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Letters to Planet Slade: 2011

 
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Murder Ballads
Secret London
Miscellany

November

Thanks very much to everyone who entered PlanetSlade's competition to win one of Chrome Dreams' new Music To Die For double CDs. All the entries are now in, the draw's been made, and we know who the winners are.
I asked you to tell me whether Tom Dooley's real surname was spelt (a) Doolah, (b) Dula, or (c) Dulah. The answer of course was (b), and that's exactly what most of you replied.
The five lucky names drawn from Pearl Bryan's blood-stained hold-all are:
Seth Forstater of Minnesota, USA;
Lowell McManus of Texas, USA;
Maggi Vesey of Yorkshire, UK;
Joe Offer of California, USA, and;
Emily Jorrey of Colorado, USA.

Congratulations to those five winners, whose copies of the CD compilation are already on the way. It's a fine collection, covering the period from 1914 to 1960, and including contributions from Louis Armstrong, The Everly Brothers, Lena Horne, Red Foley, Leadbelly, Stanley Holloway, George Jones, Robert Mitchum, Lloyd Price, Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Sellers, Johnny Cash, Jacque Brel and Gene Vincent - to name but a few. Details of the CD, including a full tracklist, can be found on Chrome Dreams own site.
*****
August 28, 2011. Randy Adams of Fort Thomas, Kentucky, writes: "I've just read your fascinating account of the Pearl Bryan murder. I actually live on Alexandria Pike, just a few houses down from where the orchard was.
"Is there any way you can let me know specifically where Pearl's body was found? I know the orchard was in the area bounded by Fort Thomas Avenue, Alexandria Pike and Grandview Avenue, and I'm familiar with the Lock farmhouse.
"I gather from your story that Jackson and Walling got out of the carriage along Alexandria Pike and entered the orchard there. Do you remember any landmarks that would lead me to the spot? Or, even a crude map would be helpful.
"Again, I really enjoyed your writing - well done and very thorough."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for the kind words. I'm particularly pleased the people round Fort Thomas seem to like my piece, because I wanted the local community to feel I'd done Pearl's story justice. As for your question...
John Mendell, who now owns the Lock farmhouse, took me out to the murder spot when I visited Fort Thomas last September. We were only there for a few minutes, though, and I'm afraid I really don't know the area well enough to give you any detailed directions.
For what it's worth, the spot showed nothing but some overgrown trees and bushes from the road, and was pretty much opposite the road sign pictured here. Of course, there must be an awful lot of those route markers along Alexandria Pike, so I'm not sure how helpful that alone is likely to be. I've sent you a copy of the only map I have, which comes from a fifth-generation photocopy of an old newspaper clipping, so the reproduction's not great. It may be some help all the same.
If you do decide to visit the spot yourself, please drop me a line again and let me know how you got on. I'd love to hear about any adventures you might have out there, and I'm sure PlanetSlade's readers would be interested too.


August 29, 2011. Randy Adams writes:
"Thanks for the info. I know exactly where that sign is. I pass it every day on my way home from work.
"I live about 300 yards south of that sign on Alexandria Pike, so I may take a walk down there this weekend. I may even ask John about it. I've never met him, but I've met Cyndi and see her out on dog walks all the time."

*****
August 31, 2011. Debbie Buckley of Fort Thomas, Kentucky, writes: "My former sister-in-law called me after reading your account and told me that, for her entire life, her family knew the story of Pearl Bryan.
"I believe it was her grandfather and uncle who worked on a barge on the Ohio River. The night of the murder, they had seen a buggy coming across the river toward Cincinnati and seen the people inside throw something off the bridge. After they heard the story of the murder and the missing head, they felt sure they had seen the head go into the river."

Paul Slade replies: That's a nice story, Debbie, and I certainly don't want to ruin anybody's family legends. I have to ask, though, if it really was the head those barge workers saw go into the river, then what was the round, heavy item inside Pearl's bag which Scott Jackson was seen carrying round Cincinnati's bars next day?
My own view is that Detective Crim was probably right when he concluded Pearl's head went into the furnace at the dental college which both Jackson and Walling attended. That building was just a few blocks from the bar where Pearl's bag was last seen with something very like a severed head inside it, and Crim confirmed there was ample time to walk there and back to the other bar, where that same bag was discovered to now be empty.
Jackson
did tell police he’d dumped some of  Pearl’s clothes in the Ohio River, though, so perhaps that was the bundle they saw thrown over the edge. Does your former sister-in-law know if her grandfather ever told police about what he’d seen and, if so, how they treated the information?

*****
October 7, 2011. Scott Pearlman of Los Angeles, California, writes: "My name is Scott Pearlman and I am one of the producers for the US-based TV series Ghost Hunters. We recently shot an episode at Bobby Mackey's Music World in Kentucky near the place where Pearl Bryan was slain. Pearl became an integral story component in the episode and I wanted to know where you got some of the pictures posted on your website.
"Most of them are illustrations of Pearl, and her two killers. Would you happen to know if those illustrations were drawn during or after the trial and would you know the source for most of them? We would love to license them for our show and wanted to know if they were in the public domain. Any help would be much appreciated."

Paul Slade replies: Your best bet would be to try the newspaper files at Cincinnati's Public Library. I found lots of useful stuff there, particularly in the issues of the Cincinnati Post and the Cincinnati Enquirer which you'll find listed in my sources.
The reproduction of these pics isn't always very good, because most of the newspapers themselves are over a century old now, and the microfilm, the readers and the printers are all a little past their best. I think that adds a bit of character to the pics if anything, but whether they're sharp enough for your purposes is another matter.
If there's any particular pic you're interested in, just let me know and I'll try to be a bit more specific. If it's at all appropriate to give PlanetSlade a mention anywhere as one of your sources, that would be much appreciated of course.


*****
October 16, 2011. Toni Harkins of Austin, Texas, writes:   "I was searching for the Fredricksburg Easter Fires postcard and came across your wonderful article. Thanks for that, and for confirming to my friends that I'm not making it up this time.
"The card shown on your site is actually recropped from the original version I saw in the 1970s, which was a landscape view with more children off to the right. The new version to me looks even more like child sacrifice, and I've always wondered if that was intentional.
"Love your site and looking forward to delving further into it."

Paul Slade replies: "Thanks for that, Toni. My own portrait version of the card is the only one I've ever seen, but now I really want to track down the landscape version too. I'm always delighted to hear from people with their own memories of the Easter Fire Pageant, because even I sometimes start to suspect I must have hallucinated the whole thing.
*****
September 15, 2011. Xavier Marco del Port of London, England, writes:
"After having a look around the internet, I found this: "Gaiman's Ordeal. The Comics Journal. Feb. 1992, No 148, Pg. 26. Half column article about the Reflex magazine interview where Neil talks about a real murder made to look like a Sandman-inspired suicide."
"I hope it helps. I'll let you know if I find anything else. Anyhow, good luck with your work."

