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You Can Hear Me Ramble…

Categories: General | Posted by: Sean Herman

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A few weeks ago I did an interview for a local podcast about small business called The Mobile Alabama Business Podcast.  The host Marcus is an awesome guy, and I looked forward to the chance to talk about The Bell Rose and The Serpents of Bienville, along with my views on making an honest living.  They just put it up, and I am really happy with how it came out.  Take a listen for yourself!  You can hear it here

If you enjoy it, please share it with your friends.

Thanks!

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What Will Our Children Be Thankful For?

Categories: General | Posted by: Sean Herman

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“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Painting of Christopher Columbus

Painting of Christopher Columbus

Since the dawn of time, storytelling has been used to rally a following for a cause.  Stories that may be true, or may be embellished, will become justifications for movements, reforms, and even wars.  From Christopher Columbus (who’s biography by Washington Irving was more of a romance than a biography) to Jamestown and the legend of Pocahontas (a teenager taken hostage, passing away at the tender age of 21).  Could stories even be used to rally a nation through a genocide, causing a nation to have a completely different view of a historical event? Could a story fool a nation into celebrating genocide?

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

― George Orwell

Read the rest of this blog here, at The Serpents of Bienville webpage.  To keep up to date with all the new blogs I am working on for The Serpents of Bienville project, follow our social media site here.

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My First Sight of Home, Friday the 13th Part VII, The New Blood

Categories: General | Posted by: Sean Herman

“There’s a legend ’round here. A killer buried, but not dead. A curse on Crystal Lake. A death curse. Jason Voorhees’s curse. They say he died as a boy, but he keeps coming back. Few have seen him and lived. Some have even tried to stop him. No one can. People forget he’s down there… waiting.”

-Walt Gorney, Friday the 13th Part VII

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Cover to Friday the 13th Part VII, The New Blood (1988)

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Friday the 13th Part VII, The New Blood (1988) Japanese movie poster

It was Christmas morning 1990 in snowy St. Paul Minnesota, and I received a gift that forever changed my life. Just like Ralphie in “The Christmas Story”, I ran to our Christmas tree, shaking boxes, when I heard that familiar sound of a VHS tape, clacking in a box.  At the tender age of 8, my foray into the horror film genre was about to truly began.  Like most kids, from a young age I had always been interested in the classic Universal Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf man, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon), but I was fortunate enough to grow up in the roaring 80’s, the golden age of the serial slasher genre in horror films.  In the pre-internet age, the only access a kid like myself had to this genre was the upper number pay-per view preview channels.  Back in the late 80’s early 90’s, pay per view was the way to catch the newest movies, after they left the theaters, but right before they would be released to video.  The stations would show extended previews for the movies and provide a 1-800 number to call so you could order the movie.  I remember staying up at night, watching the preview for A Nightmare on Elm Street part 5: The Dream Child.  I loved the dark, macabre environment of the genre, so I would watch what I could to see the most of it.  If only I could own one of these movies, I could watch them as much as I wanted.  Back to Christmas morning, 1990, and I unwrapped the VHS tape that changed all of that, and truly started my foray into the horror genre.  I peeled back the wrapping to reveal the iconic hockey mask that graces the cover of Friday the 13th, part VII.  Triumphantly, like at the end of a teenage underdog film, I raised my fist, movie in hand, in victory.  The montage music played, and I owned my own piece of the horror genre. 

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Cover for The Monster Squad (1987)

*Let it be known, I do understand the repercussions of an 8 year old watching a rated R slasher film, and I am not advocating anyone having their children do this, but it was the 1980’s.  We children of the 1980’s were exposed to probably some of the most offensive, violent movies that have existed.  Movies and television shows made for kids at that time were probably worse than late night cable movies today.  Anyone remember “Monster Squad”?  We all remember it as a hilarious Halloween romp, but  rewatch it, you will see what I’m talking about.  Single handedly one of the more offensive hours I  have had in a long time. I am definitely not advocating a child watching Friday the 13th Part VII, or any movie in a similar genre, and I am completely aware of the effects of violence on kids, somehow I turned out somewhat sane, at least my wife claims so.*

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Dock at Brynes Lake, Present Day

Little did I know, living in St. Paul Minnesota as an 8 year old, that particular movie was filmed in the area I would be spending a majority of my life at, where I would discover the magic and meaning of tattooing, where I would meet my beautiful wife, and where we would raise our amazing daughter.  I could have never imagined, while watching Jason Voorhees battle a psychic girl on a rickety pier, that one day my life would revolve around the same body of water they were fighting in…(continued here)

Read the rest of the blog here , at The Serpents of Bienville’s web page.  Keep up with all the new blogs I am working on for The Serpents of Bienville by following our social media that you can find here.   

