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Ghost of the Ozarks

Ghost of the Ozarks: Murder and Memory in the Upland South

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Ghost of the Ozarks
    Book Description:

    In 1929, in a remote county of the Arkansas Ozarks, the gruesome murder of harmonica-playing drifter Connie Franklin and the brutal rape of his teenaged fiancee captured the attention of a nation on the cusp of the Great Depression. National press from coast to coast ran stories of the sensational exploits of night-riding moonshiners, powerful "Barons of the Hills," and a world of feudal oppression in the isolation of the rugged Ozarks. The ensuing arrest of five local men for both crimes and the confusion and superstition surrounding the trial and conviction gave Stone County a dubious and short-lived notoriety._x000B__x000B_Closely examining how the story and its regional setting were interpreted by the media, Brooks Blevins recounts the gripping events of the murder investigation and trial, where a man claiming to be the murder victim--the "Ghost" of the Ozarks--appeared to testify. Local conditions in Stone County, which had no electricity and only one long-distance telephone line, frustrated the dozen or more reporters who found their way to the rural Ozarks, and the developments following the arrests often prompted reporters' caricatures of the region: accusations of imposture and insanity, revelations of hidden pasts and assumed names, and threats of widespread violence._x000B__x000B_Ghost of the Ozarks: Murder and Memory in the Upland South entertains readers with a dramatic tale of true crime as well as a skilled interpretation of the region. Throughout this narrative, Blevins weaves a sophisticated social history of the Ozarks in the early twentieth century, critically analyzing the stereotypes and imagery inherent in local folklore and embedded in media coverage of the murder and trial. Locating the past of the Upland South squarely within the major currents of American history, Blevins paints a convincing backdrop to a story that, more than 80 years later, remains riddled with mystery and a source of bitter division in the community where some believe Connie Franklin met his end.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09411-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. xiii-xxiii)

    Near the end of its November 28 edition, on a page filled with odds and ends and toss-off stories, the Arkansas Gazette reported a fiftieth anniversary celebration that had taken place the day before in Little Rock’s Hotel Lafayette. The guests of honor, George and Angie Case, hailed from the little town of Mountain View, deep inside the rural Ozarks one hundred miles north of the capital city. The Cases were business leaders in Stone County, probably the wealthiest family around those parts, and their children had decided Mountain View—with no paved streets, no grand pianos and Mendelssohn-playing pianists,...

  5. The Genealogy of the Connie Franklin Saga
    (pp. xxiv-xxviii)
  6. 1 Vigilantism and Vengeance
    (pp. 1-13)

    There was practically nowhere Harry T. Brundidge wouldn’t go and no one he wouldn’t grill to get the story. Once he showed up unannounced at Al Capone’s palatial South Florida estate—and was rewarded with a four-hour interview with the nation’s most notorious gangster. Years later, on a Tokyo backstreet, he would offer young Iva Toguri two thousand dollars for an exclusive interview concerning allegations that she was “Tokyo Rose,” the English-speaking Japanese radio propagandist. His editor would refuse to pay up, landing Toguri in jail. He exposed a nefarious medical diploma mill in St. Louis and shed light on...

  7. 2 Barons of the Hills
    (pp. 14-22)

    He looked like a milkman, and that’s what he was. Old Sam was not tall; he was not short either, but a bit on the hefty side—a might chuffy, as they said in the Ozarks. Round in the face with a twinkle in his brown eyes, he could make small talk with the missus and tell a knee-slapper to her husband when he showed up at the kitchen door every morning. He would have made a good sitcom milkman, and the people on his route in a blue-collar Houston, Texas, neighborhood liked old Sam. Sam and his wife, Robbie,...

  8. 3 The Ozarks in the Crosshairs
    (pp. 23-43)

    One of the most insidious products of “progress” in the Ozarks and elsewhere in rural America has been the renaming of towns and villages. Nineteenth-century pioneers adorned the region’s physical features and settlements with an array of names both common and unique. While many simply honored hometowns back east or prominent early settlers in a given area, others reflected the namers’ attachment to the land, their penchant for simple and functional description, sometimes even their sense of humor. Behind every Batesville was a Poke Bayou, behind LaCrosse a Wild Haws, for every Fayetteville a Possum Trot or a Three Brothers...