Paul Slade replies: Xavier's letter was prompted by my half-remembered Neil Gaiman anecdote on PlanetSlade's May 2011 letters page. What I said was this:
"My memory's hazy, and I'm having no luck with Google, but as far as I can recall, it involved an American teenager who shot either himself or some classmates. Gaiman's Sandman comics turned out to be one of things the kid had been reading, and that dragged him into the whole media circus that followed.
"Again, as near as I can recall, Gaiman's response to reporters was to remind them that disturbed people would always find something to push them over the edge. Given the distorting lens that this particular young man brought to everything around him, his own trigger could just as easily have been a soap powder commercial or a random sitcom plot as anything Gaiman had written. So, did he feel responsible? No."
Thanks to Xavier, I've now been able to find the Journal's coverage of this sad episode, so I can correct the many errors my original summary contains.
On September 8, 1990, Michael McGarvey, a student at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania strangled his boyfriend Michael Houseknecht from what seem to be motives of romantic jealousy. He placed a copy of
Sandman 19 near the body and faked a suicide note which read: "The piper has been paid. The Sandman brings darkness and sleep to the world". McGarvey signed this note "The Sandman" and, a week after the murder, hanged himself in an apparent fit of remorse. Both men were just 19 when they died.
My description of Gaiman's reaction seems to be my own garbled conflation of three
Journal quotes, all of which I would have read there at the time. One comes from Gaiman himself, and two from the fellow professionals who tried to console him when police and journalists still thought Houseknecht's death was a genuine suicide.
* First, we have Sandman artist Kelly Jones, who said: "I told Neil, 'If it wasn't this, it would have been something else'." (The Comics Journal 139, December 1990).
* Then there's horror writer Clive Barker, who told Gaiman: "Look, you are not a gratuitous creator. You have to be responsible for what you create; you cannot be responsible for everybody who reads it." (The Comics Journal, 148, February 1992).
* And, finally, from Gaiman himself: "I actually wound up after that [Barker's advice] incredibly indignant about the whole thing for a month. I felt like somebody had tried to frame me for a murder - which, in some ways, yes, they had." (The Comics Journal 148, February 1992.)

The upshot is that, while I may have got the spirit of the story right, I got almost every salient fact wrong. I warned at the time that my original summary should not be taken as gospel, but this remains a salutary lesson that you should never trust your memory alone when trying to recount something you read about 20 years ago.
*****
September 12, 2011. Antoine Ertlé of somewhere in France, writes: "Thanks for your very interesting website.
"I wonder if you can help me with this one: I'm trying to find the title, text and music of the ballad which was apparently published on 1605 shortly after the Calverley murders in Yorkshire (subject of the pamphlet entitled Two most unnatural murders... and of Middleton's A Yorkshire Tragedy and Wilkins's The Miseries of Enforced Marriage).
"I guess all it would take is a trip to the British Library, but I'm in France now, unable to move for a while, so I thought I'd ask your advice. Maybe you could recommend some online resources?"

Paul Slade replies: I'm glad you're enjoying the site. I don't know the particular ballad you mention, I'm afraid, but there are several online sources that might help you:

Madden Collection
http://microformguides.gale.com/Data/Introductions/30330FM.htm

Harvard
http://broadsides.law.harvard.edu/resources.php

Bodleian
http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/home

British Library
http://www.bl.uk/index.shtml

As As I said, I'm not familiar with the Calverley murders, but from a quick Google search, they certainly look intriguing.
Wikipedia's Calverley Hall entry has this: "The hall was witness to dreadful violence in April 1605, when Walter Calverley murdered two of his sons, William and Walter, in a fit of madness. He was tried in York for murder, but refused to plead and was therefore pressed to death. Because of his refusal, his property could not be seized by the state, and passed to his surviving baby son.
"The murder inspired the Jacobean play
A Yorkshire Tragedy, the authorship of which was attributed to William Shakespeare in the first printed edition (1608) but which is now thought to have been written by Thomas Middleton."
*****
Message board round-up


The sources for my latest selection of blurbs (Many masterful messengers...) can be found below. Sometimes there's quite an interesting discussion attached.

Authonomy
http://www.authonomy.com/books/14848/murder-ballads/

Bloomsbury
http://www.bloomsbury.com/Fallen-Grace/Mary-Hooper/readinggroups/details/9780747599128

The Comics Journal
http://www.tcj.com/community-building-exercise/
http://www.tcj.com/part-8-the-sixties/#comment-8053

Mudcat
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=139877&messages=7

Fort Thomas Matters
http://www.fortthomasmatters.com/2011/08/fort-thomas-mid-week-news-update.html

Gosh
http://goshlondon.blogspot.com/2011/05/gosh-authority-170511.html

Rail Forums
http://www.railforums.co.uk/showthread.php?t=46738

UK Game Shows
http://www.ukgameshows.com/ukgs/Weaver's_Week_2011-08-28

September

Those nice people at Chrome Dreams have sent me five copies of their new double compilation CD Music to Die For: Death Discs 1914-1960 to give away as competition prizes.
It's a magnificently morbid melange of jazz, country, blues and comedy songs, all on the subject of our inevitable demise. You'll find many of the key recordings discussed on PlanetSlade there, including Lena Horne's Frankie & Johnny, The Louvin Brothers' Knoxville Girl and Lloyd Price's Stagger Lee. Among the other murder ballads represented, there's Ethel Waters singing Miss Otis Regrets, Stanley Holloway's rendition of Sweeney Todd the Barber, and Johnny Cash giving us Don't Take Your Guns to Town. There's quite a few songs there which are new to me too, but which I'm very much looking forward to investigating: Lord Executor's We Mourn The Loss of Sir Murchison Fletcher for a start, and Paul Hampton's Two Hour Honeymoon. There's a full track list at the link above.
All you have to do to win a copy of this comprehensively corpse-crammed collection is answer the following question:

      Tom Dooley's real surname was spelt:    a) Doola     b) Dula     c) Dulah     

Send your answers to PlanetSlade, using the e-mail link here.

I'll draw five entries at random from all the correct answers received by midnight on October 31, 2011 (London time), notify the winners by e-mail and get their CDs in the post next day. Chrome Dreams is a great little label - I bought all their old Buzzola compilations years ago - and you should definitely purchase as many of their CDs as you can.
*****
August 11, 2011. Jamie Lee of Poultney, Vermont writes: "Dude. Thanks. I read every page of that Stagger Lee story, and can't wait to see the explanation for Knoxville Girl. Cheers!! What a great random find."

Paul Slade replies: You're very welcome, my man. Glad you're enjoying the site.