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Oct 29 2015
Cry Baby Bridge

Cry Baby Bridge

Categories: General | Posted by: Sean Herman

This is the fifth and final blog in my Halloween series as featured on my project site www.serpentsofbienville.com .  In this blog I explain the story behind the illustration I drew entitled “Cry Baby Bridge”.  You can learn more about the story, the project, and how you can own one of these prints at www.serpentsofbienville.com .  I hope you enjoy!

Illustration entitled "Cry Baby Bridge" 11"x17" Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

Illustration entitled “Cry Baby Bridge” 11″x17″ Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

 

“Legend has it that on driving over Cry Baby Bridge on a late night may be the last decision you ever make.  As your car drives over the road, slowly approaching the other side, the lights cut off.  Darkness envelops the car, and all that can be heard is the crying of a baby in the distance…”

 


 

 

 

“Myth could be as sustaining as reality – sometimes even more so.” 

― Alexander McCall Smith, The Lost Art of Gratitude

Deep in the dark recesses of a balmy night, gloom covers your eyes, like warm hands playing a game of “guess who”, making you fearful of turning around.  In the distance lies a plantation home, dilapidated, rundown, and abandoned.  The closer you come, the more obvious it is that no living creature could reside there.  Firefly’s move about, as if haints were holding candles, flying around and taunting you.  One firefly seems stuck though, frozen in time, right in front of the window of the tomb-like plantation house.  Slowly a face rises behind the light, her face, stricken with fear.  A deafening scream follows.  You close your eyes tight, attempting to hold out the horrific sound, but once they reopen you realize that you are in your car, never having left it, engine still running, stopped on Kali Oka bridge.

 

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Legend has it that the woman in the window was the wife of a plantation owner who was known for his abuse, and his sadistic, dark hearted ways.  He tortured his slaves, and his house, into submission.  One slave stood above the others, hulking in size, dwarfing all those around him.  The Mistress of the house, sneaking into the slave quarters, found his embracing arms, and an affair began.

 

Close up of Illustration entitled "Cry Baby Bridge" 11"x17" Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

Close up of Illustration entitled “Cry Baby Bridge” 11″x17″ Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

This affair could only last so long before the eyes of her husband were to see what was happening. Late one evening, upon suspicion that his wife had been sneaking into the slaves roost, his heart racing, he decided to confide in his local dog pack at the local watering hole.  After the night of heavy drinking and trading stories with his drove at the drinking hole, a plan was concocted.  The group raced to the plantation with hatred burning their hearts of coal black.  Escorted by the inferno raging inside of him, one that would just as much burn the space to the ground, and take all of the slaves lives with, he had decided their fate.   With the aid of his brood, he flung the door open.  What he saw was his wife, with whom he had abused and beaten, being comforted in the embrace of two gigantic dark arms.  He yelled to his drove to grab the slave, and take his wife away.  It took 13 men to rip her from his arms, an embrace neither would ever feel again.  Both were taken out of the house, the slave drug to a large, disfigured oak.  The mistress drug in the other direction, her clothes ripping, skin coming with it, as she fought to see her love for one last time.  As she was taken away, screaming curses at her husband, her captor, the last sight she saw of her love was one that took her breathe away. She gasped in horror, witnessing her love chained to the tree, blooded, swollen, as if he had been the Nazarene beaten with a cat of nine tales. He made eye contact with her, his brow swollen over, eyes just barely able to see her soft, pale face, blood filling his sockets, slowly blurring his sight of her.  As red filled his vision, he could see her face contort in fear, screaming.  She saw what he couldn’t: his fate.  A large hatchet raised up from behind the tree, and was sunk deep into the slaves arms, at the wrists, severing his hands.  With his strength and size, the gnarled muscle dented the hatchet, and they continued, over and over.  Finally, wiping his blood from their eyes, they saw his hands, lying lifeless on the ground.  The devil proprietor screamed, sounding as if demons possessed his throat, howling in unison, “You will ne’er… touch… anything… again…”  He spit in the slaves swollen eye sockets, turning now, directly facing his wife.  Holding the hatchet tight, he pointed at her with it, “And You!” he growled, “You Must Be Held Accountable for your sins!”

