Friday Night Forgotten Oldie: A hanging

Bob Shane, the last surviving original member of the folk group the Kingston Trio, died last Sunday at a hospice in Phoenix, Ariz. at age 85. The other original members were Nick Reynolds and Dave Guard.

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Bob Shane, left
Bob Shane, center

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Shane was the lead singer on the million-selling ballad “Tom Dooley,” among other hits. “Tom Dooley” reached No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts, won a Grammy for best country and western song (no folk category existed at the time) and helped launch the folk revival, with other artists including Joan Baez; Peter, Paul and Mary; and, eventually, Bob Dylan.

There are many accounts of the story of Tom Dooley. According to the North Carolina Visitor Center, Dooley was a young confederate soldier who returned to his home in Wilkes County, North Carolina after the Civil War. Before the war broke out Dooley was well-known as a ladies man. Two of them were Laura Foster and her cousin Ann Foster. He was infatuated with both, and both were infatuated with him. Dooley spent time together with each.

When the war was over Ann married James Milton. That left a clear path for Laura and Tom. But Laura had many suitors like schoolteacher Bob Grayson who wanted Laura for his wife.

Tom had made plans with Laura to run away and get married. One night she took what clothes she could carry on horseback and left home for her rendezvous with Tom. The 18-year old Laura disappeared. A search party that included Bob Grayson came up empty and folks assumed she ran off with Tom.

More searches. Three weeks later Laura’s horse was discovered. Searchers found the spot where the horse had been tied to a tree. They spread out, started digging, and found Laura’s body, her legs broken and a stab wound in her breast. Laura’s bag of clothing was also found.

Eventually Tom, accused by Grayson, was arrested and bound over for trial. Though he maintained his innocence and also his silence throughout, Tom was convicted and faced execution. When the rope was placed around his neck he was asked if he had any last words to say.

Just before the trap door dropped Tom said, “Gentlemen, do you see this hand? Do you see it tremble? Do you see it shake? I never hurt a hair on the girl’s head.”

From Milton Berle’s TV show…

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From 2018

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Tom Dooley painted by the late Edith Ferguson Carter


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Laura Foster painted by the late Edith Ferguson Carter

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This drawing is by the late Edith Ferguson Carter and can be seen with her other works about this tragic story at the Tom Dooley Museum at Whippoorwill Academy and Village.

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Located approx. a mile away from the village is Tom Dooley’s grave. Sadly, souvenir hunters have chipped away a good deal of the stone

John Foster West wrote a book about Tom Dooley. West told NPR in 2000 the museum is popular with young children.

“We turn the lights out, and we tell all the ghostly stories that happened up on the Tom Dooley Road. Like the old Tom Dooley house, you know, the doors would creak and chains rattling, because Tom Dooley’s blood was on the floor. I think they brought his body home from Statesville after he’d been hung. His body swelled and burst, and blood ran on the floor. And they were never able to get that blood up off the floor ever again.”

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