Posted in Crime, History

Two Spirits in Georgia

The city of Marietta has its own ghosts. It has been haunted by in particular, two souls that cast a long shadow over this state and leave a mark that has never been erased even a century after these two souls were stolen from the world all too soon. To know their story is to remember a dark side of Georgia’s history, one that is rooted in to the very land we now stand on.

In the spring of 1915, The murder of Mary Phagan hit the city of Atlanta and Mary’s hometown of Marietta like a ton of bricks or a plague. Police searched frantically for the culprit while the public’s grief turned to rage. When one final suspect remained, he was attacked from all sides, yet when the alleged killer was set free, this would be the catalyst for such a furious uproar that someone else would loose their life before the night was out and the history of the South would change for the worst. No one at the time could have guessed that the murder of thirteen-year-old girl would cause such a bloody stain over Georgia’s history, nor could anyone have predicted that the city’s search for revenge would shatter many lives and bring about the second coming of America’s most infamous terrorist group: The Ku Klux Klan.

At the turn of the century, Mary Phagan was born to a widowed mother with an already large and struggling family. Yet Mary was her mother’s special girl—a pretty young woman with reddish hair, blue eyes, and pale skin. Her relatives would go on to describe her as a warm and caring person with a “bubbly” personality.

Once she turned eleven though, Mary ceased to be a little girl and had to work like the rest of her siblings. She placed her education on hold to earn money for her tired family, as was normal at the time. The Phagan family had moved to the big city of Atlanta and here, unlike in the countryside where she had been born, it was not uncommon to see married women and children working in factories along with fully grown men. Mary obtained a job at the National Pencil Factory attaching metal on to the end of pencils for a measly paycheck in horrible work conditions where the floor was dirty, the hours were long, the rewards were few, and hazardous machinery made work painful for employees, especially unsuspecting young ones like Mary. Yet, despite the danger, Mary liked working. She liked feeling mature and helpful and, better yet, she liked talking to her fellow employees and made several friends there.

Life in the state capitol of Atlanta must have been exciting for a pubescent girl like Mary. Even though few residents owned cars in the years before the first World War, Atlanta was still a growing city that would have seemed foreign compared to working on a farm in the country. Not everyone had electricity, or gas, but the city was filled with people—people from all over the country, people from different corners of the world, of all ages and beliefs. A few months in the city would have opened Mary’s eyes to the world more than her previous years in the country. Horses were still a popular mode of transportation, but now they carried not only wagons but steam engines—the closest most Atlanta citizens would come to an automobile for the next several years. Here in the city milk was delivered to each family from a milkman and his wagon, instead of taken from the family cow. Over there a man sold ice to the overheated citizens. Vendors sold fruit and vegetables in the streets. A relatively new drink, Coca-Cola, was catching the public’s eye (and taste-buds). Perhaps after receiving her week’s pay, Mary might have taken a few sips of the popular soft drink as a reward for all of her hard work.

The busy city was the place where Mary enjoyed working, but her home life was a different story. Her mother, Frances (“Fannie”) married J.W. Coleman in the early months of 1912. The family moved to Coleman’s home in Marietta, which was a relatively small town at the time. With a stepfather to watch out for her, Mary didn’t have to keep working, but she decided to stick with her job since she enjoyed it (and her friendships with the other workers) so much.

However much she enjoyed work, Mary’s paycheck depended on the factory’s supplies and the limited availability of work to be done for such a low-level job as hers was. In April of the following year Mary faced several days worth of disappointment when no new metal was shipped to the factory, thus forcing her and other employees to be laid off for a few days until the new shipment came in. It was thought that she would pick up her check on Friday evening since the following day was a state holiday, Confederate Memorial Day (this was Atlanta in 1915 of course), but since the family did not own a telephone and did not know she was asked to come in a day early, Mary went to the factory that Saturday afternoon anyways.

The factory was nearly empty when she arrived, save for a few employees that darted in and out of the large, gloomy, and windowless building. Everyone was excited for the parade that would occur down the street: Mary even had plans to join the crowd once she had picked up her pay.

But Mary never saw the parade. She never even left the building. Instead her body was found at 3 am the following morning.