 

Close up of Illustration entitled "Cry Baby Bridge" 11"x17" Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

Close up of Illustration entitled “Cry Baby Bridge” 11″x17″ Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

The slave’s body was left there, rotting into the oak.  With one last lament to the heavens, his head fell. As the balmy, warm fog rolled in, onto the river, carrying the man’s last breath with it.  A pool of blood began to collect on the ground, traveling through the sandy dirt, and pouring into the rushing waters behind him.  His love knew she suffered the unspeakable fate of a lifetime with a monster, a demon.  Her hell was here now.  As the days passed, the slave’s body had been left to decompose, partly held up by chains to the oak.  His body stood as an example of what happened to those who defied their owner.

 

When she initially moved into the plantation home, her one solace from her husband was sitting in the kitchen, looking out the window.  The view was of a beautiful old tree, as the river flowed next to it.  She watched from her home everyday, and continued to watch after that fateful evening.   Her once serene view, now the sight of her love, slowly being eaten by time.  Her eyes, now vacant, stared hopelessly, as she became nothing.  Truly empty, until…

 

usecrybabymamaThrough sickness and pain, she realized that she was not alone, and a piece of her love grew inside her.  She carried the child to term, hiding it from her captor the entire time. She treasured something that was a piece of her love, but she knew that it couldn’t last, for there was no love in damnation.  One night she knew, as her water broke, the time had come.  She snuck down to the river, where the blood of her love had flowed down to, and birthed their child. Alone in the moonlight she finally felt as if she wasn’t alone, and for that brief instant, she was free.  As she floated in the water, all three of their blood mixed, intertwined as one dark mass, she knew it was the end, there would be no more suffering for her or her brood. This hell didn’t deserve the angelic child, or herself, any longer.  She clutched the child close to her breast, kissed it’s still bloody head, and descended.  The large rock she had tied to her leg had finally rolled off the small isle of sand it was set upon, and fell, hard and deep into the river.  As she sank, and life left her, she knew it was over, she had escaped her hell, she was on her way to her inamorato arms once again.  She felt her lover’s warm embrace as water filled her burning lungs.  She was finally safe.  They were finally free.

 

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If you were to attempt to count the number of “Cry Baby Bridges” across the US, the number would exceed into the hundreds. I can remember 3 or 4 just off hand, from living in the rural south.  The one you just read was based off the “Cry Baby Bridge” location in Saraland, Alabama, right off of Kali Oka Road (which has some stories of it’s own, including a ghost car prophesying impending doom).

 

Kayo Road bridge, Highway 31, Decatur, Alabama

Kayo Road bridge, Highway 31, Decatur, Alabama

 

In researching these true stories in our area, I came across that of Cry Baby Hollow in Decatur, Alabama. The old bridge on Kayo Road, off Highway 31, is an dilapidated, lonely and apparently a little used bridge.  Stories abound about this site, many of the standard “mother losing her child” accident scenario, which there is no real historical tie to.  Most stories I did find tied it to a serial killer named Frank Hammond.

 

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According to stories, Mr. Hammond’s activities started in 1925 outside of Hartselle, Alabama, with the discovery of three dead bodies.  As the bodies were found over the years, the stories continued to grow about a looming presence,  a killer abiding in that dark hollow.  Stories state that in 1943, Mr. Hammond strolled into a hardware store, his clothes stained with blood, and purchased rope and a hacksaw, nothing too suspicious.  For some reason, town Police followed his back to his shack, an old barn, in the woods.  What was discovered can only be described as the stories slasher films are made of.  From a very “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” like scene, found was human skins nailed to the walls, among other homemade taxidermy items.

