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Pearl Bryan: chapter four continued

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Pearl Bryan
Secret London
Murder Ballads

Doran mentions that a Pearl Bryan song was already circulating in Cincinnati by the time Ed Swain and George Jackson first met, and it's almost certainly this Jealous Lover variant he has in mind. It was first recorded by Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers in 1927. They called their version Pearl Bryant and it goes like this:

Way down in Yander's Valley,
Where the flowers fade and bloom,
Our own Pearl Bryan is sleeping,
In a cold and silent tomb.

She died not broken-hearted,
Nor by disease she fell,
But in one instant parted,
From the home she loved so well.

One night when the moon shone brightly,
The stars were shining too,
Then to her cottage window,
Her jealous lover drew.

'Come Pearl and let's go wander,
Down in the wilds so gay,
Come love and let us ponder,
Upon our wedding day.'

Deep, deep into the valley,
He led his Pearl so dear,
Said she in sorrow only,
'Why am I wandering here?'

The way grows dark and dreary,
And I'm afraid to stay,
Besides, I'm worn and weary,
I must retrace my way.

'What have I done, Scott Jackson,
That you should take my life?
I've always loved you dearly,
And would have been your wife.

'Farewell, my loving parents,
My face you'll never see more,
How long you'll wait my coming,
To a little cottage door.

'Farewell, my faithful sister,
My peaceful, happy home,
Farewell, my dear old schoolmates,
With you no more I'll roam.'

When the birds were singing sweetly,
Their bright and joyous song,
They found Pearl's Bryan's body,
On the cold and silent ground.

Aside from the new names, Poole's lyrics are identical to The Jealous Lover's original

I've never seen a version of the song in its original form that specifically mentions a sister, but most do include the girl's farewell to "parents, friends and home", so that's a relatively minor tweak. Aside from the new names, everything in Poole's lyrics is drawn from The Jealous Lover's original, and the resulting hybrid fits the facts of Pearl's death pretty well. Its depiction of the victim as an an innocent, home-loving girl slots Pearl neatly into the character template found in the newspaper stories.
In The Jealous Lover itself, the girl often forgives her killer even as he plunges a knife into her breast, but that verse is seldom included in the Pearl Bryan adaptions. Perhaps the balladeers involved felt Jackson was too evil to deserve any mercy from his victim, and excised the forgiveness verse for that reason.
Some early versions of the adaption use a different final verse, tailoring the song more closely to just how Pearl was killed:

"While the banners waved above her,
The shrill was a mournful sound,
A stranger came and found her,
Cold, headless on the ground."

With such a striking detail to impart, and a walk-on part for John Hewling too, you'd think that verse would have established itself very firmly in the song. Cohen has collected a lot of Pearl's Jealous Lover variants, though, and her research shows that's not the case.
"Headlessness appears in 11 out of 24 texts up to 1927, in two out of seven between 1928 and 1938 and not at all after 1938," she writes. "In other murdered-girl ballads, victims are stabbed, beaten, drowned and poisoned, but beheading is not in the repetoire of allowable methods. Thus, a sensational feature of the story, which one might expect to be memorable and hence retained, is quick to disappear."
I can't claim to have studied as many Jealous Lover adaptions as Cohen has, but the handful I do have certainly back her conclusions. Olive Woolley Burt, in her book American Murder Ballads & Their Stories, recalls a 1913 visit to her uncle's ranch in Utah, where she heard a shepherd singing The Jealous Lover with Pearl and Scott's names inserted. Song collectors visiting one of California's migrant work camps in 1940 recorded a similar version by Lois Judd, an inmate at the camp. Judd told them she'd picked the song up in Kentucky, adding it was "about the first song I ever learnt". The same lyrics were still circulating in Kentucky as late as 1977, when the song collector Burt Feintuch found a dairy farmer called Gladys Pace singing them there. None of these versions mention the decapitation.
Burnett and Rutherford don't mention it in their 1928 recording either, which adds the surprising element of a kazoo solo to the tune. Their lyrics stick fairly close to Poole's model, but give Scott Jackson a spot of first-person narration in the opening verse:

Way down in Yonder's Valley,
Where flowers fade and bloom,
I placed my own Pearl Bryan,
In a cold and solomn tomb.

That place name, incidentally, seems to be an import from Tom Dooley, who killed his lover Laura Foster in the real Yander's Valley, North Carolina, in 1868. As with Tom's own ballad, "Yander's Valley" was quickly changed to a more generic "yonder valley", and we see that process already underway in the Burnett & Rutherford recording.
Pearl would get her own bespoke ballad soon after the Jealous Lover variant started circulating, but this patched- together adaption has proved surprisingly persistent. The Penguin Book of Folk Ballads logs examples in Indiana and West Virginia, both states bordering Kentucky and Ohio, but the Utah and California sightings show it's travelled much further than that.

Police now knew enough to be sure Pearl had died in Fort Thomas rather than Cincinnati, and that meant Kentucky must be given the jurisdiction of any murder trial that resulted. Even so, the Ohio authorities were nervous about the prospect of moving Jackson and Walling across the state line, because they feared Kentucky's lawmen may not be able to control the lynch mobs there.
The two men themselves didn't much fancy a move to Kentucky either. "The Newport jail was old and flimsy," Doran writes. "And both prisoners cowered in their cells whenever reporters mentioned they probably would be taken to Newport." There were repeated rumours that they'd be moved across the river any day now, and police discovered one plot involving a gang of 50 Kentucky men, who planned to kidnap Jackson and Walling in transit and hang them while they were still on the bridge. Even the police chief in Newport acknowledged that bringing the two men there would be a risky business, and was forced to make a public statement that any sign of mob violence would be met with mass arrests.

Greencastle: continued

He recognised the name Pearl Bryan instantly, and asked us to wait for a second, then follow them up to the plot. They appeared again a second later, this time in a golf buggy which Walt followed in a winding progress up the hill through dozens of well-kept graves.
    We stopped at the top of the hill, where I got out and the two keepers showed me a line of four monuments, all belonging to the Bryan family. Pearl's was the closest to the path we'd driven up, but had been reduced to just its foundation stone. The older of the two Forest Hills guys explained that the headstone itself had been chipped away at so regularly by souvenir hunters that the family had eventually had it removed.
    It takes a special kind of asshole to vandalise someone's grave, whether it's Tom Dula's, Pearl Bryan's or anyone else's, and I don't think I would have felt right clawing even a fingernail of grit off the stone. Walt later told me that the most famous grave in Indianapolis' own cemeteries is that of John Dillinger, which gets bits chipped off it in just the same way.
    I did pluck a couple of blades of grass from Pearl's grave and drop them in a spare film container, but that's as far as my own desecration went.
    Of all the 17,000 plots at Forest Hills, Pearl's is by far the most visited. The stone was bare of coins when I arrived, but the keepers said they often found pennies there. I asked if it was true, as I'd read on-line, that the pennies all went to Forest Hills' employee coffee fund, but they both just laughed without answering.
    Squatting down, I could see a few brown stains on the stone, each about the size and shape of an American penny, which confirmed coins had been placed there at one time and left a mark next time it rained.

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