The night watchman, Newt Lee, found the thirteen-year-old’s body in the early hours of Sunday April 27th, 1915. At first he thought it was a pile of rags, or that one of his co-workers was playing a prank on him, but as he stepped closer Lee realized this was not a light-hearted prank. Mary’s body was covered in dust and lead, her hair lay sprawled around her head, her clothing was torn, and her skirt was hiked around her legs, leading to the belief that she was raped. Her little pink tongue stuck out of her mouth, a cord bit into the skin around her neck, and blood poured from a wound in the back of her head.

Lee immediately ran to the closest telephone and rang his boss to tell him what happened and found there was no answer, and then he phoned the police. The police arrived shortly after by horse (there were few cars to be found in Fulton County at the time), viewed the body, and immediately became suspicious of the watchman. Lee, it should be mentioned, was a black man in his fifties in the segregated and racist state of Georgia. It wasn’t long before the police decided to arrest their only suspect: Newt Lee.

Lee was questioned by the police and then beaten and then questioned again, but still Lee’s story remained the same: he was innocent. The police called in Lee’s boss, the factory superintendent, Leo Frank. Frank was a skinny man in his late twenties—police found he was twitchy and nervous when they visited his house that morning. Of course, anyone would be nervous and twitchy if a group of stone-faced policemen paid you a visit early in the morning to deliver the news that one of your workers was murdered. At first Frank couldn’t recall who Mary Phagan was until he saw her body, but then he realized that this was the young woman who had collected her paycheck the day before. He decided to cooperate with the investigation and followed the police back to their headquarters to answer more questions, at this point Lee was still the prime suspect.

Yet over the next few days Lee was found innocent and released, while other men were arrested under the suspicion of murder. As potential suspects were weeded out, two men stood out to police in particular: a black Janitor with a history of drunken and disorderly conduct, Jim Conley, and the superintendent himself, Leo Frank. The case was essentially solved when Conley confessed that Frank had murdered the girl and made him hide the body.

Suddenly the word spilled over the state of Georgia and suddenly several workers and former employees of the factory popped up to say that Frank was a dangerous man with a reputation for lechery, used to preying upon young female workers at the factory. But for as many witnesses that said Frank was a pervert, an equal amount of citizens were quick to defend him, ready to say that Frank was a kind and decent man without a blemish on his name. The only person that could convince the public—and later a jury—of Frank’s innocence or guilt was Conley, the supposed accomplice (or supposed killer).

Conley’s story changed several times when he talked to the police, but when he finally told the jury about the day of the murder that following summer, he told a vivid story that no one could ignore, a story that never changed, even after several hours of cross-examination. Conley claimed that Mary had visited Frank’s office—whether by choice or by force he could not say—just like several other young women had: for sexual purposes. The former janitor revealed that Frank had a history of inviting women to his office for sexual liaisons and that Conley was in charge of keeping lookout during these sessions. Mary Phagan was supposed to just be another notch in Frank’s belt of sexual conquests, until Conley heard a scream coming from the superintendent’s office. Conley raced to see what was wrong and found Mary crumbled in the corner with Frank standing frantic nearby.

According to Conley, Frank then claimed that she fell and hit her head, that it was an accident. Then Frank bribed Conley to write some notes (notes that were eventually found near the body). The notes were written to throw suspicion off of Frank and on to other black employees. These notes were made to look like Mary had written them herself; they use the n-word repeatedly while referring to a certain someone, as if the writer was hoping suspicion would fall upon the factory’s black workers (this was what helped get Newt Lee arrested after finding the body in the first place). Conley then proceeded to drop the body and the notes in the factory’s basement.

This story disgusted the jurors and the visitors of crowded courtroom. When Leo Frank took the stand in self-defense, the court seemed to have already made up their mind about him. Frank testified that he had given Mary Phagan her pay on that fateful day back in April and that she had left—never to be seen again. He denied any sexual involvement with the girl, much less involvement in her murder. Despite his genuine pleas, the jurors made up their minds and Frank was found guilty of murder.

Now here’s where the story gets tricky. Mary Phagan was a young white woman. Jim Conely was a black man from the South. Leo Frank was white, but he was Jewish, he was a northerner, and most of all: he was an outsider.  Frank’s defenders at the time and over the past several decades have claimed that Frank was not given a fair trial and that the jury was biased against him—not from any real evidence (most of the actual police evidence had mysteriously vanished before the trial, leaving only Conley’s and other character-related-testimonies) but that he was convicted because he was Jewish and that he was a scapegoat to an anti-semetic population.