 

usecrybabybridge15Once Hammond was taken away, the tore the house apart, searching for more evidence of his horrific crimes.  Under one of the floor boards, they found the poorly decomposing body of his long dead wife, Loretta May.  Hammond was a quiet man, until it came to his recalling of the events that led them up to that point.  Time and time again, he went into great detail about every victim, how he lured them to their death, and how he took each ones life.  Stories remain about the torture he inflicted on her poor wife, keeping her prisoner in the old shed, tied up and starved.  In 1950, after spending years in a prison in Georgia, he supposedly took his own life.  Reportedly his suicide note read, “For the family’s I’ve hurt, this is for you.  Now you can’t see me die in the chair.  The evil is ready to go home, and get you all.  It’s never over, it has just begun.”  With a suicide note like that, I began to be a little doubtful of much truth lying in this theatrical story.  Proposed as truth, the deeper I looked into it, no facts lined up, but that didn’t stop the story from spreading like wildfire. Just like a good horror franchise, ala “Friday the 13th,” Mr. Hammond always came back, even if facts were few and fair between their stalkers’ existence.  To this day, though, local town’s people attribute the screaming sounds to be that of a young boy, his soul for ever trapped by Mr. Hammond, deep in The Cry Baby Hollow.  Maybe in the end, we want to believe these created monsters, because the real ones are much worse.

 


 

 

Illustration entitled "Cry Baby Bridge" 11"x17" Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

Illustration entitled “Cry Baby Bridge” 11″x17″ Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

 

“Myths which are believed in tend to become true.”

George Orwell

Stories of fright fill the dark nights spent at these local sites.  A bridge, a hollow, what ever area has been given this damned persona, becomes the source of nightmares told to make local hair stand on end, but the truth is always much more horrific.  Here’s a quick rundown of some true stories these “Cry Baby Bridge” myths may have come from.

 

July 19, 1886 – Four-year-old Richard Tufts of Long Beach, New Brunswick, carried a neighbor’s baby to a bridge over Tuft’s Brook and tossed him over the edge. When asked why, he said, “I don’t know.”

November 1, 1890 – Sadie McMullen threw Ella May Connors and Delia Brown (ages 11 and 6, respectively) 70 feet from the New York Central trestle bridge over Murderer’s Creek in Akron, New York, before unsuccessfully trying to drown herself. Ella died instantly; Delia survived but was permanently injured.

January 30, 1914 – In “one of the most sensational crimes” from the history of Spartanburg, SC, Clyde Clement threw his infant daughter Virginia off a bridge into a millpond on Lawsons Fork Creek. He threatened to leave his girlfriend, Laura Pendleton, if the baby wasn’t “done away with” and would only marry her after the child was gone.

February 28, 1914 – Mrs. Ralph Dinsmore, 23, of North Attleboro, Massachusetts, jumped from the Metcalf Street Bridge clutching her 4-month-old baby and was struck by a train around 12:30 PM. She left a suicide note stating that “no one will understand” her reasons.

May 1, 1937 – Myrtle Ward tossed her 3-year-old daughter Louise off the Colorado Street bridge in Pasadena, California. The infant’s 100-foot fall was broken by a tree; the mother jumped afterward and died instantly.

May 23, 1972 – Keith Hamilton, 17, was seen tossing the infant of a 19-year-old girl and her 16-year-old male companion into the Ohio River at 2:00 AM from the 17th Street West Bridge in Huntington, West Virginia. It turned out to be a hoax; the baby was a doll. All three were charged with juvenile delinquency.

February 16, 2010 – Following a domestic dispute, Shamsid-Din Abdur-Raheem threw his three-month-old daughter off the Garden State Parkway’s Driscoll Bridge near Sayreville, New Jersey.”

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“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

[Commencement Address at Yale University, June 11 1962]” 

― John F. Kennedy

usecrybabysceneEven with horrific true stories existing, the lore and mythology behind “Cry Baby Bridge” seems to be something altogether different.  A majority of these stories are usually traced back the early to mid 20th century, America’s moralist hey day.  In this era, a baby born out of wedlock was considered a immoral act, one that could never end well.  Single mothers were not as common as they are now, and many people believed that such would bring disgrace to their house.  These myths begin to show a cultural reaction to the moral majority, with the cries being those of an oppressed woman, being told her sexuality was evil, ultimately leading to death.  Some believe that the baby could represent this turmoil the young woman was facing, and that getting rid of it was the only recourse.  The horror of this story becomes the reflection it could be of our reality at that given time, and that it is continued to be believed today.

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Oct 29 2015
Boyington Oak

Boyington Oak

Categories: General | Posted by: Sean Herman

 

 

This is the third blog from the series I have been writing for my project, The Serpents of Bienville .  The blog is based around the illustration I drew for the story of “Boyington Oak”.  You can learn more about the story, or how to purchase a print here.  Hope you enjoy!  