July 18, 2011. Nicola Andrew of North Wales writes: "I'm working on a play based on Oliver Twist at the moment and wanted to use some music and ballad material from the era. I wondered whether there was any indication of which tune went with Gallows Child? I would be very grateful for any info.
"This ballad seems so much like that Oliver Twist moment when the Artful Dodger leaves him with the books! I'm sure Mr Dickens must have heard it."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks for getting in touch - I'm glad you found that piece interesting.
If you click on the words "composite sheet" in my
Gallows Child intro, you should be able to bring up a PDF of the original sheet itself. I've just had another look at this, but I'm afraid it doesn't give any indication at all which tune should be used.
The words are in that classic four beat/three beat ballad format, though, which means pretty much any traditional ballad tune would fit them. Take
Barbara Allen, for example:

In Scarlet town where I was born,
There was a fair maid dwelling,
And every youth cried well away,
For her name was Barbara Allen.

Translate this to Gallows Child, and you get:

Pray give attention to this tale,
Of woe and misery,
To draw forth tears it will not fail,
From every mother's eye.

I'm not saying Barbara Allen's tune has necessarily got the right mood for Gallows Child, but you take my point. The people buying broadsheets in the street would have had dozens of traditional ballads already lodged in their brains, most of which follow this set format. All they had to do was pick a tune that seemed to have more or less the right feel to it, add the Gallows Child lyrics they'd just bought, and it was ready to sing.
I don't know the passage from
Oliver Twist you mention, but I'd love to see it. Could you send over the extract, or tell me exactly where it comes in the book? I see Oliver Twist made its first appearance in serialised form in 1837, while Gallows Child dates from 1820, so the dates certainly line up to support your theory.
Please do keep us posted on your play's progress, particularly if
Gallows Child makes its way through to the final draft. I'd love to hear it performed one day, and I'm sure many of my readers would too.

July 18, 2011. Nicola Andrew writes: "Wow! thanks for the prompt and helpful reply.
"I feared that the tune wouldn't be specified. As you say, people had the tunes in their heads, and used and reused them in different forms. I'm working on earlier ballads for my MA (17th/18th century) and it's fascinating how the tunes are noted, or not.
"I'm Head of English at a school in Chester. We're a performing arts school, and our drama productions are a big deal: we have a large number of drama students ranging in age from 11 to 19, many of whom are looking for a professional acting career (poor souls!)
"I tend to write an adaptation each year with our students in mind, to make sure it fits our bill as we just can't manage a play off the peg. This is my creative outlet for the year - I work with the Director of Theatre Studies to launch this baby - and I get to put all the music together as well as the projections. It's great fun! We did Goodnight Mr Tom last year to great acclaim.
"The bit in Oliver Twist that I'm thinking about is where the Artful Dodger and Charley Bates take Oliver 'prigging' for the first time, and he looks on horrified while they steal a handkerchief. When someone shouts, they scarper and he is left, looking on. A man calls 'Thief' and then the crowd chases Oliver, who runs and is caught by a policeman. The bit in the court room with Judge Fang is truly horrific and probably only slightly exaggerated! If the bookseller hadn't arrived as a witness, then Oliver would have been convicted, just like your Gallows Child.
"I'm planning to have a couple of songs in the play, so I will have a go at putting Gallows Child to music. I also provide a lot of material for the programme, I would be happy to acknowledge your site as a source, and to include the story of the real Gallows Child, if that would be OK with you.
"Cheers, and power to your elbow!"

Paul Slade replies: I've just looked up that passage in Oliver Twist, and the parallels with Gallows Child are quite striking. Here's the ballad sheet's own account from 1820:

"Charles Elliot, a boy aged nine years, was indicted capitally for stealing six handkerchiefs privately, from the shop of Mrs Martha Blakeman, on the 8th of Feb inst.
"The prisoner set up the defence usually adopted by the most hackneyed thieves. He was going along, he said, rather quick down Oxford Street, and saw another boy, exactly of his own size, run very swiftly before him. Immediately, he heard the cry of 'Stop, thief,' when the boy dropped a parcel; he (the prisoner) picked it up and cried out 'You have lost your handkerchiefs'. The boy instantly turned around, and desired him to keep them, when at the moment an officer came up and took him into custody."

And here's Charles Dickens' scene from 1837, which we join as the Dodger and Charley spot a likely mark at a Clerkenwell book stall:

"What was Oliver's horror and alarm as he stood a few paces off, looking on with his eyelids as wide open as they would possibly go, to see the Dodger plunge his hand into the old gentleman's pocket, and draw from thence a handkerchief! To see him hand the same to Charley Bates; and finally to behold them, both running away round the corner at full speed!
"In an instant the whole mystery of the handkerchiefs, and the watches, and the jewels, and the Jew, rushed upon the boy's mind.
"He stood, for a moment, with the blood so tingling through all his veins from terror, that he felt as if he were in a burning fire; then, confused and frightened, he took to his heels; and, not knowing what he did, made off as fast as he could lay his feet to the ground.
"This was all done in a minute's space. In the very instant when Oliver began to run, the old gentleman, putting his hand to his pocket, and missing his handkerchief, turned sharp round. Seeing the boy scudding away at such a rapid pace, he very naturally concluded him to be the depredator; and shouting 'Stop thief!' with all his might, made off after him, book in hand."

Everyone around joins in the chase in a mad pell-mell, including the Dodger and Charley who are now posing as concerned citizens. Oliver's finally knocked to the ground by a man hoping the handkerchief's owner will reward him for it.

"The fellow touched his hat with a grin, expecting something for his pains; but, the old gentleman eyeing him with an expression of dislike, looked anxiously round, as if he contemplated running away himself: which it is very possible he might have attempted to do, and thus have afforded another chase, had not a police officer (who is generally the last person to arrive in such cases) at that moment made his way through the crowd, and seized Oliver by the collar.
"'Come, get up,' said the man, roughly.
"'It wasn't me indeed, sir. Indeed, indeed, it was two other boys,' said Oliver, clasping his hands passionately, and looking round. 'They are here somewhere.'
"'Oh no, they ain't,' said the officer. He meant this to be ironical, but it was true besides; for the Dodger and Charley Bates had filed off down the first convenient court they came to."

