Springfield resident Phil Campbell grew up liking his fairly uncommon name and enjoyed usually being the only “Phil” in the room.
But in 1995 he learned he was not alone. He received an invitation to a gathering of men named Phil Campbell in the town of Phil Campbell, Ala.
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Now, Phil didn’t quite know what to think about this. He’d never heard of this small town in rural northwestern Alabama. He had a feeling that the whole situation was kind of crazy, maybe even a scam, so he declined. However, when a second gathering was planned a few years later he’d learned more and was ready to be a part of it.
The town of Phil Campbell, Alabama, it turned out, was named after a railroad executive Phil Campbell. In the 1880s in an effort to get the tracks located a bit closer to a local general store, the store owner, Mel Allen, promised to name the town Phil Campbell if there was a depot and siding built near his store. They were, so he did.
More than 25 years ago a man named Phil Campbell was watching Hee Haw on television and heard about Phil Campbell, Alabama. He immediately set visiting Phil Campbell, Ala., as an item on his bucket list. This Phil is now known as Brooklyn Phil, and organizer of the events.
In 1995, there were 17 Phil Campbells at the Phil Campbell Hoedown. Ironically none of them actually lived in Phil Campbell, Alabama. There are no local Phil Campbells. They had so much fun they decided to reach out to all the Phil Campbells in the world.
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“There are actually 475 of us all over the world,” said Springfield’s Phil Campbell, who was determined to go to the next gathering of Phils, which was almost canceled
In 2011 just before the town’s centennial celebration an f5 tornado flattened half of Phil Campbell, Alabama, and killed 27 people.
Refusing to cancel their event, 20 Phil Campbells still showed up for the centennial. They came to the aid of the town and spent the week clearing the town’s swimming pool of debris and making it possible to open for business again.
Brooklyn Phil took video footage of the gathering of Phils after the tornado and created a documentary “I’m with Phil.” This has been well received and was even available for rental at Red Box for a time. Copies of the documentary are for sale on the website Imwithphil.com. Brooklyn Phil is also marketing a script for a full length movie about the miracle of Phil Campbell.
Phil Campbells from all over the world have visited Phil Campbell, Alabama, or support the club’s efforts. In the Mayor’s office the town keeps a file of Phil Campbells who have visited and they have their own website, www.imwithphil.com. These Phils are from Canada, Australia, Alaska, England, and all over the USA. Biographies of nearly 30 active Phil Campbells with a wide variety of backgrounds and professions are also on the website.
Because of the confusion caused when 20 Phil Campbells registered at the same hotel, they have adopted nicknames that include their home locales. Ours is Springfield Phil Campbell. Biographies of the Phil Campbells are on the group’s “I’m with Phil” website.
Springfield Phil Campbell also tells me that the contact lists on his telephones, and email accounts is really confusing. I imagine that the return address on Christmas cards is also important.
To add to the confusion a couple of the Phil Campbells are ladies who are named Phyllis. One calls herself Phyl Campbell.
Friendships have formed within this exclusive club and the Phils return at different times to help the town. They have also built a Habitat for Humanity home in Phil Campbell, Alabama.
When the Phil Campbell High School sold all its old football jerseys the Phils bought them because they say Phil Campbell and the number. They also have various kinds of “I’m with Phil” shirts.
Terri Campbell, wife of Springfield Phil, said the wives enjoy saying “Hey Phil” and watching 20 people turn around to answer.
Birmingham Phil and his wife have visited Springfield Phil and his wife. They have even taken part in Springfield’s Fair at New Boston.
I like to think that our Phil Campbell is coolest Phil Campbell. Springfield Phil is the only blacksmith with that name and the only Phil Campbell qualified to fire a Revolutionary War Cannon. He is also the recently elected President of the George Rogers Clark Heritage which presents the Fair at New Boston on Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend.
I think the residents of Phil Campbell, Alabama, would agree that the world is a better place for all the Phil Campbells that are in it.
If you know a Phil Campbell who is unaware of his or her claim to fame, please share this column. You wouldn’t want Phil to miss the next gathering.