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“He prophesied that his innocence would be proven, for after his death, a strong oak tree would grow from his grave, and everyone would know that when they saw this tree he spoke the truth, and they would have to live with the knowledge that they killed an innocent man.”


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Illustration entitled “Boyington Oak” 11″x17″ Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

As the rope was put around Charles Boyington’s neck, he proclaimed his innocence to the thousands watching, all awaiting in anticipation of his gruesome execution.  As the mob screamed for his sentence to be fulfilled, he made the people a promise.  He foretold that his innocence would be shown, for after his death, a powerful oak tree would grow from his heart, buried deep in the grave. Everyone would know that when they saw this tree he had spoken the truth, and they would have to live with the knowledge that they put to death an innocent man.  Travel to downtown Mobile, behind a stone wall dating to the 1830’s, and you will witness the most peculiar sight.  Vines run up wrought iron fences that surround crypts carved out of stone, standing silently under the live oaks, stretching upward to the heavens, like the hands of deceased pulling themselves out of their graves.  Just outside the stone wall that surrounds this cemetery, which has been closed since 1898,  grows a huge live oak, reaching its arms upward in attempts at freedom.  This oak grows out of a lone grave site, the cemetery plot of Charles R.S. Boyington.


boyingtonoakuse15Charles R.S. Boyington arrived in Mobile from Connecticut in 1833 at the age of 23.  With the rapid growth in Mobile, young working class men like Boyington were arriving in large numbers in Mobile, causing the cost of living to sky rocket and crime to run rampant.  Prior to a central penitentiary being built in 1834, and the first police chief being appointed in the 1820’s, Mobile had been policed only by volunteer patrols.  A full time citizen watch was established in 1821, and all free male citizens 16 and older were responsible for duty.  Crime began to revolve around houses of prostitution, with murder, burglaries and assaults being painfully common.(1) Large amounts of Mobile’s new population were living in boarding houses, including Boyington.  Gambling was widespread, and said to be one of things that attracted Boyington to the area.  His roommate was Nathanial Frost, a thin and sickly man, but for good reason.  He suffered from tuberculosis, a disease ravaging through the population at the time.  Both Boyington and Frost were printers, which didn’t provide the pay that would have allowed them to mix with Mobile’s upper class.  Stories say that Boyington tried to blend in by going to dances and events.  At one he met a woman named Rose, and somehow he won her attention. In an almost storybook way, Boyington and Rose fell in love.  With the aid of one of her father’s staff, Lydia, they communicated via notes she would quietly pass between them.  Rose’s father didn’t approve of Boyington, primarily because he felt that his income was not enough to properly provide for Rose.  So, just as the movies go, her father forbade them from seeing each other.

Boyington’s love became an infatuation that consumed him, to the point that he stopped attending social events to write poetry for Rose. Before long, his hopeless romantic daydreaming cost him his printing job.  With a new reputation for poor work and musing, Boyington found himself unable to find another job, and with no income, having no chance to ever receive approval from Rose’s father.  His lofty dreams of marriage to Rose were slipping through his fingers.  He became a broken, desperate man.

Present day Church Street Cemetery, Mobile, Alabama

Present day Church Street Cemetery, Mobile, Alabama

Seeing Boyington broke and pained, Frost felt sympathy for his friend.  Thinking he could help, he offered to pay for Boyington’s room and board until his could get back on his feet.  Boyington’s pride was hurt, and as a result, he lashed out at Frost.  After calming Boyington down, Frost knew he had to change directions to help his friend.  He had to try to build up his pride, to help his look good to his beloved.  Frost went into detail about his ability to carve beautiful pieces of art out of wood, which inspired Boyington to learn from Frost how to carve a heart of  wood for his last chance to ultimately win her father over and be with Rose. Frost agreed to meet Boyington in their usually haunt, The Church Street Graveyard (founded in 1819 at the height of yellow fever epidemics), to teach Boyington about carving.  Boyington did learn two things that day, his friend’s ability to whittle beautiful images out of wood, and the stash of money and valuables Frost had hidden in a trunk in their room.  Frost, sickly and thin, was hiding everything Boyington would need to win Rose.  Could Boyington have viewed Frost as expendable to obtain his dreams?  Could they have ever dreamed that they would soon be resting in the same cemetery?

