Growing up in Mobile, a big little city where everybody knows a guy who knows a guy who it turns out is your cousin, it’s easy to think you know it all, have seen it all, and have done it all. To be sure, that’s at least what local travel writer and small business owner Amy Delcambre thought. It wasn’t until 2015 when Compass Media contracted Amy to write copy for the annual Visit Mobile visitor’s guide that Amy realized how little she knew about the city she was born and raised in.
In her research on local history, culture, culinary tradition, style, and more, Amy realized that Mobile was like the mighty oaks that tower over the historic streets and squares of downtown. Underneath the beatific canopies of evergreen lies a sprawling network of ancient roots, a tapestry of history and mystery. It was a story that Amy was fascinated with and wanted to explore in greater detail.
In 2021, Amy seized the opportunity to do just that when she signed with Reedy Press to write a travel and local interest guide. Given her choice of themes from Reedy’s expansive catalog of books, Amy chose the secret series, and in October 2022, Secret Mobile: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure debuted to much acclaim. The book was the second-highest-selling book at The Haunted Bookshop in 2022 second only to the revered Ben Raines’ The Last Slave Ship: The True Story of How Clotilda Was Found, Her Descendants, and an Extraordinary Reckoning.
Secret Mobile is a collection of 85 short stories, each heavily researched, told in Amy’s unique authorial voice. All of the stories have a related “to-do” because the book is a travel guide, after all. While this might be challenging for some authors, Amy reveled in the opportunity to use the book and her related Instagram and Facebook pages (@secretmobileal) as a platform for promoting local businesses.
Finding a landing spot for stories sometimes posed a challenge, as many historic places written about in Secret Mobile no longer exist. For example, some Mobilians recall the ill-fated hermit of goat island, Pete Bernard. Pete, colloquially known as Battleship Pete, once owned a now long-gone oyster bar on Royal Street. So, Amy chose another “hermit” not far from Battleship Pete’s place informing visitors and locals where they should visit to experience oysters in Mobile. The Hummingbird Way Oyster Bar located at 351 George St. in the Oakleigh District opened in 2020 just ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic. Helmed by Jim Smith, a Season 14 and 16 Top Chef contestant, the restaurant has managed to stay afloat and even thrive in a sea of instability.
These are the stories that Amy relishes telling in Secret Mobile. The more obscure, the better. Amy explains that she wanted to write a book that would entrance and entertain visitors and also captivate locals. She wanted everyone who read the book to walk away with new, nuanced information about Mobile and maybe even a fresh take on something they’d heard of before.
But where to go from here? A book is a static object, and Amy says there’s so much more to Mobile’s story—more she’d like to help tell. However, Amy doesn’t want to tell the safe stories—she wants to stick to secrets, oddities, ghosts, and the like. Also, as she points out, fact-driven histories are well-covered by city guide services.
In fact, secret stories are also already being told. Todd Duren, with whom Amy is friends, runs the successful Secret History Tours, throughout the year. Amy says of Todd’s walking tours, “Even with all of my research and writing about Mobile, I always learn something new on Todd’s tours.”
Not wanting to step on anyone’s toes (pun intended), Amy wanted to find a way to keep the dialogue going. During her research in the spring of 2022, Amy found a way—biking and kayaking tours. “Mobile has so much going for it, but we don’t have a bicycle tour group yet.” Amy immediately started sketching plans for the idea and in 2022, founded Mo’Bike Mobile, LLC with her partner, Bucky Hicks.
Amy spent the remainder of 2022 preparing Secret Mobile for publication and exploring other tour companies to see how other cities tackled bicycle tourism. Amy will spend 2023 planning and piloting tours for Mo’Bike Mobile.
“Guided tours will build off of the book and go far beyond it. I plan to leverage the extensive research that didn’t have a place in Secret Mobile. They’ll be curated and carefully planned with stops along the way. The great thing about bikes is that you can cover more ground.” Amy imagines bicycle tours will start downtown, but she hopes to expand to Spring Hill and Dauphin Island—both areas well-covered with extensive histories—once things get rolling.
Amy doesn’t have a definitive date for when she’ll enact these plans, but she states that kayak tours will likely start after cycling tours are established. “Kayak tours will launch from a public access point—probably near Hall’s Mill Landing off Riviere du Chien, a scenic area near where Amy resides and frequently paddles. This area is also where the Dog Water Clearwater Revival transpires. The Dog Water Clearwater Revival is a partner of the South Alabama Land Trust (SALT), a conservation group.
“Conservation will certainly be a theme for kayak tours. Paddlers will learn about manatees—they might even see them—and other protected marine wildlife in the Dog River watershed. They’ll learn interesting things about local flora and fauna, and they’ll learn riveting, quirky histories. Dog River was a place where Mobile’s founders stayed on their way to 27-Mile Bluff. It’s also where the Wages Clan hid in a wigwam and where they buried (since exhumed) treasure during some of their infamous plunders.”
Details about when these tours start as well as information about curated day tours will be posted on the upcoming Secret Mobile website, www.secretmobileal.com. Amy encourages anyone who’d like to stay in the loop to follow her on Facebook and Instagram and to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the mailing list, which will give readers first access to new stories, information about tours, and more.
Buy a copy of Secret Mobile: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure at The Haunted Bookshop in Mobile, in Mobile-area Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million retailers. Secret Mobile is also available online through The Haunted Bookshop, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, Target.com, and Walmart.com.