Incidentally, the other thing Gallows Child always makes me think of is Christopher Brookmyre's 2001 crime novel A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away. Brookmyre explained his title by saying it's an excuse heard so often in the Scottish courts that it practically counts as a third official plea: does the defendant plead Guilty, Not Guilty, or A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away?
Charles Elliot chose the third option, but it didn't help him any more than it helps most defendants today.
I might try and get up to see your play in Chester if I get the chance. If you're game for it, maybe I could even make a little field recording of you or the cast singing
Gallows Child in its new setting and post it on-line as I did with Pete Morton's Nasra Ismail performance here.
*****
July 1, 2011. David Reeves of Northampton, writes: "I just came across your article about the Knoxville Girl/Oxford Tragedy/Bloody Miller ballads, and wanted to say how interesting I found it.
"My grandparents used to own a small farm next door to the Hogstow Mill mentioned in The Bloody Miller. As a small child I used to walk past the mill from the bus stop when visiting my grandmother. The wind used make an eerie whining noise in the power cables, and I always thought it was haunted. When I first encountered this ballad and realised that it was the same mill - and therefore that the murder may well have happened on my Grandfather's fields - it did send a tingle down my spine.
"It had always been my intention to investigate this further, and to see if there was any evidence of an actual murder. I got as far as the local history library in Shrewsbury but no further, so I was very pleased to see you had found details for Anne Nicholas and her son. I wonder if there is any record of the trial of Francis Cooper? Being a murder trial, this would have been in the assizes court (rather than the sessions) and so any records would be at the public records office in Kew. Did you look at this at all?"
"Thanks again for a fascinating study."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for that - I'm really glad you enjoyed the piece. I did do a bit of research on Francis and Anne out at Kew, but I'm not sure I ever thought to ask for the assizes records there. If you should ever decide to investigate them for yourself, please do drop me a line again, as I'd love to see any new information you might uncover.
*****
May 22, 2011. Roberta Wood of Chicago, Illinois, writes: "Hi, I enjoyed reading your story about The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. I remember hearing about that case when I was growing up in Baltimore. Roy Wood was my uncle and it was interesting to see the role his story played.
"My uncle Roy was a righteous, crusading man, in a very difficult period of our country's history. I'm forwarding this to my cousin, who might be able to send you more info about him. He made not only great political contributions, but musical ones too."

Paul Slade replies: I always love to hear from relatives of the people I write about on this site, Roberta, so I'm delighted you enjoyed the piece and that you thought I did your uncle justice. As a PlanetSlade correspondent, you join an elite list which already includes Harry Pace's great grandson, Martin Bates' great great niece and JV Quick's great great great grand-daughter. Not bad.
That news story of your uncle's which Broadside reproduced was Bob Dylan's biggest single influence when he wrote
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, and I hope Roy took great pleasure and pride in the fact that he'd inspired such a masterpiece of a song. Anyone curious to read more about his role can find the details in my article.
*****
May 23, 2011. Calla Smorodin, of St Louis, Missouri, writes:
"My cousin Roberta Wood forwarded your article to me. Roy Wood is my father, and I would be happy to share information about him. In 1963 I was not living on the East Coast and I am sorry to say I did not know about the Hattie Carroll event. My father did a lot of important things in his life, but was not one to brag about himself or his accomplishments.
"He would never have described himself as a 'righteous' man, but rather a patriot. He and most of us in our family were proud of our ancestors' participation in the American Revolution, the Civil War (on the side of the north of course, his family being abolitionists), and World War II. Even though he had a wife and two small children during WW II and could have possibly avoided the draft, he served in the US Merchant Marine bringing supplies to North African ports.
"His personal first commandment was that all people are created equal [and] the thing that distressed him most about his beloved Baltimore was the deep-rooted racism among its white population. Among the organizations he was affiliated with during his life, all had in common an egalitarian theme: The Communist Party of the USA (for which he served a jail sentence), The New Democratic Coalition, and a seniors' group in Baltimore County, the name of which I do not remember.
"His music was his interior life, where he found joy and solace. He celebrated (and played) all the new music as it came into being from Fats Waller to Rock 'n' Roll. When he was home, he practiced Chopin's Polonaise every day. He played nothing else! I grew up thinking that was how everyone lived.
"The piano was his instrument - an upright piano. I believe he didn't see any point in bothering with any other. He sang as he played whenever the piece had words. And like most of our family -- he loved people."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks so much for your letter, Calla. Roy really does sound like a lovely man, and the family's love for him is palpable in everything you and Roberta have said here.
*****
May 11, 2011. Dr Kieren Pitts of the Amateur Entomologists' Society writes:
"Thank you for the email and the information on the comic. I've forwarded it to the various editors of our publications.
"One thing: this could just be artistic licence as it fits the story better, rather than you aiming for 100% entomological accuracy, but worker ants are always females. Male ants only appear seasonally and leave the nest to mate with new queens and then die. Males never forage around the nest so it would always be a female worker that finds the butterfly caterpillar."

Paul Slade replies: I must admit, I didn't know that about worker ants, but I'm going to plead artistic licence anyway. There's so many females elsewhere in the story that making the ant a "she" as well would have rendered the captions hopelessly confusing.
Practical considerations like these aside, it just seemed instinctively right to cast the story with a male ant and a female catapillar - perhaps because the catapillar remains effortlessly three steps ahead through their entire duel. That sounds like a woman running rings round her poor befuddled man to me!
*****
Message board round-up


The truly obsessive among you can find the sources for my latest collection of blurbs (Nineteen nimble netsters...) here:

Down The Tubes
http://downthetubescomics.blogspot.com/2011/05/david-attenborough-inspires-new-horror.html (May 9, 2011 entry).

Fantagraphics
http://www.fantagraphics.com/index.php?option=com_myblog&Itemid=113

Lorne Blair
http://www.lornebair.com/blog/scumbags/william-zantzinger/

Metafilter
http://projects.metafilter.com/3115/Insect-Horror-Comics

QI
http://www.qi.com/talk/viewtopic.php?p=817438#817438

Scott McCloud
http://scottmccloud.com/page/2/ (June 29, 2011 entry).