Boyington returned to the boarding house that night under peculiar circumstances: he was alone. Frost was no where in sight, but according to his landlord, he reassured them that Frost just wanted to spend some time alone in the cemetery.  According to the landlord, Boyington handed her a package to be given to Rose, and proceeded to buy a ticket for the James Monroe which was leaving the port at Mobile that night for Montgomery.  He was going to find work in Montgomery, and win back the hand of his prized love.

Close up of illustration entitled "Boyington Oak" by Sean Herman

Close up of illustration entitled “Boyington Oak” by Sean Herman

By the next morning Frost had still not returned to the boarding house, and the landlord grew suspicious. She contacted the Sheriff, expressing her distrust of Boyington.  Nathaniel Frost’s body was discovered later that day, in the friends old haunt, The Church Street Cemetery.  Frost had been stabbed multiple times, suspected to be by his own carving knife, which was no where to be found.  Frost body was discovered May 11, 1834. His pocket watch and money had been stolen.  Authorities decided there were no other leads, so they concluded that it was obvious only one person could have committed such a crime, Charles Boyington. 

A few years earlier Mobile had changed from a citizen watch to having a sheriff and police force.  The new police force operated on it’s own terms.  In one instance, the force was accused of claiming a need for “a little lynch discipline” to being used when four free black men came through the area, causing a fear of abolitionists to spread like wildfire.  Mob mentalities became completely commonplace.  This was the backdrop Charles Boyington was up against. On May 12, 1834, the town paper printed an article, written by Mayor John Stocking Jr., claiming that Boyington was suspected of murdering Nathaniel Frost, and offering a $250 award for his capture. Local news reports also declared that Boyington had “cultivated” Frost with “acts of kindness and attention” eventually killing him “for the sake of plunder.”  The race was on to find Boyington.

boyingtonoak16By Thursday May 15th, Charles Boyington had been apprehended while aboard the James Monroe.  He was taken away in shackles, and brought back to a Mobile jail, declaring his innocence until the last day he lived.  Boyington was greeted by huge crowds, screaming at the man they believed committed the most “diabolical act of atrocity.”  Even Rev. William Hamilton, who visited Boyington in an attempt at death bed conversion, called him “the archest hypocrite, the vilest villain for hardihood, the sun ever shone upon.”(2)  He had a very short trial in November of 1834, with the jury only deliberating for an hour and 15 minutes, which delivered to him quickly a gruesome fate.  Charles was to be hung in February of 1835. 

boyingtonoakuse17Days passed quickly, and Boyington spent them proclaiming his innocence, never changing his story. He even went so far as appealing to the Alabama Supreme Court, on the grounds that one juror was British, having foreign citizenship, and another saying that they would hang Boyington himself if given the opportunity.  The high court ruled against him, stating that he waited too long to appeal.  Interestingly enough, two years later the court reversed the precedent on a similar issue.  Some say that Rose visited him in jail, wearing the carved heart he had made for her around her neck.  Rose never believed that her Charles would commit such a murder, and continued seeing him all she could.  Once her father found out, he kept her under 24-hour surveillance, forbidding her visits.  Boyington wrote to her, sending her poetry and songs, but she was allowed no contact.  In a way, she was imprisoned alongside her love.  Boyington never cracked on his claims, nor would he cease, creating a dramatic scheme that would prove to the world his innocence. 


Close up of illustration entitled "Boyington Oak" by Sean Herman

Close up of illustration entitled “Boyington Oak” by Sean Herman

Could Charles Boyington have been telling the truth?  Was an innocent man convicted  and put to death? Is the story of Charles Boyington just one in an unfortunately long line of narratives about unjust convictions?  As far back as 1863, almost 30 years after Boyington was trying to appeal his case, there was the case of Chipita Rodriguez.  Rodriquez was convicted of murdering a horse trader, and promptly executed in San Patricio County, Texas.  Texas Legislature passed a resolution 122 years later exonerating her.(5)  Case after case can be found, even popular culture has been inspired time and time again by these scenes. Everyone can think of a song or film dealing with the matter.  Dr. Richard Kimble anyone?

Movie poster for "The Fugitive", 1993

Movie poster for “The Fugitive”, 1993

We all remember the classic 1993 film “The Fugitive”, with Harrison Ford spending 90 minutes yelling “I didn’t kill my wife!” while fleeing Tommy Lee Jones.  The true story of the film is about Dr. Sam Sheppard, with whom the character of Richard Kimble was based on. Sheppard was convicted in 1954 of the brutal murder of his pregnant wife, and was found guilty despite evidence proving he didn’t commit the crime. According to reports, very much like the movie and television series, the investigating police completely overlooked obvious evidence, primarily because they believed Sheppard was the killer—and they needed a conviction. Blood was also found in the home which did not match that of Sheppard, his wife, or their kids. Sheppard was eventually exonerated in 1966, but the case had taken an colossal toll on him and he was to meet his end four years later of liver disease, almost completely ruined both financially and emotionally.

