On March 6, 1891, Louanna Harris Cagle gave birth to a prophet.
Her son worked a farm in Mountainboro, Alabama, a forgotten city absorbed by Boaz in 2009. Walt Cagle knew the weather. His predictions were often accurate, if not precise, and his arrival in Boaz for winter shopping a joyous occasion.
Cagle claimed that he watched the chipmunks and squirrels. He stared into the trees for hours and noted where they buried their acorns, he knew the size and frequency of each stash. The patterns of the little forest animals told him all he needed about the coming months.
People drove from far and wide to see the man. They made the trek from all over Alabama, from eastern Tennessee, and from as far afield as Atlanta to hear his predictions. Stores opened early and closed late on the day he planned to arrive. It could snow and gust and the sky might lob hail all it wanted, but Sand Mountain knew that winter started when Walt Cagle picked up his pants.
For you see, Walt Cagle ate twenty biscuits a day.
Often described as a giant, he stood 6’2″ tall and weighed in at over five hundred pounds. He dwarfed almost every other man in Depression-era Alabama. As such, no garment mill in the state could fill his clothing orders. Instead a tailor named S.H. Leeth fashioned pants and ordered 24 yards of flannel every August that his unfortunate yet aptly named wife, Minnie J. Cagle, fashioned into heavy winter underwear.
Although Cagle came to Boaz to pick up his annual set of pants for most of his adult life, he remained a regional phenomenon until 1935, when the city began celebrating “Walt Cagle Day,” to kick off the winter season. Suddenly newspapers from around the nation found his story enthralling and by 1937, he received fan mail from every corner of America. Several circuses tried to entice him to join their retinue as a special exhibit and a museum even requested a used pair of his flannel underwear.
On June 29, 1938, Walt Cagle died. A mortician from Albertville offered to design his coffin, taller and wider than any before it. Sixteen men carried Cagle to his final resting place – the Thrasher Cemetery in Mountainboro.
Winter has surprised north Alabama every year since.
“Big Walt Cagle Sees His Fan Mail Pour In.” The Tuscaloosa News (Tuscaloosa, AL), January 19, 1937.
“Boaz Prepares to Greet Cagle.” The Tuscaloosa News (Tuscaloosa, AL), December 1, 1936.
“Cagle Descends From Mountain.” The Tuscaloosa News (Tuscaloosa, AL), December 2, 1936.
“Huge Weather Prophet Honored by Villagers.” The Evening Independent (St. Petersburg, FL), December 3, 1936.
“Sixteen Pallbearers To Carry Walt Cagle.” The Tuscaloosa News (Tuscaloosa, AL), June 30, 1938.
“Walt Cagle, 550-Pound Weather Prophet, Dies.” The Tuscaloosa News (Tuscaloosa, AL), June 29, 1938.
“Walt Cagle’s Around the Mountain, Winter’s Official in North Alabama.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), December 19, 1935.
“Walt is Ready for Winter Now.” Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, SC), December 19, 1935.
“Winter and Walt Breeze into Boaz.” The Tuscaloosa News (Tuscaloosa, AL), December 18, 1935.