History of Montevallo inspires new work of fiction

Published 11:49 am Tuesday, October 8, 2013


MONTEVALLO – When Shelly Miller first visited the University of Montevallo’s campus, she looked around and thought, “Gosh, this would be a good book setting.” Then she started researching and delving into the place.

“I couldn’t believe the stuff I came up with,” Miller said.

Since then, Miller has published a work of historical fiction, “Whispered Secrets of the South: Montevallo, Alabama,” inspired by the small, Southern town. While officially labeled “fiction,” Miller said the stories are true.

“It involved a lot of research,” said Miller, who often stayed with her daughter, a student at UM, while she visited campus to “people watch” and rummage through its library for books with historical anecdotes. Miller said her book involves a lot of time traveling to different historical eras.

“I’m putting myself in there as a character who was never there, so that’s not true, but all of the stories are (true),” she said.

One such story Miller tells in her book is the story of Condie Cunningham, who attended the University of Montevallo when it was still an all-girls’ school. Cunningham was heating chocolate over a burner in her dorm room, her nightgown caught on fire and she burned to death, Miller said.

“After awhile, she started appearing in places,” said Miller, referring to the fact that many people claimed to see Cunningham’s ghost on doors. Miller incorporated Cunningham’s story, as well as stories about soldiers occupying campus buildings during the Civil War and Montevallo’s annual tradition of College Night.

“There were some things that happened in the 1950s too, but one of them is kind of a surprise,” Miller said.

Miller plans for the book to be one of a series focusing on small, southern towns that “aren’t overdone.” Her next focus will be on Sewanee, Tenn., home to the Sewanee, University of the South.

“(Writing books) gives me an excuse to go there and to visit the colleges,” said Miller, who has another daughter who is about to start college.

“People don’t know you’re writing a book, so they’ll just tell it like it is,” she said. “It makes history come alive, and that’s what I like about it.”

Whispered Secrets of the South: Montevallo, Alabama is available from Amazon.com and at the University of Montevallo Barnes and Noble bookstore. She will also sell copies at Art Walk Oct. 26.