Rubin Carter and Bob Dylan

Rubin Carter and Bob Dylan

On June 17th, 1966, police arrested Rubin Carter, a professional boxer and his friend John Artis for a triple-homicide committed in the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey. Police stopped Carter’s car and brought him and Artis, also in the car, to the scene of the crime. Upon searching the car, the police found ammunition that fit the weapons used in the murder. Police took no fingerprints at the crime scene and lacked the facilities to conduct proper tests on the gunshot residue. Carter and Artis were tried and convicted twice (1967 and 1976) for the murders, but after the second conviction was overturned in 1985, prosecutors chose not to pursue the case for a third time. Carter served as the inspiration for the 1975 Bob Dylan song “Hurricane”, one that garnered major popularity and attention to Carter’s cause.(7)

“Here comes the story of the Hurricane

The man the authorities came to blame

For something that he never done

Put him in a prison cell but one time he could-a been

The champion of the world. “

“Hurricane” Bob Dylan

Mumia Abu Jamal

Mumia Abu Jamal

Most prisoners that appeal a wrongful conviction will not be as fortunate as Carter to live to see their exoneration. Many of these prisoners are arrested because of political motives, accused of crimes many believe they didn’t commit, in order to further a political agenda.  Mumia Abu Jamal is the most prominent political prisoner in the US. In 1981, in a Cointelpro style investigation, he was arrested and sentenced to death in an what many believe was an unjust trial for the murder of a Philadelphia policeman. Mumia was an organizer and campaigner against police abuses in the African-American community, and was the President of the Association of Black Journalists. After his conviction and sub sequential imprisonment, he continued writing and has published several books and other commentaries. Mumia’s writing is dealing in the topics of wrongful convictions, and other human rights mistreatments.  most notable is his book Live From Death Row, which was released in 1995.  Mumia has many incredibly vocal supporters.  The front man of the popular musical activist group, Rage Against the Machine, Zack De Le Rocha, has spoken to Congress, condemning the U.S. government’s treatment of him. To see for yourself and to learn more visit freemumia.org.

The West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin photographed after their arrest in June 1993 by the West Memphis Police Department

The West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin photographed after their arrest in June 1993 by the West Memphis Police Department

Thankfully some exonerations do come in the innocent detainee’s lifetime, but not always in the form deserved. Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin were convicted in 1994 for the deaths of three local boys. The prosecution alleged it was part of a satanic ritual. This was part of a string of cases that had been known as “The Satanic Panic,” for which many people were later exonerated, like the employees at the Fells Acres Day School, on the basis of groundless and untrue accusations.  A mass hysteria swept the country, creating a cloud of accusations of “satanic ritual abuse” and murders.(8) Unfortunately, the West Memphis Three, which Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin were known as, got swept into this hysteria.  The case was documented in the film “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hills”, as well as two sequels which garnered the accused a large following, including many celebrities, who believed in the innocence of the defendants. In 2011, they entered Alford pleas in exchange for having their sentences reduced to time served. While their convictions stand legally, they are widely considered to have been wrongfully convicted.  Justice for the three is still sought to this day, along with an attempt to find the real murderer.7  Learn more about this case at www.wm3.org.

These are just a few examples of the victims of unjust imprisonments, you can find a list of exonerated death row inmates here.


boyingtonoakuse8

Charles Boyington stood looking out at the thousands gathered to watch him die.  In the his last minutes of his short life, as he stood with a noose around his neck,  Boyington made a declaration. From his now damned and condemned mouth spilled forth a prophecy that could only become mythical lore.  He proclaimed that a great oak tree would grow from his innocent heart, buried deep in the grave, pushing and breaking out, reaching to the heavens.  With every inch the tree grows, those who convicted him would be forced to remember their anger that killed an innocent young man.  Their guilt will also grow, until they are consumed by the arms of the oak.

