Not everyone knows that Homer Givens, America’s first World War I hero, was from Florence.
Likewise, famed blues musician W.C. Handy has a credit to his name that isn’t widely known: he’s the first man to write a blue note, the slurred tone that has become a blues trademark.
Those stories and 55 more are captured on two DVDs produced by the two-man team of Florence resident/local theater director David Hope and his former student, turned-filmmaker, Shane Wilson.
The two have been working together since 2006, identifying interesting historical markers, gathering research and making videos from the sites.
There are 120 historical markers posted throughout Colbert and Lauderdale County. So far, 57 of the 2 1/2- to 4-minute vignettes about the markers have been compiled on two DVDs.
The “Take A Minute, Read the Sign” series will be shown publicly at the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library at 10:30 a.m. March 22.
There will be a second public showing at Helen Keller Public Library in Tuscumbia at 2:30 p.m. April 6.
The short videos contain information filmed from sites ranging from the Sannoner District of Florence to the Tuscumbia Train Depot, the W.C. Handy Home and Coldwater Falls.
And it’s the little known facts uncovered in the vignettes that make the historical snapshots even more interesting.
“The vast majority of places in the country have nowhere near the amount of history that we do right here in the Shoals,” Hope said.
“We wanted people to realize what’s here and what they drive past every day. It was an eye-opener for us, too.”
The compilation of stories from the historical markers began as a project for Florence City Schools to be used in history classes. Hope went to work identifying markers and gathering research, crediting Lauderdale County License Commissioner William Smith and Florence historian and educator Billy Warren with providing much of the historical information.
Hope then went to work writing the stories behind the markers. He said Wilson was the first person to come to mind as a potential partner in the project.
Hope narrates the segments from each marker site and credits Wilson’s insights and creativity in filming as producing a professional product that “the whole area can take great pride in.”
“I knew Shane was brilliant with a camera, but he’s more than that; he’s an absolute poet with a camera,” Hope said. “The segment we did on the Trail of Tears is just beautiful.”
Financial resources were scarce while the two were putting the project together. Florence schools invested $5,000 to offset production cost.
Once the first DVD of 37 sites was completed, word began spreading about their project. Other school systems took interest. Lauderdale County and Muscle Shoals schools soon became partners and helped cover production costs, each providing $5,000 as well.
In 2011, Hope secured legislative funding, $25,000, to produce the second volume, which included 20 vignettes. He is now trying to obtain money to complete the project with the final installments. Of the 63 identified markers remaining, Hope said at least 30 are “film-worthy.”
“We knew we were onto something good because the quality far exceeded what we’d even expected,” Hope said. “Now, we see that this is a project that should go statewide. The response from schools has been tremendous.”
Pam Tanner, the secondary curriculum coordinator for Lauderdale County schools, said the DVDs have been used in the district’s classrooms, especially among social studies teachers from fourth grade to the secondary level.
“I sincerely believe the expansion of this project will be one of the greatest assets to our social studies program that we have ever seen in the state,” Tanner said.
The set of two DVDs will soon be distributed to all Shoals school systems, county and city governments, all libraries in the two counties, Colbert and Lauderdale tourism offices, the Shoals Chamber of Commerce and the area’s historical societies.
“This project will literally touch every citizen in the two counties,” Hope said.
Central High School media specialist, Bridgett West, in a letter to Hope, called the vignettes, “attention riveting.”
“It was amazing to see our students watching so intently,” she said. “It’s all right here under our noses and (Hope) is right — we really should stop and read the signs.”
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.
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