May

April 18, 2011. Karen Wheeling Reynolds, author of Tom Dooley: The Story Behind the Ballad and Tom Dooley: A Wilkes County Legend, writes:
“Greetings, Paul Slade. You certainly did your homework during your short time in Elkville. Great detective work!
“Tom Dooley is a fascinating story and - whether dealing with the folklore or the facts - it reaches far. In part, we have the reporter from the New York Herald who covered Tom's hanging to thank for it, in part Tom's representation by such a public figure as Governor Zebulon B. Vance. And then, of course, there's the Dooley revival in the late 50's and early 60's when The Kingston Trio recorded the international #1 hit Tom Dooley.
“I would like to speak to your descriptions of people in my home community, however. I find it a little hard to believe that most of the people you met were missing teeth or looked like Harry Dean Stanton. Yes, we still use a slang version of 'the King's English' as we call it (or olde English as you might call it), but Elkville/Ferguson residents are a very intelligent and resourceful people. When I visit larger cities I am astounded by the vast number of homeless people lining the streets and alleys - yet you won't find that in Elkville.
“A strong rural community, these residents take care of their own. Yes, Bubba may live in a small camper/trailer on grandma's farm - but he HAS a home and food. The beauty of this area today, very much as it was when Tom lived here, is that life is dictated by the seasons - planting, harvesting, canning, fishing, hunting, making molasses, gathering honey, chopping wood and killing hogs. We remain in touch with the earth, not concrete and asphalt, and because of this we can survive in most situations.
“The morality that was documented by The New York Herald was in a time of crisis - during the Civil War and dealing with the after effects of that conflict. It was a time of lawlessness as citizens suffered the wrath of traitors and bushwhackers. Many of the women did not maintain their ladylike demeanor, that's true - whether by choice as a means to survive or by force. Tensions were also high in this area of Wilkes (the foothills) because opinions about the Confederacy were greatly divided. Again, relate it to modern day to put it in perspective. One only has to read the tabloids to see that women all over continue to live free-spirited lives.
“Dooley mania is as 'infectious' as your title for this piece. Like clockwork every year, the community of Elkville (now known as Ferguson) gets visits from authors, playwrights, screenwriters, historians and fans of the story claiming that they have discovered what really happened that tragic morning on what is now called Laura's Ridge. Sadly, with over 200 pieces of conflicting testimony and court transcripts - and with no physical evidence or witnesses to the crime - reality is found only in each detective's own perception.
“Even Tom's last documented statements conflict. Just seconds before he dropped to his death under the gallows on the railroad tracks in Statesville, NC, he raised his hand to challenge the crowd of over 3,000 who had come to watch him die and said, 'Gentlemen, do you see this hand? Does it tremble? I never harmed a hair on Laura Foster's head!' The night before the hanging he signed a confession letter stating, 'I and I alone killed Laura Foster'.
“And then there's Perline Foster! She blamed or cast doubt on several others. Perline stated that Anne took her to the place where the body was buried and confided in her that she killed Laura. She also cast suspicion on Tom, saying that he threatened to run Laura through because she gave him syphilis. She even told that Will Foster, Laura's own father was mad that his mare was missing and told her that he didn't care about Laura just so he found his mare - and that if he found Laura he would kill her himself (a statement that Will denied). Perline even went so far as to implicate herself after drinking too much at Cowles' store and told some of the men there that she and Tom killed Laura Foster and then ran off to Tennessee.
“So, unless someone has actually spoken with Tom, Anne, Laura or Perline personally, the 'truth' is only speculation. One thing is for sure: It's fun to come to your own conclusion and Tom's story will be debated in many ways by many people for years to come. It remains an unsolved mystery, a lover's triangle and one of the nation's first highly-publicized crimes of passion.
“I have not personally spoken with Tom, Laura, Anne or Perline, but I have written an historical novel with many of the facts I've just mentioned mixed with our folklore. My greatest compliments from those having read the book or seen the outdoor drama are from the citizens of Elkville/Ferguson, who tell me over and over 'this is the way I've always heard it'.
“I am the great-great-great granddaughter of Calvin and Martha Cowles (the storekeeper in the story) and a relative of Colonel James Horton, one of the men who found Laura's body. I grew up in Ferguson, went to school with many of the families directly involved - the Meltons, Fosters and Dulas - and heard every version of the story anyone could possibly imagine as a child in my Daddy's store (he ran a grocery story directly across from the site where Calvin Cowles' store once stood). For anyone interested in learning more - my book is available on my website www.karenwreynolds.com
“Sorry I missed you during your visit (I didn't get the part by the way). Maybe next time. You need to see the beauty of Elkville that only a resident there can help you find!"

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for your letter, Karen, and I hope people will check out your book. If you or your publisher would care to send me a copy, I'd love to see it.
The closest I got to Elkville itself during my trip was Statesville, about 15 miles away, and that's where the 'Harry Dean Stanton' encounter you mention took place. Like almost all the Americans I meet during my trips there, 'Harry' and his companion were far more friendly and approachable than their opposite numbers would be here in the UK. It was a striking conversation, though, and I hope I can be forgiven for milking a little gentle humour from it."
I thoroughly dislike the air of (quite undeserved) superiority which some English people affect towards Americans, so I hope I'm never guilty of that myself. Far from suggesting that "most of the people I met there were missing teeth", I immediately followed my two HDS paragraphs with two more explaining how pretty and charming Statesville's Civic Centre receptionist had been.
I'm sure there's a far pleasanter side to Statesville than I saw during my very short visit there. I stand by my description of what I did see, though, and I'm afraid that particular little handful of streets doesn't seem any cheerier in retrospect than it did at the time. It's true that I saw no homeless people there, though, and you certainly can't say that of London.
Your comments about the "strong rural community" around Elkville and Statesville reminded me of the interviews included on the extras track of Debra Granik's Winter's Bone DVD. The real-life community of Ozarks "hillbillies" - their word, not mine - where Granik filmed her movie made exactly the same points about being intimately bound to their families' land, and the survival skills that fosters in them.
I'm sure you're right to say that the moral condemnation the New York Herald's man laid at Tom, Laura and Pauline's door isn't the full story. Perhaps I should have emphasised that point more by also quoting John Foster West's caveat in his own Tom Dula book: "Although depraved families did exist, living on adjacent hillsides or beyond the next ridge could be found the most industrious, honest and moral families living in any society".
Even so, the Herald's view remains a useful corrective to the highly-romanticised version of Tom and Laura's story which the folklore often presents. I agree that it would be easy to find similar behaviour in many hard-pressed communities today, and that's exactly the point I was hoping to make by juxtaposing the Herald story with Jarvis Cocker's 1995 lyrics about life in working class Sheffield.
Where we disagree is your implication that, simply because the principals in this tale are now dead, we have no choice but to throw our hands in the air and decide that all the competing versions have an equal claim to be true. Even at a distance of 140 years, it's possible to establish that some 'facts' are more firmly sourced than others, and apply a little intelligent scepticism to the folklore's more fanciful claims. This process can't hope to eliminate every last scrap of doubt, but it will give you the most reliable account we can hope for.
Often, the people who love the legends most are so invested in their preferred version that they refuse to acknowledge even the most conclusive contradictory evidence. "That's just the way I heard it," is a lovely compliment for a novelist or a dramatist to receive, but any conscientious journalist has to take it with a pinch of salt.
I'm sorry to reply at such length, but you raised a lot of points which I thought demanded an answer. If I ever do get to North Carolina again, I'll certainly drop you a line so we can arrange that tour.

April 21, 2011. Karen Wheeling Reynolds writes:
“The offer still stands. I would love to introduce you to some of the amazing people from the foothills of North Carolina.
“My point on the 'truth' in this story was meant generally. Yes, there is strong evidence in the court transcripts - but it conflicts. Tom confused us even more by writing a confession the night before the hanging and then, seconds before his death, claiming that he never harmed a hair on Laura Foster's head. I still say, an unsolved mystery!"