The present day "Boyington Oak"

The present day “Boyington Oak”

Months after Charles Boyington’s execution, the city of Mobile had begun to forget all about Boyington and his murdered friend Nathaniel Frost.  Stories say that Rose even met a suitor her father approved of, eventually packing her carved heart away into a box, so she could be free to love again.  One day a peculiar thing was spotted in the cemetery.  A small sprout had began to grow from a grave in Potter’s Field (where the poor or unknown were buried), only sixty yards from where Nathaniel Frost’s body was found.  From the grave of Charles Boyington, that sprout grew into a powerful oak tree.  Boyington Oak now stands tall, outside the walls of the Church Street Graveyard, on the edge of a parking lot, near a playground, declaring his innocence.  With the tree being enough of a grave marker and reminder now, his actual gravestone has long since been removed.  The branches now outstretched, the tree takes on the appearance of a person, pulling itself out of the deep catacombs.  It’s said that on those dark nights, when the warm southern wind howls in the branches, you can hear Charles Boyington’s voice, proclaiming his innocence, reminding a world quick to judgement that an innocent man died that day. 

boyingtonoak20In an article written in 1847 in the Albany (New York) Evening Journal entitled, “The Wrong Man Hung”, Boyington’s innocence was proclaimed by its authors, who had researched the evidence from the aging case.  The journal purported a death bed confession, one from their landlord. The landlord knew about Frost’s hidden valuables, and was the one to report Frost missing.  Boyington had now become an example of the perils of capital punishment.  Walt Whitman even refers to the cases as “the story of the Boyington mistake” in his essay “What the Defenders of the Gallows Say and an Answer Thereto”.(9)  Whether or not his innocence was a definitive reality, obvious questions now exist in Boyington’s case, along with thousands of other cases, and now the American Justice System as a whole.  In October 2013, the incarceration rate of the United States of America was the highest in the world, at 716 per 100,000 of the national population. While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners. Corrections (which includes prisons, jails, probation, and parole) cost around $74 billion in 2007 according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. American prisons are filling up, huge percentages of the country are under the poverty line, and our country has more money than any other country on earth dedicated to it’s military (at $619 billion a year).(10)  What do these statistics reflect in our society, in us as a people?


The late comedian/educator Bill Hicks

The late comedian/educator Bill Hicks

The late comedian/educator Bill Hicks said,

“The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we … kill those people.

“Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok … But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”


boyingtonoakfullThe Southern Alabama Gulf Coast has an environment that eventually dwells deep within every living being that inhabits this swamp.  The air is thick and dense, as fog rolls over our feet, we lie in the cradle created by the gigantic aging oaks that surround us.  One of these trees lies in a plot of land dedicated to the souls that roamed before us.  This oak, The Boyington Oak, grows from the heart of innocence, growing outward, to be hidden no longer.  As we look on at the massive tree, we are reminded of the lives lost because of an unjust system, one that we are responsible to transform.  As we look at the large, outstretched branches, we realize that we could be the crowded masses, the ones who condemned Boyington, and living through the eyes of fear drove us to it.  No longer can our lives be dictated by the visions that hold us hostage.  Our time exonerate is now.  For we are the serpents of Bienville.


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1. “Down the Years”, Paul M. Pruitt Jr, and Robert Bond Higgins

2. Hamilton, William T., and Ala Mobile. The Last Hours of Charles R.S. Boyington,: Who Was Executed at Mobile, Alabama, for the Murder of Nathaniel Frost. Perpetrated May 10, 1834. Mobile [Ala.]:: Printed at the Commercial Register Office., 1835. Print.

3. Bingham, Joan, and Dolores Riccio. More Haunted Houses. New York: Pocket, 1991. Print.

4. Pruitt, Paul M.; Higgins, Robert Bond (1963). “Crime and Punishment in Antebellum Mobile: The Long Story of Charles R. S. Boyington”. Gulf Coast Historical Review 11 (Spring 1996): 6–40.

5. “Wrongful Execution.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.

6.”10 People Who Were Wrongfully Accused of Heinous Crimes – Listverse.” Listverse. 26 Mar. 2013. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.

7.”10 People Who Were Wrongfully Accused of Heinous Crimes – Listverse.” Listverse. 26 Mar. 2013. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.

8.”Fell Acres Day Care Center Preschool Trial.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.

9.Whitman, Walt, and Cleveland Rodgers. The Gathering of the Forces,. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1920. Print.

10.”United States Incarceration Rate.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.

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