William C. Rice's Cross Garden

William C. Rice & Cross Cross Garden

"It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.  It hurt my chest.
 It's not something that people are used to seeing in a man's yard."
William Carlton Rice, on his decision to build his cross garden

On a hill far away...

Cross garden reveals Prattville man's faith.
By Barbara Knight, The News Record.
Wednesday, September 15, 1999.  Used by permission of The Montgomery Advertiser.
Photographs by Eric Shindelbower.

PRATTVILLE, ALABAMA - A kudzu shroud slowly inches toward thousands of crosses - symbols pointing the way from earth to heaven, said William Carlton Rice, whose cross garden is a testament to his faith.
     Homemade crosses with aged, peeling paint punctuate about 11 acres on both sides of the winding, twisting County Road 86.  Red-painted signs warning against the evils of sin and offering  World Coming To A End Sign the message of redemption are emblazoned on a variety of recycled window air-conditioner covers, refrigerator doors and auto parts.  Red, black and white cloth strips symbolizing the blood and death of Jesus and purity flutter gently from crosses and tree branches. 
     "It is my job to warn people that they better get ready to die," said the 69-year-old Rice.  "You had better count every second, every minute while you have breath in your body."
     It took Rice more than 20 years to create this local garden of "Good and Evil."  Even Rice does not know how many crosses are located on the property.
     Years ago Rice took his message on the road with a small, red truck embellished with crosses.  Today, battling diabetes and a bad back, a frailer Rice, wearing a large wooden crucifix around his neck, often delivers his sermon from a LaZboy recliner in his den.
     Rice's first three crosses - built at the admonition of the Almighty, he says - adorn the den walls in the modest ranch-style home of Rice and his wife Marzell.  Those are hardly noticeable amongst the hundreds of other crosses, crucifixes, family photos and press clippings that cover virtually every inch of wall space.

Cross Truck                       Rice's Den Wall

     Rice's next divine message told him to move the symbols of his faith outside.  "It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life."  Rice said.  "It hurt my chest.  It's not something that people are used to seeing in a man's yard."
     Rice's concern that his display would draw attention was well-founded.  During the past two decades, Rice and his crosses have been featured in several folk art books and numerous magazine and newspaper articles.
     A spiral bound "guest book" in his living room is testament to an eclectic array of visitors who arrive at the rural location from across the nation and around the world.  Some to photograph others to simply gawk and some perhaps to find salvation.
     A miniature white wooden church with a tin roof, occupying a space on the den floor, bears a thank-you note from the art department of the Louisiana House of Blues.
     "Yes, those folks came here to meet me and took pictures," Rice said.  "I don't know what they wanted with them."The Chapel
     Across the street from Rice's home, a small wooden "chapel" sits atop a small rise surrounded by crosses.  "We often sit out there in the evening," said Marzell Rice.  "Sometimes some of our neighbors sit with us and lots of people stop by."
     Even when Rice is inside, a message of salvation, printed on the back of a postcard bearing his photo, is available from five metal mailboxes alongside the road.
     Rice can pinpoint the time and date that he was saved.  "I was saved on the 24th day of April 1960 at 2 o'clock in the morning," Rice said.
     Suffering from an ulcerated stomach, Rice said he prayed for deliverance from both the ailment and his sins.
     God complied with both requests, sending Rice on a self-styled mission to save others.
     Nowadays, Rice, whose movements are confined to a motorized wheelchair, relies on Marzell, his four children and seven grandchildren to maintain his aging creation.
     But he continues to share his message of faith which by now has literally been heard around the world.
     "I am not an educated man.  I only went through the eighth grade," Rice said, "but, I've got the best diploma in the world, from God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost."

William Carlton Rice
Rev. W.C. Rice

Died - January 18, 2004 (4:50pm); buried January 21, 2004 (2:00pm) in Prattville, AL.


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Special Thanks to William C. & Marzell Rice for their hospitality during my visits and for allowing me to make these images.  Photographs by Eric Shindelbower.
Thanks to Kyle Heard for informing me about the Cross Garden and the Roadside America web site.
Thanks to the Roadside America web site for the information on the location of Rice's Cross Garden - http://www.roadsideamerica.com/
Cross Garden reveals Prattville man's faith article by Barbara Knight / The News Record.  Used by permission of  The Montgomery Advertiser.

Background pattern courtesy of the

Web page design and content - Eric Shindelbower