Paul Slade replies: As with any murder case that's held its fascination for so long, there will always be unanswered questions in the Tom Dula story. In that sense, I agree, it will always be unsolved - and that's a good thing because it's precisely those unanswered questions which ensure the story remains a living thing.

*****

March 4, 2010: Bernard Puckett of Islington Folk Club  writes:
“A free poem:

“Murder Ballad
by Bernard Puckett

"With water pistol full of petrol
He set his friend on fire
The guy with a bike he didn't like
So he strung his route with wire
With a popular picture paper
Wrapped round an old iron bar
He tapped a guy on the head
Who fell down dead
Then went for a drive in his car
He turned his radio on
And this is the song he heard

"Never ever run away from anything you say

"They found the bodies
One, two, three
They found the car
Beside the sea
A boat was missing
The man was gone
They found the radio
It played the song

"Was the man mad?
Was the man bad?
What role, if any
Have his mum and dad?
Was he confused about
Right and wrong
About an idea
Found in a song?

"What of the man?
Where was he bound?
A storm blew up
Boat sank, he drowned.
The trail went cold
The song was sung
They found the writer
And he was hung."


Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for the poem, Bernard, and for your permission to reproduce it here. Your writer's fate made me think of something the comics writer Neil Gaiman once said.
My memory's hazy, and I'm having no luck with Google, but as far as I can recall, it involved an American teenager who shot either himself or some classmates. Gaiman's Sandman comics turned out to be one of things the kid had been reading, and that dragged him into the whole media circus that followed.
Again, as near as I can recall, Gaiman's response to reporters was to remind them that disturbed people would always find something to push them over the edge. Given the distorting lens that this particular young man brought to everything around him, his own trigger could just as easily have been a soap powder commercial or a random sitcom plot as anything Gaiman had written. So, did he feel responsible? No.
It was words to that effect, anyway, and it's a view that always sounds very sensible to me. I'm not sure if your songwriter hanged himself or fell victim to a vengeful lynch mob, but either way, I think he got a raw deal!

*****
Message board round-up


The sources for my latest collection of blurbs ("Onlookers opine our output offers optimal oomph") can be found below. Sometimes there's quite an interesting discussion attached.

fRoots
http://froots.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=5176

Lost Folk Tapes
http://www.lostfolktapes.com/index.html

Metafilter
http://projects.metafilter.com/2976/16-gallows-ballads-from-Victorian-London

Mudcat
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=135608&messages=8

My Fine Forum
http://exmilitarylincs.myfineforum.org/sutra98882.php

Roll On Friday
http://www.rollonfriday.com

Tumblr
http://spiderhill.tumblr.com/page/4

March

January 23, 2011. Lowell McManus of Eagle Pass, Texas, writes:
“While going through the papers of my late father, I found an old manuscript of a poem or song that I'd never seen before. A Google search led me to your web site and its exhaustive history of The Knoxville Girl, which I found very interesting.
“In the section of that history on the 1892 murder of Mary Lula Noel in Missouri, you write: 'I've got no proof for this, but I like to think the Mary Noel story's most enduring legacy is to give Knoxville Girl's killer his modern name. Arthur Tanner's 1925 record has the line "Willie dear, don't kill me here / I'm not prepared to die", and that's the name that's stuck ever since. Tanner's is the earliest version I've been able to find using this name, and I'm content to believe it was the William Simmons case which inspired it. All it would take to scupper this theory is a single pre-1892 version using the name Willie, but so far I haven't found one.'
“While I cannot date the manuscript or the introduction of its story into my family's possession, I can state two clear facts: (1) The setting of the song in my manuscript is Oxford, mentioned three times, not Knoxville or Pineville, and; (2) The victim calls her killer "Willie" as she begs him for her life, as does his mother when she inquires as to the blood.
“This manuscript is written in lead pencil on six sheets of lined tablet paper that is extremely yellowed. I strongly believe it to be in a youthful version of my father's handwriting with youthfully unskilled spelling. He was born in 1910 in rural western Louisiana. His father was born in the same place in 1883.
“The latter (my grandfather) played the fiddle and was a collector of old fiddle tunes and songs. He was also a lawman, to whom this murder story would have appealed. On the bottom of one of the pages are a few words and some letters written in my grandfather's unmistakable hand - as if he were showing his son how better to form his letters. In case you should wonder, my paternal line descends from a McManus ancestor who emigrated from County Roscommon at the time of the famine.
“I believe that the juvenile writing places the manuscript well before my father's adulthood. Thus, it could possibly be before 1925. In any case, I don't know how my family could have heard that year's Arthur Tanner record. There were very few radio stations then in South, and I don't know when they acquired their first battery radio. I know that they acquired a gramophone at some point, but I rather doubt that it was that early. Electricity did not arrive in their rural area until 1950.
“Although this version has the killer living in Oxford, the victim an Oxford girl, and the body found in the water at Oxford, the killer's flour mill was in quite another place. Unfortunately, its name is not clear from the manuscript, but it is clearly not Oxford. It appears to be 'the city of Mico', although that makes no sense to me."

Paul Slade replies: The main thing that strikes me about your manuscript is how close it is to The Berkshire Tragedy's wording of 1744 - which is pretty amazing when you consider that there's 175 years and half a planet separating the two songs. Verse three is particularly striking:
The Berkshire Tragedy (England, c1744): "I called her from her sister's door, / At eight o'clock at night, / Poor creature, she did little dream, / I owed her any spite."
McManus Manuscript (USA, c1920): "I called at her sister's house, / At eight o'clock that night,/ But little did that fair girl think,/ I owed her any spite."
This suggests your transcript was produced from a very old version of the song - perhaps a version of The Oxford Girl or The Wexford Girl which your family brought with it from Ireland to the States.
There's American influences there too, though, most notably the switch from servant to mother in verse nine. That's generally agreed to be an American invention, introduced after the song was first customised into 1810's The Lexington Miller for US audiences. The Lexington Miller itself still has a servant in this role, but every other American version I've seen uses the mother.
The other obvious point of comparison is The Oxford Tragedy, which Cecil Sharp collected during a visit to Kentucky in 1917. Like your manuscript - which seems to date from just a few years later - this song mentions both Oxford and a second town. In that case, the second town is Knoxville itself, and the killer's called Johnny.
This is a real long shot, but there's another British version of the song called Ekefield Town, and I wonder if "Mico" might be a sound-alike corruption of that? It could be someone's half-remembered transcription of the word he thought he heard when the song was performed: Ekefield/Meeko. Or maybe not...
Until I saw the full transcript, I wondered if the written word might have been intended as "mill", We know mills figure heavily in this story, after all, but that interpretation clearly doesn't fit the wording or handwriting you sent me. I see there's a town called Mico near San Antonio in Texas, but I think that's just a co-incidence.
Your manuscript's mention of Willie could still be inspired by the Mary Noel case, I think. Pineville, Missouri (where Mary died in 1892) is only about 520 miles from even the furthest point of Louisiana, and it's quite possible that a travelling musician could have carried the song that far.
Your manuscript certainly looks to be older than Arthur Tanner's recording, which may make it the earliest version we have using Willie's name. The Penguin Book of Folk Ballads has a Nova Scotia version of Wexford Girl calling him Willie, but doesn't say when it was collected.

