The Hank Williams Museum (118 Commerce Street)
After paying your respects at his grave, fans should head downtown to visit The Hank Williams Museum. It houses the largest collection of memorabilia associated with the star. The museum contains many of his suits made by Nudie’s of Hollywood, his 1939 high school yearbook, and most notably his 1952 Cadillac. The baby blue Cadillac is notorious for being the vehicle that Hank died in while being driven to a concert in Canton, Ohio.
Hank William Statue (216 Commerce Street)
Just one block from The Hank Williams Museum is a life-size statue of the country music legend. It stands in the median of Commerce Street about a block from the city’s River Walk. It originally stood on North Perry Street across from city hall, which is where his funeral service was held in 1953. According to a historic marker near city hall, Hank Williams Jr. commissioned Texas sculptors Doug and Sandra McDonald to create the statue. However, the statue did not attract the crowds city leaders expected, and it was relocated to its current location in 2016.
Municipal Auditorium (103 North Perry Street)
There was only one venue in Montgomery large enough to host Williams’s funeral in 1953. Municipal Auditorium was city’s primary concert venue, and seated 3,000 people. According to newspaper reports at the time, another 20,000 people lined the street outside the venue to pay their final respects.
After nearly 30 years of neglect, the city renovated the venue in 2011. Since then it has served as the city council’s chambers. There is a historic marker across the street from the building that details Williams’s funeral.
Elite Café (121 Montgomery Street)
Hank Williams’s final public performance was an impromptu event. On Dec. 28, 1952, Williams was asked to sing during an American Federation of Musicians holiday party at the Elite (pronounced E-light) Café. The Elite opened in 1911, and was a Montgomery institution before it closed in 1990.
After several years of vacancy, D’Road Café filled the the former spot of the Elite in 2016. The current establishment seats up to 50 people and serves Latin American fare. So much has changed from when Hank last visited this spot, but the new restaurant allows visitors to sit in the place where he last performed.
Getting Around Town
After starting a tour with a stop at Oakwood Cemetery Annex, it is best to find a parking spot along Commerce Street and walk to the other four sights in downtown. There are a handful of public lots, but metered parking along most streets costs $1 for two hours. Many parking spots along Commerce Street now feature digital meters that accept credit cards in addition to coins.