Frank tried for several appeals, but lost them all. It wasn’t until Governor John M. Slaton reviewed the case, that Frank’s luck began to change. Slaton found enough reasons to change Frank’s death sentence to that of life imprisonment. The general public was furious. In their minds a convicted murderer was going unpunished. A fellow inmate tried to murder Frank in his sleep, but failed. A few days later a forceful mob would prove more successful.

A lynch mob abducted Frank during the night of August 16th, 1915. He was taken from his cell at the Milledgeville Prison Farm surprisingly easily. The twenty-eight men that made up his party of abductors and future murderers were not local riff-raff or violent criminals: many were politicians, former and current sheriffs, and community leaders—otherwise respectable men at the time. Yet these same “respectable gentlemen” were not above breeching the law as they scurried away in to the night with Frank held hostage in the backseat of a car.

The party road from Milledgeville to Marietta with little interference. Since only a few people had automobiles in that part of Georgia at the time, it’s surprising that this vigilante mob was able to find eight cars that could stand the journey with few stops for gas. This idea alone shows how the group had thought through their actions and planned carefully. It is very well possible that they brought gas with them or perhaps even received help from local citizens along the way. They had no difficulty at all the entire time.

The original plan was to hang Leo ‘ in Mary’s hometown of Marietta, but the sun rose earlier than they had anticipated, so the group quickly made plans to kill him as soon as possible. They stopped near the corner of Frey’s Gin and Roswell Road. Frank was continually asked during the ride if he had killed Mary Phagan, but Frank remained nearly silent, speaking only to deny his involvement in the murder of the Phagan girl two years prior. Though a few of the men felt sorry for him, it was much too late to turn back now.

A table was placed under a tree and a noose was tied to one of the branches. Frank was escorted to the tree without a struggle. His last words concerned his family and his wife, Lucille, and how he wanted someone to give his wedding ring to her after his death. Then the noose was placed around his neck and the table was kicked out from under him. Within minutes he was dead.


For years the whole story of Mary Phagan’s murder and Leo Frank’s subsequent trial and lynching has focused on the men involved. Yet, even a hundred years later, I can’t help but wonder how the silent women that were impacted by these events felt.

In every portrayal of this story, Mary Phagan is portrayed as a silent victim, a footnote in her own story. The grief of Mary’s mother and of the other females in Atlanta and Marietta is swept under the rug in favor of describing Leo Frank’s supposed innocence or guilt. Yet somehow one woman is not been completely ignored and the public’s interest in her has only grown over the years. The key figure in question is Lucille Selig, Leo Frank’s wife.

She has always been portrayed as the supportive and grieving wife that stood by her husband, completely convinced of his innocence. She is seen as a heroine of sorts. But think of modern parallels. Today wives of convicted murderers are looked down on and seen as foolish and blind women who can’t accept the obvious truth about their spouse even in the face of a conviction and evidence. Still, place yourself in Lucille’s shoes for a moment. How would you react if your loved one was accused of such a crime and found guilty? Would you believe the press and the courts over your love for your spouse? This is not an easy question with an easy answer, and this would have affected Lucille immensely. She never married again after Frank’s murder, perhaps out of loyalty to her dead husband, or maybe the whole ordeal left a sour taste in her mouth. Lucille decided to have her ashes buried–not next to her husband–but with the rest of her family in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta: the city that had so willingly convicted Frank.

Another woman impacted by the death of Mary Phagan and the subsequent death of Leo Frank, was Governor John Slaton’s wife Sarah Frances Grant, known by her friends as Sally. At first glance Sally’s life seems to be the complete opposite of Mary Phagan and Lucille Selig Frank’s lives. Dan Childs, who researched Sally’s life for Oakland Cemetery’s Capturing the Spirit event, described Sally as “attractive and charismatic.” Unlike Mary, Sally grew up in comfort. She was a member of the prestigious Grant family (for whom Grant Field at Georgia Tech is named after). She was born five years after the Civil War ended, so she would have grown up constantly hearing stories of the war, exaggerated legends of a era that had all but been destroyed. While these same stories would have been turned in to myths by the time Lucille and Mary were born, Sally would have been constantly aware of the damage the war inflicted upon the south, even decades after it ended. Still, her family retained their status and beautiful young Sally was happy.