January 25, 2011. Lowell McManus writes:
“I can't buy Ekefield for 'mico'. I think that my family would have written 'meco' or 'meeco' if they had intended something pronounced me-ko. 'Mico' would have been pronounced my-ko, which takes it even farther from Ekefield.
“I've actually been to Pineville, Missouri, though not in relation to the song. It is 471 miles from Leesville, Louisiana, near which my family lived.
“I have found a sample of my father's handwriting in a third-grade textbook (about 1918), which is much more childish than that in the song manuscript. So, he must have been a bit older when he wrote the latter. That is to say, his motor skills had advanced, but his language skills were still juvenile.
“I have given additional thought to my father's mysterious word 'mico' with a possible eye to whether I am reading it correctly. The 'm' is identical to several other initial 'm's throughout the song. The 'i' is undotted, but so are most of the 'i's in the document. The 'i' and the 'c' are disconnected, but that is also the case in the midst of the word 'voice' in verse eight. The 'c' is tall and has a loop at the top, but it matches many other 'c's. The 'o' is unmistakable. Thus, the intended word is, without doubt, 'mico' - but I still don't know what to think of it."

*****

February 4, 2011: Terry Beatty of Minneapolis, Minnesota, writes:
“You've probably already heard this from many readers - but in case you haven't, that Avengers King-size Special #3 cover is by John Buscema, not Jack Kirby.”

Paul Slade replies: You're dead right, of course - and looking at that Thor figure again, I can't imagine how I made the mistake in the first place. My only excuse is that Buscema's brief at Marvel in those days was essentially to look as much like Kirby as possible!
The Superheroes in Court piece has been up online for months, but you're the first person to give me a heads-up about this error. I'm always glad to have a chance to correct stuff like this, so thanks for letting me know. I've replaced it with the genuine Kirby cover now, and amended the caption accordingly."

[Comics fans will already know who Terry is. For the rest of you, here's an extract from his biographical note on www.terrybeatty.com: "Terry is the artist and co-creator (with Max Allan Collins) of the long-running private eye comic book series, Ms. Tree. Collaborations with Collins also include Mike Mist, Mickey Spillane's Mike Danger and Johnny Dynamite. Collins and Beatty are currently at work on Return to Perdition, a graphic novel sequel to Road to Perdition, for DC's Vertigo Crime line."]

*****

January 9, 2011. Judith Vandenbergh Green of Adelaide, South Australia, writes:
“I have read your work on broadsides with interest and delight because I am writing an account of the Vandenbergh family, and JV Quick, [the Victorian broadsheet printer] is one of my people.
“John Vandenbergh Quick was a grandson of bookseller Simon Vandenbergh (c.1728-1808) and a nephew of the notorious John Vandenbergh (c.1760-1811), a member of a 'desperate gang of housebreakers' who operated in the Westminster area in the 1780's. Members of the gang included Francis Fleming 'the walking fence', Billy the Trap, William Harding (alias 'Spot'), and a chimney sweep known as 'Shock'. John Vandenbergh, a goldbeater, had his crucible at the ready to melt down stolen gold and silver.
“Their most daring exploit was to rob Westminster Abbey. John (my great great great grandfather) buried the Abbey treasures in his backyard, but his talkative wife told a neighbour who informed on the gang. I found this account in the December 10, 1787, issue of World:
“‘John Vanderburgh [...] was a pawnbroker on the ruins near Dean's Yard, where he has lived for some years, and most probably, has as long practised the trade of receiving stolen goods. Being a married man, he entrusted his wife with the secret of his having received the plate stolen out of the Abbey, and that he had concealed it in a hole dug in the garden.
“‘His wife communicated the intelligence to a female friend. Some little time after, the wife quarrelled with the husband of her female friend, who, to be revenged, disclosed some circumstances relative to that transaction, which led to the discovery of the whole gang. [...] Vanderburgh and his wife were just sitting down to a sumptuous dinner, when the officers from Bow-street entered their house, and took them away.'
“On the more respectable side, JVQ's cousin, another John Vandenbergh, wrote plays, pantomimes and comic songs performed at Covent Garden and Drury Lane.
“JV Quick was a printer/engraver, and had a bookshop and circulating library. He set up a printing press in the Thames Tunnel when it opened in 1843, and invented many Victorian amusements, such as peepshows, dioramas, pop-up books, flap books and cardboard cut-out models. He lost all his money when he attempted to educate the great unwashed by printing world literature in penny installments. His first effort was History of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, so I am not surprised.
“JVQ's nephew William Michael Roberts Quick (1838-1927) was engraver for the Illustrated London News and his best work was when he engraved arcane drawings of Frederick Carter and AO Spare (two followers of Aleister Crowley).
“An interesting sidelight to street ballads is that they were collected by Frederic Madden, keeper of manuscripts at the British Library, a scholar and aesthete, who had to venture into Seven Dials and other seedy locations in search of them. The Madden Collection of 30,000 street ballads, including some printed by JV Quick, is at Cambridge University. Harvard's library has a magnificent collection of execution broadsides, some by JV Quick and copies can be downloaded."

Paul Slade replies: That's one heck of a family you've got there! It makes perfect sense that JVQ would have relatives in printing, book-selling and street crime, as these are the three trades which he brought together so wonderfully in his gallows ballad business.

*****

January 7, 2011. Alice Moore of Stamford, Connecticut writes:
“Regarding your piece on Fredericksburg's Easter Fires, I just have to say Thank You. I'm still laughing.
“I'm doing dissertation work on Fredericksburg and was just tooling around for information on the 1946 pageant. I'm still trying to figure out exactly when Easter Fires became conflated with the Fredericksburg history pageant. The history pageant was first written in 1929 by Esther Mueller and doesn't appear to have included bunnies, drunk or not."

Paul Slade replies: Everything I know about the pageant is included somewhere in that essay, so I'm afraid I can't shed any more light on when the bunnies first appeared. I was hoping to make people laugh with that particular piece, though, so I'm very glad you enjoyed it.

*****

December 29, 2010. Sharon Kaighin from the Isle of Man writes:
“Just come across your excellent site and in particular the piece on Masquerade. I was a huge fan and can't believe it was 30 years ago!
“Just thought I would let you know I came across the 1982 Omnibus programme on Youtube today, and it has in it the interview with 'Ken Thomas' behind frosted glass. You may have already seen it but thought I would let you know.
“I thought the Radio 4 documentary and subsequent programme on BBC Four were excellent - but a sad end in a way to such a great hunt."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks so much for that. As I explain in the piece, that segment of the report is missing from the BBC's own archive copy, and I hadn't seen the frosted glass testimony since it originally went out all those years ago.

