Poised behind the textured window at 1824 Canyon Road, she goes by many names, shrouded in the kind of secrecy that always surrounds legends.
She cannot hear the stories the children weave as they roll past in the back seats of cars driven by their parents.
Mabry Hicks sees her every time she goes to Publix. “She clearly has some personality,” Hicks says. She wondered what her name was since someone so spectacular must surely have one. A friend thought her name was Honey. So that’s what she and her husband have been calling her for four to five years. Their 11-year-old nephew is in on it, too. He never fails to ask Aunt Mabry what Honey is wearing whenever they talk.
But her name isn’t Honey. Nor is it Priscilla or Mabel or Peggy or Monique—some of the other names Vestavia Hills residents have given her.
Her outfits are stunning: suits, bikinis, formals and furs. You can set your calendar by her. With nary a word or raised eyebrow, she signals the changing of the seasons, the shifting of our closets.
Barbara Howell lives a couple blocks away and never fails to notice her style. She’ll tell a friend, “Let’s go walk and see what The Lady in the Window is wearing.” (That’s what Barbara has always called her: The Lady in the Window.) In summer, it might be a sundress. In October, a Halloween costume. And any child who’s ever ridden down Canyon and looked knows it’s time for Christmas when the red and white fur comes out.
Barbara has lived in Vestavia Hills for 46 years and doesn’t know how long The Lady in the Window has been there. She guesses she’s been watching her for close to 20 years. And in those nearly 20 years, Barbara has thought many times about knocking on the door of that mid-century modern home. “But you know, you don’t do it like that, anymore,” she says of a time in America when nobody just shows up on your doorstep—not without trying to sell you something. But she’s always wondered. As have a lot of people. The mannequin even has her own Facebook page, created by a fan, called: “I admit I always check to see what the mannequin is wearing on Canyon Road.”
The day they moved in, Gary just set the mannequin down in a hallway, thinking it was out of the way, and he and Steve went to return the U-Haul. But when they came home, as they pulled into the driveway, they saw her as everyone else does: a grand dame, standing watch over Canyon Road, in front of the huge, floor-to-ceiling window.
“And we thought, ‘Huh, that’s kind of fun,’” Gary says. “At the time she had on a red teddy and I told him, ‘Ok, she can stay there, but that red teddy’s got to go because this is Vestavia.”
So, Jackée she stayed. (That’s her real name, by the way, after a well-dressed character on the mid to late ’80s TV show 227.)
At first, it was just friends who would make suggestions on what she should wear. They didn’t even realize other people were paying attention, until Steve went out of town for six weeks and Gary didn’t change her outfit. “I didn’t think a thing about it until I got a note in the mailbox,” he says. The note writer had wondered if something was wrong because Jackée was still wearing her New Year’s Eve gown when it was clearly almost Valentine’s Day.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, people are watching this,’” Gary says.
That was about a year after they’d moved in, and from then on, they really got into it, changing her more often and having special holiday outfits. She’s usually in her Easter best—though one time she was a Playboy Bunny—and in October, Gary tries to remember to put her in a pink suit for breast cancer awareness before ultimately slipping into her Halloween costume. She also has an authentic Vestavia Hills High School cap and gown, donated by a friend and client of Gary’s, and Jackée regularly receives cards congratulating her on her academic achievement.
There’s also the wedding gown. Jackée gets married every June, and Gary jokes she must be keeping all the divorce lawyers in town very busy. But she’s not just a bride. Sometimes she’s a bridal guest. Gary once got a note in his mailbox from a bride asking if the mannequin would dress up the same weekend as her wedding, and Jackée, of course, obliged.
Two artist neighbors who used to live across the street from Gary once confided to him that the mannequin was one of the reasons they had bought their house. “They thought if the mannequin is there, there’s got to be other cool people around.”
It all nearly ended seven years ago, when Gary’s roommate moved down to the Gulf Coast, but fortunately for Vestavia, Steve really didn’t have room for the mannequin down there. Plus, Jackée was a pretty big star by then, so she stayed. And she’s continued to delight Vestavia residents (and lots of others, too) by putting a little whimsy in their day.
For some, she does even more, like former Vestavia Hills resident Garry Miller. His mother used to live about a quarter-mile away from Jackée, and when his mother died seven years ago, he donated a couple of her best suits and a fur coat. “It was a good way to leave her mark on Vestavia,” Garry says. So, her fabulous style lives on.
“I laugh. It makes me smile,” says Barbara Howell. “He has to know it brings pleasure to others,” Barbara says, referring to Gary Diggs. “It brings a community spirit,” she says, having something they all can share, like Vestavia’s special little secret. She also believes Gary is sending an important message. “I think he’s saying take time to smell the roses,” she says.
It’s a pretty good legacy for a man who dreamed of being a famous actor growing up, and who has recently returned to acting with the spate of movies being filmed in Birmingham. He can’t even go to the bank or Publix without strangers recognizing his black pickup truck and telling him Jackée needs a new hairstyle, or that the new paint color on his front door is stealing her thunder.
The people of Vestavia may not know Gary Diggs’ name (until now, at least) but they’re fans of his work, and, really, that’s almost as good as being a famous actor, right? Knowing you bring into this world, even just a little joy for so many people.
How I Met My Husband Because of the Mannequin
December 25, 2003
I was taking down my Christmas decorations, my daughter was with her dad, and my family was out of town. I was totally alone and talking with God. I was praying for direction. Am I to be single? Marry again? Have more children? Move? Change jobs? I prayed for God to show me what to do and I would do it—no matter what! I did ask that he make my eyes open and my heart open when he was trying to show me.
December 26, 2003
The next day I was having dinner with three girlfriends after work. We met at Gianmarco’s in Homewood, as planned. One of my friends suggested that we go look at Christmas lights and see what “the mannequin” was wearing for Christmas. We all went to see the mannequin (I was new to Vestavia and didn’t know anything about the mannequin on Canyon). Afterward, we went for dessert at Nona Rose, and my girlfriends and I were the only patrons there. Our waiter saw a high school friend enter the restaurant from Jackson, Mississippi. That was Bill! He was going on a blind date and was early for the date. We started talking, and he got my number.
Honestly, if it was 5 minutes earlier or later, we would have never met. He lived in Jackson. I wasn’t supposed to be there. But thank God for that mannequin!
Christy and Bill have been married for 13 years and have four children. Bill is a sixth-grade history teacher and coach at Pizitz Middle School. Christie works as a hand therapist in Homewood.