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Montgomery Advertiser

Local News-Jan. 7, 2003

Council backs filming

By Nick Lackeos
Montgomery Advertiser

The Wetumpka City Council has granted Columbia Pictures permission to film a scene in the city's 19th century-vintage cemetery for the movie, "Big Fish."

The action was taken Monday night following a motion by Councilman Lewis Washington.

The council stipulated that, in the event of a real funeral, the movie crew must reschedule shooting.

"This is a good thing -- it's something that communities kill for," said Mayor R. Scott Golden.

It adds another dimension to Wetumpka as a tourist attraction as "some people will come to Wetumpka to see the city where much of the movie was shot."

The cemetery, on Alabama 111, is one of several locations where the crew will shoot in Wetumpka beginning this month, said Jan Wood, executive director of the Wetumpka Area Chamber of Commerce.

Filming also will take place throughout the tri-county area and Lowndes County through March, she said.

The old cemetery, with billowing cedar trees and rusty, iron fences surrounding family plots, includes about 70 graves of Confederate soldiers, said local historian Joe Allen Turner. He has ancestors buried there.

There are also soldiers buried there who served in the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War, Turner said.

"The oldest grave I could find there is that of Laura A. Merrell, who died Sept. 30, 1834," several months after Wetumpka was incorporated as a city in January 1834, Turner said.

There are about 2,300 marked graves in the cemetery, including some black graves in the northern section, Turner said, adding there are unmarked graves in the central area that are believed to be graves of slaves.

"M.L. Fielder, who was known as the father of Eclectic, is buried in the cemetery," Turner said, explaining that in the 1870s Felder bought a large tract of land where Eclectic is now and sold small lots to start the town.

"John Kelly Fitzpatrick, the grandson of Gov. Benjamin Fitzpatrick, the ninth governor of Alabama (1841-1845), is buried there," Turner said.

John Kelly Fitzpatrick was an acclaimed regional painter in the 1930s and 1940s and one of the founders of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Turner said, adding he was also a cousin of Ben Fitzpatrick, who in the 1930s founded Jasmine Hill Gardens and Outdoor Museum in Wetumpka.

John Kelly Fitzpatrick (1888-1953) grew up in Wetumpka and served as a U.S. Army soldier in the 12th Machine Gun Battalion in France in World War I.

The Wetumpka City Council gave approval to Columbia Pictures to film a portion of the movie "Big Fish" at the City Cemetery on Alabama 111.

The 19th-century-vintage Wetumpka City Cemetery is one of several locations where the movie will be filmed in the city beginning this month.

-- Photos by Lloyd Gallman, Advertiser