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Pearl Bryan: chapter nine continued

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Pearl Bryan
Secret London
Murder Ballads

By far the daftest of its recent tellings came in Troy Taylor's 2001 book No Rest For The Wicked, which assures us that Jackson was "an alleged member of the occult group that met at the former slaughterhouse in Wilder". The small Kentucky town of Wilder lies just over seven miles south of Cincinnati, and the old slaughterhouse site there is now occupied by a nightclub called Bobby Mackey's Music World. Mackey has been promoting his club for years by claiming Pearl's ghost is a regular visitor there, and Taylor's book aims to tell us why.
He starts in the early 1890s, when the slaughterhouse company shut up shop, leaving the Wilder building abandoned. Like any other abatoir, it had a huge drain in the floor, which workers used to dispose of the animals' blood and any scraps of waste meat. Taylor's taste for melodrama transforns this simple, functional drain into what he calls "the well of blood".
"Apparantly, a small satanic group of local residents gathered at the empty building, managing to practice their rituals in secret," he confides. "Pearl's head was never found, and legend has it that it was used during a satanic ritual at the slaughterhouse. It was then dumped into the well of blood and was lost. [...] The stories spread that Jackson and Walling were afraid of suffering 'Satan's wrath' if they revealed the location of Pearl's head. The slaughterhouse was then a closely-guarded secret and other cultists would have been exposed if the two men had talked." (66)
The tall tales arising from all this insist Pearl's ghost has walked the corridors of Mackey's club ever since, looking for the head Jackson dropped down the old slaughterhouse drain. Doug Hensley has written a similar book called Hell's Gate, discussing not only Pearl's ghost, but other supposed paranormal events at the club too, and it's also featured on several TV ghost-hunting shows. A film adaption of Hensley's book was promised for October 2009, starring someone called Melissa Fox as Pearl, but there's no trace of it on any internet movie database, so I can only assume the release was delayed.
A nursing home in Newport claims its residents sometimes spot Pearl's ghost there too, but at least the owners have never tried to make a cottage industry out of it. My favourite response to all such nonsense came in a 1999 Mudcat thread about the Bobby Mackey story. "She still walks the floor of this building looking for her head," a poster called Bob R confidently announced.
"I know this is a silly question," Steve Parkes replied 16 minutes later, "but how does she search for her head? She obviously can't literally look for it. Likewise, the head can't lie there shouting 'Over here', because the body wouldn't be able to hear it." Bob R had no answer for that one, and I doubt Taylor or Hensley would care to tackle it either.

'Legend has it that Pearl's head was used during a satanic ritual at the slaughterhouse.'

There's a couple of towns in Indiana which have reported their own sightings of Pearl's ghost, presumably in a bid to boost the tourist trade, but Pearlmania there often takes other forms. DePauw University in Greencastle, Will Wood's old alma mater, staged a play telling Pearl's story in around 2007, which one reader of the town's Banner-Graphic newspaper described as "excellent". At around the same time, a local character called Scott Brown (aka "The Pizza Guy") began sneaking into Greencastle Cemetery after dark and spending the night asleep on Pearl's grave. "He would sleep on the grave and put pennies on her headstone," badboy46120 wrote in the Banner-Graphic's comments section in February 2008. "It wasn't Scott who put the pennies on Pearl's tombstone, it was us," Jeff Lancaster corrected him two days later. "It was Scott who flipped them 'heads down' to let us know he had been there." (67)
Camille Evans, another visitor to the cemetery, set up a virtual memorial for Pearl on in October 2008, where people can place a picture of some flowers and their own brief comments about her death. "Her headstone is completely gone, and just the base remains," Camille told me when I reached her in May 2009. "I contacted the historical society about getting her a new one, but that organisation is defunct now." When I last checked Camille's page on June 30, 2011, there were 25 virtual bouquets there for Pearl, with comments including: "Rest in sweet, perfect peace"; "I'm so very sorry what you went through" and; " I won't forget you". (68)
All this ancillary activity is interesting enough, but the real custodians of Pearl's memory now are Jeff Kazor and his band The Crooked Jades. Pearl Bryan has been a constant presence in the Jades' live set ever since they recorded it on their 2001 album Seven Sisters: A Kentucky Portrait. I've looked hard for recent versions of the song on any other commercially-available release, but as far as I can see, the Jades are the only people to have recorded in nearly 50 years. Without them, you'd have to go back to The Phipps Family's 1965 version for its most recent waxing. (69)
Since adopting the song, even the Jades have cut it back fairly ruthlessly, discarding everything but the familiar tune and the Phipps' distinctive chorus:

Please tell me where's her head,
Please tell me where's her head,
Pearl Bryan's dead,
Can't find her head,
Walling and Jackson are hung."

"I felt that leaving the detailed story out and just singing the chorus would be more powerful," Jeff told me earlier this year. "We're letting the audience fill in the rest. This song has also inspired the Kate Weare Dance Company to create an entire modern dance production with The Crooked Jades called Bright Land - a shocking choreographed dance recreating the brutal murder of Pearl Bryan."