Sunday, March 28, 2010
On September 17, 1841, an expressman picked up a crate on Maiden Lane in Manhattan and delivered it to the docks. The crate, addressed to New Orleans, was loaded aboard the packet Kalamazoo, scheduled to leave that afternoon. Inclement weather kept the Kalamazoo in port for a week and sailors started complaining of a foul odor coming from the hold. The crate was opened revealing a decomposing human corpse identified as New York printer, Samuel Adams. The man who had arranged its passage was John C. Colt, a bookkeeping instructor, client of Mr. Adams, and brother of the inventor of the Colt revolver.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
“Frankie and Johnny were lovers,” true enough, but his name was Allen, not Johnny. “He was her man, but he done her wrong.” More accurately, Frankie Baker was Allen Britt’s woman, but yes, he done her wrong. He was her pimp and he abused her. Frankie caught Allen cheating with Alice Pryar and on October 16, 1899 she shot him – not in a public saloon, but in the bedroom of her St. Louis apartment. They quarreled about Alice Pryar and when he attacked her with a knife, she pulled a pistol from under her pillow. By that evening a local songwriter had composed a ballad that would immortalize the story of Frankie and Al Britt, and provide the framework for a century of misinformation.
On Christmas Eve 1900, Cooney Houston shot and killed Delia Green. If that isn’t tragic enough, they were both 14 years old. Their sad story would have been long forgotten, even in Yamacraw – the black neighborhood in the western end of Savannah, Georgia, where the killing took place – if it hadn’t been for a song. The ballad of Delia’s murder traveled from Georgia to the Bahamas, then back to the States during the folk boom of the 1950s. Though the facts have been altered along the way, Delia’s story has been sung by generations of folk singers, and has been recorded by musical icons like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Called “The Pedestrian” by one Boston newspaper, Dr. George Parkman was famous for his regular daily walks through town to collect rent and loan payments. He did not even own a horse, though he could have easily afforded one, coming from one of the richest families in Boston. His habits were so regular that when he failed to meet his wife for lunch November 23, 1849, it was impossible to imagine anything but foul play. Equally impossible to imagine was that the perpetrator was someone from his own social class. When his killer was found to be a former Harvard classmate and current Harvard professor, it became a society crime with a public following to rival America’s greatest celebrity murders.