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Friday, June 17, 2011

Phil Cambell

"Who is Phil Campbell?" That is a simple question with many answers, and an even better question is "Where is Phil Campbell?" The answer to that is northwest Alabama, more precisely at 34°21′N; 87°42′W.

And for the next few days, the question is "Where are the Phil Campbells?" To which the answer is "Phil Campbell." Got it?

Phil Campbell -- one of them, anyway -- was a railroad builder from England who was leading work crews in northwestern Alabama in the 1880s. A local business leader asked him to build a side track and depot, offering to name the town for him if he did so. The result is that Phil Campbell is the only town in Alabama to bear both the first and last name of an individual.

I first heard of the town of Phil Cambpell in 1995, when New York writer Phil Campbell organized a convention of 22 people named Phil Campbell in the town. Phil Campbell -- the writer and the town -- are in the news again this week.

In April of this year, the town of Phil Campbell experienced a devastating tornado as part of the 2011 Super Outbreak. At that time, the writer Phil Campbell and others were already planning another convention to take place in June. As reported on NPR Thursday, the Phil Cambells -- this time coming from all over the world -- have transformed their celebration into a relief effort.

The "I'm With Phil" project is restoring hope to a town some thought might need to be abandoned. It is amazing what these eighteen men (at least one Phyllis was planning to attend but is not in good health) are doing, united by nothing more than compassion, a sense of humor, and an unusual toponym.

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