*****
Message board round-up


The sources for my latest collection of blurbs ("Plenty pundits praise Planet's peerless prose") can be found below. Sometimes there's quite an interesting discussion attached.

Authonomy
http://www.authonomy.com/books/14848/murder-ballads/

BBC Radio 4
http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbradio4/F2766774?thread=7629637

Cyclechat
http://www.cyclechat.net/topic/73330-friday-night-is-songs-with-death-in-them-night/

Deceptology
http://www.deceptology.com/2010/11/first-radio-hoax-was-not-war-of-worlds.html

fRoots
http://froots.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=5638&highlight=dooley

Metafilter
http://projects.metafilter.com/2867/Tom-Dooley-The-Full-Story

Music Radar
http://www.musicradar.com/forum/showthread.php?t=74321&highlight=PlanetSlade

QI
http://www.qi.com/talk/viewtopic.php?p=762697&highlight=dooley#762697


Nineteen nimble netsters notice nothing negative

On Insect Horror Comics
“A pleasure to draw.” - Artist Hans Rickheit, via e-mail.

“Rickheit's intricate art always seemed a bit insectoid to me, so it's a good match.” - Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics, Scottmccloud.com

“An excellent marriage of artist and subject matter.” - Mike Baehr, Fantagraphics.

“Such an original idea.”- Ben Hoare, BBC Wildlife Magazine, via e-mail.

“I love the comic.”- Florian Maderspacher, Current Biology magazine, via e-mail.

“Awesome!”- Ignignokt, Metafilter.

“Impressive short story.”- Neil King, Fatea.

“Fascinating piece of natural history there, Slade. Like the idea of turning it into a comic.”- Leith, QI.com

“This is very good.”- Bwithh, Metafilter.

“Such a good script. an excellent job.”- Paul Francis, via e-mail.

“I am creeped out by the Mother's Day comic. Mission accomplished!”- Hot_monster, Metafilter.

“Looks great” - John Freeman, Down The Tubes.

“Jesus... nice” - ServSci, Metafilter.

“Something of a tour de force.”- Nigel Paterson, via e-mail.

“This is incredible!”- Debbie Buckley, via e-mail.

On Superheroes in Court.
“Read it and weep.”- Martyn Pedler, Twitter.

On Hattie Carroll.
“A remarkable piece.”- Lorne Bair, Lornebair.com

On Stagger Lee.
“Here's the whole Stagger Lee story.”- Swac, medialocals.ca

On PlanetSlade.
“Brilliant site.”- Nicola Andrew, via e-mail.

















































Onlookers opine our output offers optimal oomph

On Murder Ballads
“I love the work that you have done.” - WPSU blues DJ Max Siegel, Mudcat.

On Murder Ballads
“What a great project this is - and what a great album these ballads could make.” - Spleen Cringe, Mudcat.

“I haven't been able to tear myself away for the past two hours. [...] Absolutely fascinating stuff.” - Deborah Maskin, fRoots.

“A very interesting project.” - Charley Noble, Mudcat.

“Great work. Thanks so much for posting it.” - Stagger Lee, Metafilter.

“A wonderful project - so entertaining and informative.”- Maryrrf, Mudcat.

“Fantastic collection.”- Spiderhill, Tumblr.

“An interesting project, and nicely executed.”- Dick Greenhaus, Mudcat.

“These we like.”- Nigel Spencer, Lost Folk Tapes.

“A job well done.”- Gargoyle, Mudcat.

“Very interesting website.”- Peta Webb, English Folk Dance & Song Society, via e-mail.

On Necropolis Railway
“This is cool.”- Cyprian, Eollonfroday.com

“I found this interesting.”- Pat, Myfineforum.org

















































Plenty pundits praise Planet's peerless prose

On PlanetSlade
“Funky site!” - Scott Bukatman, via e-mail.

“I commend this site.” - William Stevenson, BBC Radio 4 message board.

“Interesting site.” - Brio, Music Radar.

On Murder Ballads
“Great.” - Desert Dancer, Mudcat.

“Great stuff, thanks.” - Fixedgear, Metafilter messaging.

“Very interesting and entertaining.”- Jane, Authonomy.com

“Fascinating stuff.”- Pendragon, Music Radar.

On Knoxville Girl
“An interesting history.”- Yellow Fang, Cyclechat.net

On British Broadsides
“This is a very interesting historical project and your site is fascinating.”- Valmai Goodyear, Lewes Saturday Folk Club, via e-mail.

On Tom Dooley
“Compulsive stuff.”- Ian Anderson, editor, fRoots magazine.

“So informative.” - Cheminatrix, Metafilter.

“Great Job.” - Karen Reynolds, author of Tom Dooley: A Wilkes County Legend, via e-mail.

“Wow... this is just fantastic.” - Miko, Metafilter.

“Fascinating stuff.” - Jenny, moderator, QI.com

“Great job.” - Librarylis, Metafilter.

“This might be my favourite one you've done yet.” - Ryan Harris, via e-mail.

“Fascinating.” - - Paduasoy, Metafilter.

“Marvelous treatment of the history behind the ballad.” - Jerome Clark, fRoots.net

“My favourite project all year.” - Jessamyn West, Metafilter podcast.

“Well researched [and] thoroughly entertaining.” - Panama, Mojo4music.com

On Nasra Ismail
“Excellent version by Pete Morton.” - Bernie Dembowski, via e-mail.

On Black Swan Blues
“That was terrific.” - Sonny, via e-mail.

“If you are a history buff, this is for you.” - Fred Lapides, Extragoodshit.com

On First Great Radio Hoax
“An excellent article.”- Bob Brown, Deceptology.com

















































Quotes quiver at quintessence of quiet quality

On PlanetSlade
“What a wonderful website. ” - SylviaN, Mudcat.

“Superb site - well researched and written.” - The Leveller, Mudcat.

On Murder Ballads
“Clever and original.” - Esack, Authonomy.

On Stagger Lee
“Fascinating stuff! ” - Gareth Brookes, via e-mail.

“A great essay.” - Murky Chris, Wordmagazine.co.uk

On Broadside Ballads
“Bookmarked to keep.” - Punkfolkrocker, Mudcat.

“Fascinating stuff.” - Neil D, Mudcat.

On Superheroes in Court
“Good article!”- Fubar the Panda, Yuku.com

On NYC Murals
“Great stuff.” - Saladin, Metafilter.

“(A) web highlight.” - John Warren, New York History.

“Nice” - Fuq, Metafilter.