PHIL CAMPBELL, Ala. (WIAT) — Phil Campbell is a tiny town in the northwest corner of Alabama. It only has a population of about 1,000 people, but around this time every year a unique phenomenon causes the numbers to grow.
Men and woman who share the ‘Phil Campbell’ namesake descend upon the town for a weekend of festivities–including a hoedown. It all started with one Phil Campbell from Brooklyn. For the sake of telling each other apart, he goes by the moniker ‘Brooklyn’ around the other Phil’s.
Brooklyn said he was watching Hee Haw with his college roommates back in 1995. “At that time, they said howdy to the folks of Phil Campbell, Alabama,” Brooklyn remembered. “It was a moment where all my roommates and I were gathered around and found it on a road atlas, and I decided to go! I was young and it was, like, this crazy thing.”
Brooklyn said while he was visiting Phil Campbell, he learned from the city clerk that a number of Phil Campbell’s had traveled through over the years. “I was like, I’m going to bring back all the Phil’s,” said Brooklyn.
His plan came to life after he reached out to Phil Campbell’s all over the world, but the tradition of coming back to the tiny Alabama town dropped off until 2011. It was the town’s 100th anniversary, and Brooklyn wanted to get as many Phil’s to attend as possible.
‘Australian Phil’ explained, “It was a good enough excuse to meet a whole bunch of strangers and turn them into friends and family. When we first looked at coming here five years ago, it was about a party. It was about 100 years of celebration for the town’s history.”
However, a few weeks out from the big party, things suddenly changed.
“That tornado hit the town,” explained Brooklyn. “EF-5 tornado. Killed 26 people in the area.”
“We had an opportunity to call it off,” said Australian Phil, “but we turned it around and made it a rescue effort.”
The Phil’s still came to Phil Campbell for the 100 year anniversary, but their motivation had changed. In the time that has passed since then, they have helped with building two Habitat for Humanity homes, as well as a number of fundraising and recovery projects.
This year, CBS 42 found the Phil’s clearing off a walking trail that hadn’t been touched since the tornado tore through. “It’s a good, humbling reminder of why you did it in the first place,” Brooklyn said of coming to Phil Campbell.
“There’s something about finding an excuse to be friends with people,” said Australian Phil. “Now sometimes, people find reasons to be enemies but this–the most random of occurrences–the fact that my parents named me Phil and not Sebastian or some other name has meant that I’ve made some friends that I would never imagine possible.”
Some of the Phil’s have come back to Alabama every single year. Every year there’s a new Phil in town, a sign post is added to the Memorial Park. It shows how far all of the Phil’s have traveled to come to Phil Campbell.
“I just will never forget that,” Brooklyn said about the days that they visited after the tornado. “I got all choked up. I drove through town last night, I got all choked up again–just thinking about everything that happened five years ago.”
Since there are so many Phil’s, willing to go the distance and help out in Phil Campbell — we here at CBS 42 wanted to know, what’s in a name, if anything? Australian Phil explained, “Phil means brotherly love. Think Philadelphia–the city of brotherly love. So there’s a whole bunch of brotherly love going on, right here, right now.”