Cross garden reveals Prattville man's
By Barbara Knight, ©The News Record.
Wednesday, September 15, 1999. Used by permission of
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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."
Rev. W.C. Rice
Died - January 18, 2004
(4:50pm); buried January 21, 2004 (2:00pm) in Prattville, AL.