Chronic Travel Bug: Spectre, AL – the town from Big Fish

Spectre, AL from Tim Burton’s Big Fish is one of the few fictional towns you can make a pilgrimage to in real life. For those of you who don’t know, Spectre is an eerie town that Edward Bloom (played unforgettably by Ewan McGregor) stumbles upon after leaving his hometown for fear of becoming a “big fish in a small pond.”

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Spectre is a sort of paradise where the ground is so soft that no one needs shoes – of course, that means no one can leave, either. Bloom realizes the trap in this and becomes the first person to ever leave Spectre, but not before promising a young girl he would one day return.

The town plays a central role in the movie. The entire film was shot on location in Alabama, but the Spectre set is the only one that still stands. The set was built on a private island, and rather than spend the time and man power to tear it down, Burton paid the owner of the island to leave it standing so that he could move on and finish his film.

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The set underwent many changes and builds for the film. We not only see it as the secret paradise it began as, but also as the dilapidated remains after “the world found Spectre,” via a new road built right through the town. Edward Bloom saves the town, buying up all the land to allow the people there to stay and to keep the town alive.

Towards the end of the film, when Edward’s adult son seeks out the town, he finds the “real” Spectre – not 100% fantasy, but not 100% what he expected to find.

So it’s kind of the perfect “real” “fictional” town to be able to go explore yourself.

Not many people know about this abandoned set, so you’ll very likely get to wander the remains alone in the swampy silence.

Now, this town is on private property, so you can’t just let yourself in. Directions for how to get there can be found here. Once you arrive, you’ll find a gate to the island itself. There is a small entrance fee, $3 I think, because the owners of the island use it as a campground. Yup, you can camp in Spectre if you like.

You’ll need to go back to the nice little house a little ways up the road and ask for an application – haha yes, I’m serious. You wanna see Spectre or not? So you fill out a form and pay your $3 and then you’re an official member of the “club.” Which I think is good for a lifetime, so that’s cool. Once you’re an official member, you get the gate code! Punch it in and you’re on your way.

A small one lane bridge connects the island to the mainland. The views of the river are amazing, but that’s not the only cool thing about this spot – there’s a shot in the movie of the son driving across this same bridge. It’s just as beautiful in real life.

Now, according to the internet Jenny’s house is somewhere on the island as well but we didn’t see it. Boo. You’re welcome to look if you want though.

From here on in, I’ll step back and just let you enjoy the photos. I’ll pop in to point out where certain scenes, etc. were, but other than that the place speaks for itself. It’s a truly magical experience and if you’re ever in the area it’s a must see. In mid August it was very hot and humid, but it doesn’t take long to explore the whole town. According to Burton, it was freezing when they shot – so I guess it gets pretty chilly in winter time. Plan accordingly!

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Click here to see Edward enter Spectre for the first time.

When Edward Bloom first emerges from the woods into the town, he comes through an arc of trees – a set piece still standing at the foot of the town.

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Oh Ewan. I’ve never felt closer to you. ❤

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The modern day remains of Spectre. (Click any photo to view it larger)

Doesn’t that last photo look like it’s straight out of Final Fantasy 7?

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I was especially excited to visit an abandoned place thanks to the many awesome photographers who travel the world to photograph the remains of abandoned places. Click the photo below to check out my current favorite photographer – a big thank you to them for inspiring me to seek out abandoned places!

Okay, back to Spectre and my feeble attempts to capture it in photographs.

Most of the buildings are empty, but I love seeing the few set pieces that remain such as curtains and doors. I also love the way nature’s climbed inside and made itself at home.

This was a nice surprise – this is the cove where Bloom sees the naked woman bathing and tries to save her from a snake. According to the DVD commentary, both Ewan and the lovely lady jumped into the real Alabama swampy river to shoot that scene. It’s also where this little gem takes place:

There was only one house that actually had an interior built for the pie scene where Edward looses his shoes.

This was also the only house to have any electricity wiring. The other houses were empty except for some large pipes coming up from the ground. Each house has two. Hubby hypothesizes they may have had toilets, but I thought it was unlikely that every single house had two toilets in it. My best guess was that it was some kind of ventilation system for the crew. Once home I heard Tim Burton’s commentary talking about how cold it was at the time, so perhaps it was a heating system.

I have to admit, it was really hard for me to not steal some of the fabric from the curtains to “reclaim” and sew into some kind of magical Big Fish keepsake. But I thought it would be better to leave it there for others to come and discover. I did, however, convince my husband to let me knick a big weathered wooden post from a junk pile at the end of the set. There are tons just like it in a pile right there. What am I going to do with it? I have no idea. I want to seal it and turn it into a magical Big Fish banister. We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

Really, though, the one keepsake I wanted most was this:

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As a big film nerd, a Tim Burton fan, and admirer of the wonder that is Ewan McGregor, this was one of the coolest places I’ve ever gotten to visit. I wish I had more to say about it but it’s just impossible to capture how enchanting this place is in mere words. The photos get a little closer. But it costs almost nothing to visit and can be a quick stop or a destination all it’s own if you want to camp and explore the woods more. Burton shot all over the island and I’m sure there are many more treasures to spot than what we found.

Being an abandoned place, there’s no need to worry about crowds or wait time. We saw another couple haunting the place but they were finishing up as we arrived. You can take it at your own pace, and your air conditioned car is steps away if you need anything. There’s simply no reason not to go. So GO! It feels like stepping in to the Southern fairy tale that is Big Fish. There are few movies you can really step right in to. Unlike Disney World or Universal Studios, this is the real thing. You get to see not only the fantasy, but the realities that helped bring this story to the screen. I can’t say enough good things about it.

You’ll never find a better place.

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10 thoughts on “Chronic Travel Bug: Spectre, AL – the town from Big Fish

  1. Kind of sad that I live in Alabama and have never heard of it. Now I will have to find the movie and Google directions to there. Sad we couldn’t have met while you were here 😦

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