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Saturday, December 3, 2016

American Murder Ballads.

The stories of many of America's most memorable murders have been kept alive by folk ballads that have been sung for more than a hundred years. Though seldom factually accurate, the songs are always moving and heartfelt. Here are just a few:


Poor 'Omie - The Murder of Naomi Wise -1807

The haunting folk ballad “Omie Wise” has kept the story of Naomi Wise’s murder alive for more than two hundred years, but how much of it is true?
Ballad: Omie Wise

"…Cut off in her youthful bloom." -1810

The mysteries of Polly Williams’s death have endured for two centuries; her story is neatly summarized in a song and a poem.
Ballads: Polly Williams, Polly Williams (poem)

The Indiana Hero -1820

When Palmer Warren refused to fight a duel with Amas Fuller over the woman he loved, Fuller shot him in cold blood. But Amasa Fuller was so popular in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, that the young lady was cast as the villain, and Fuller “The Indiana Hero.”
Ballad: The Indiana Here (aka Fuller and Warren)

The Ballad of Frankie Silver -1831

Charlie and Frankie Silver were the ideal young married couple, so the legend goes, but the reality was much darker. Frankie had endured physical abuse from Charlie throughout their marriage until, she fought back to save her own life.
Ballad: The Ballad of Frankie Silver

The Murdered Wife -1845

Eight days after Mary Ann Wyatt married Henry Green she died of arsenic poisoning. There is little doubt Henry Green murdered his wife but his motive in doing so is an enduring mystery.
Ballad: The Arsenic Tragedy


Hang Down Your Head Tom Dula -1866

The stories behind murder ballads are never as pretty as the songs. The 1866 murder of Laura Foster by Tom Dula in Elkville, North Carolina left a pretty song of an ugly murder.
Ballad: Tom Dooley


Jubilee Jim -1872

Jim Fisk was the consummate Gilded Age robber baron. Everything he had or did had to be the biggest and best. When his adulterous relationship turned scandalous, it was an epic scandal filled with blackmail, courtroom drama, and finally murder.
Ballad: The Stokes Verdict


Josie Langmaid-"The Murdered Maiden Student" -1875

On October 4, 1875, the mutilated body of 17-year-old Josie Langmaid was found in the woods in Pembroke, New Hampshire. The ballad her murder inspired is remarkably accurate, but profoundly sad.
Ballad: Suncook Town Tragedy

The St. Louis Trunk Tragedy -1885

The body of Charles Arthur Preller was found in a trunk in a St. Louis hotel. Though the death had been made to look like a political assassination, it was in fact the tragic ending of a “peculiar relationship.”
Ballad: Ewing Brooks

Freda Ward - "Girl Slays Girl" -1892

On the afternoon of January 25, 1892, Alice Mitchel met Freda Ward on Front Street and cut her throat with a straight razor. Was Alice driven by insanity, jealousy, or “an unnatural love?”
Ballad: Alice Mitchell and Freddy Ward

Poor Ellen Smith -1892

Ellen Smith, a beautiful but innocent young woman strays from the path of righteousness for a faithless lover who soon becomes her killer. It is the stuff of Victorian cautionary literature and mountain murder ballads.
Ballad: Poor Ellen Smith

The Knoxville Girl -1892

"The Knoxville girl" is an American version of a song with very deep English roots, modified to fit the drowning of Mary Lula Noel.
Ballad: The Knoxville Girl

The Meeks Family Murder -1894

6-year-old Nellie Meeks was the only survivor of an ambush that took the lives of her parents and two sisters. When her story was verified it became one of the most sensational crimes in Missouri history.
Ballads: The Meeks Family Murder, Midnight Murder of the Meeks Family

That Bad Man Stagolee -1895

The story of Stagolee has been sung by troubadours for more than a hundred years.  When Stack Lee Shelton shot Billy Lyons, in a fight over a Stetson hat, in Bill Curtis's Saloon in St. Louis, on Christmas night 1895, the legend was born.
Ballads (two of many versions): Stack O'Lee Blues, Billy Lyons and Stack O'Lee

Frankie Baker - "He Done Her Wrong" -1899

On October 16, 1899 Frankie Baker shot her lover Allen Britt. By that evening a local songwriter had composed a song that would become one of the most popular murder ballads of all time.
Ballad: Frankie and Johnny

Delia's Gone, One More Round -1900

On Christmas Eve 1900, Cooney Houston shot and killed his girlfriend Delia Green.  Delia’s story has been sung by generations of folk singers, and has been recorded by musical icons such as Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.
Ballad: Delia's Gone

1 comments :

Amanda says:
December 4, 2016 at 3:30 AM

I only recognize a few of these songs, but the ones I do are great. There's an amazing Old Time Radio show with Dinah Shore singing 'Frankie and Johnny".

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