  9. 4 A Ghost’s Tale
    (pp. 44-59)

    Jeanne Wingo could not understand her father’s reaction. The baby of the family, she had always been her father’s pet. So his anger over his grown daughter’s story of her recent adventure was out of character, to say the least. It was the spring of 1963, and Jeanne had recently finished college and moved to Little Rock to start life on her own. Like many in her generation, she had been swept up in the folk music revival, so when friends told her about something called the Arkansas Folk Festival, she knew she could not pass it up. Bob Dylan...

  10. 5 The Back-stay of Crick and Charley
    (pp. 60-71)

    Mount Joy Cemetery sits atop a little hill overlooking Cajun Creek on one side and Foster Hollow on the other.¹ You can’t tell it now, but not far away on a rise at the eastern end of Foster Hollow once sat the “meeting house” for which the graveyard was named. Elder Joel H. Foster, Charley Ruminer’s grandfather, founded Mount Joy Baptist Church in 1868. Foster, still in his twenties, had brought his young family from their native northeastern Alabama to the White River hills of Arkansas on the eve of the Civil War and had served alongside a number of...

  11. 6 Is He or Ain’t He?
    (pp. 72-93)

    The Ozarks had no monopoly on bizarre stories in late 1929, but it seemed for a while that the highland South in general might. On the first day of December, just two days after printing its initial piece on the Connie Franklin murder, the St. Louis Star found room on the front page for a terrific tale coming out of an Appalachian town not that different from Mountain View, Arkansas. Ale Artrip, presumed murdered in his southwestern Virginia community for the better part of two decades, had recently sauntered back into town. And, oh, the stories dead men do tell....

  12. 7 The Man behind the French Harp
    (pp. 94-102)

    James H. Street was no Faulkner—he claimed he never aspired to be—but during his heyday in the 1940s his novels and short stories were just as popular, if not as critically acclaimed, as those of his fellow Mississippian. Street never won a Nobel Prize for Literature or a Pulitzer, or much of anything for that matter. Yet his novels and stories sold well enough that the former Baptist preacher from the piney woods was able to devote the last fifteen years of his life to full-time writing. And, like Faulkner, Street saw many of his best-known works turned...

  13. 8 “He Hain’t My Connie”
    (pp. 103-123)

    More than eighty years later, most descendants of the families involved in the Connie Franklin story are still reticent to discuss details of the event passed down through oral tradition. Yet mention of the trial in Mountain View, a safe distance away from the story’s hearth in Dugan and St. James, is likely to elicit more than one colorful vignette from the week that the county seat turned into a carnival. A few of them may even contain a kernel of truth. One local favorite concerns a mobile eatery that left an impression on bumfuzzled visitors in 1929.

    With the...

  14. 9 The Identification of a Dead Man
    (pp. 124-136)

    Nothing it seemed could dampen local enthusiasm for the trial, but Mother Nature tried. The rain had finally ceased during the first day of the trial, but the waters winding their courses off the hilltops and through the hollows had so swollen the White River that the ferryboat operator refused to transport the taxi carrying reporters from the Arkansas Gazette and Kansas City Journal-Post across to the telegraph station at Sylamore that night. The two returned to Mountain View, where they telephoned the Sylamore depot office and read their stories to one agent, while the other, E. B. Watts, tapped...

  15. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  16. 10 The Farewell Tour of a Ghost
    (pp. 137-151)

    Hack Avey was a cattle and chicken farmer seven days a week, 365 days a year. On Saturday nights, he was a country music star. Years earlier he had dismantled what was left of a Willys-Knight army “jeep” and used the scrap to fashion a dobro, a Hawaiian steel guitar. For years he and his band of fellow farmers and loggers and sawmill workers had played for shindigs of various kinds around Stone County. On Saturday nights, they were the house band at the American Legion hut that sat on a little side street just south of the Mountain View...

  17. 11 Folklore and Fact in the Aftermath
    (pp. 152-176)

    In the summer of 1982, a college student conducting an oral history for a folklore course ventured up Highway 14 through a little place once known as Red Stripe, past the old Pleasant Grove school, around the sharp curve just beyond the St. James United Methodist Church, and through a rolling valley in the shadow of Cave Point into the heart of Dugan. He was not a native of this little place and probably did not even know it had a name, since the state highway department had never bothered to mark its unofficial boundaries with a road sign. There...

  18. APPENDIX A Change and Persistence in the Rural Ozarks: An Essay on Setting
    (pp. 177-202)
  19. APPENDIX B A Musical Coda
    (pp. 203-210)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 211-242)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 243-252)
  22. Index
    (pp. 253-262)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 263-265)