Like Lucille, Sally married young, but also like Lucille, her first marriage was short lived and ended in tragedy. Sally’s first husband, the aristocratic young lawyer Thomas Cobb Jackson, was involved in a “financial scandal of some sort.” Dan Childs also found in his research that Jackson suffered from depression and that once the scandal broke, “he committed suicide.” This financial scandal can be explored further in Laurel-Ann Dooley’s 2014 book Wicked Atlanta: The Sordid Side of Peach City History, published by The History Press in Charleston, South Carolina. The death of her husband would have hurt Sally deeply, a pain Lucille would later share twenty-two years later when her own husband became involved in an even more shocking Atlanta scandal.

A few years later Sally married another Atlanta lawyer, John Slaton. The two remained happily married until her death early in 1945. Slaton would die ten years later. Yet, from 1913 onwards, their marriage was tested by the same challenge that had harmed so many other lives: the deaths of Mary Phagan and later Leo Frank.

1913 was an important year for the Slaton’s, as it was an important year for the whole of Atlanta. While spent most of the year focused on the murder of Mary Phagan and the subsequent trail of Leo Frank, 1913 was a good year for Sally. Her husband took office as governor that summer. Then one of her relatives was John W. Grant, became the benefactor of a stadium that was then currently being built at Georgia Tech. The stadium, now known as the Bobby Dodd Stadium at Grant Field, was named after his son, Hugh Inman Grant back when it was originally known as Grant Field. The stadium was later renamed in the 80’s after the successful coach Bobby Dodd. Still, 1913 held more pleasant surprises for Sally. Even Polly Peachtree, a gossip columnist for the Atlanta Journal, complimented her that year, writing: “I frankly and freely confess myself her ardent admirer. Her beauty and wit will make the executive mansion during her husband’s administration the most brilliant state court in all these United States.” This high praise, in Dan Childs’ opinion, only goes to show Sally and her husband’s popularity.

Atlanta’s love for the Slaton’s did not last much longer. Two years later, John Slaton made the controversial decision to commute Leo Frank’s sentence from that of the death penalty to life imprisonment. The citizens of Marietta and Atlanta were appalled by this action. Not only did they hang Leo Frank, citizens nearly rioted, making life so dangerous for the Slaton’s’ that their house had to be protected by martial law and guarded constantly due to the threat of rioters storming the house. That summer Slaton’s term as governor had ended, now the former governor, once loved by the city of Atlanta, fled the state of Georgia with his wife in toe a mere week after the Frank incident. His career was effectively finished and their lives never quite recovered from the scandal. Sally stood by her husband the entire time, never wavering in her opinion that Slaton’s decision was the right one.

Both Sally and Lucille left Georgia for several years, but once the entire ordeal died down, both returned to Atlanta. Lucille went on to work at a clothing store downtown. Even years after her husband’s death, Dan Childs found that, “she wore a name badge at work that identified her as ‘Mrs. Leo Frank.’”

In one final coincidence, John Slaton, Sally, and Lucille are all buried in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. Even now, fifty years after Slaton’s death and a full century after Frank’s lynching, Sally and Lucille are still linked together in both life and death.

Atlanta historians’ interest in these two women has only grown these past hundred years, especially considering the way their lives mirror one another before finally being laid to rest in the same location. Oakland Cemetery commemorated these two women in the previous month during the Capturing the Spirit tours. The Capturing the Spirit tours occur every year at Oakland around Halloween. During this event tour guides take visitors on a walk around the cemetery. Each year a handful of people buried in the cemetery are selected to be portrayed during the tour. Workers and volunteers at the cemetery research the lives of those chosen. Then during the tour actors and actress stand in front of the deceased’s graves and portray their chosen spirit as they have come back from the grave to tell tourists their tale. Actors deliver a speech for five and a half minutes, introducing visitors to their life story, all while dressed in period appropriate costumes. This October Lucille Selig Frank and Sarah Grant Slaton were chosen to be “resurrected,” most likely due to the fact that this year was the hundredth anniversary of Frank’s death.

The two actresses portraying Lucille and Sally read off of a script written by a professional scriptwriter. While this writer was difficult to track down, Oakland was more than happy to give credit to a fellow volunteer, Dan Childs.

Dan Childs wrote the script for the Leo Frank tour given by Oakland several times a year. His research is what helped bring Lucille and Sally back to life, so to speak, during this year’s Capturing the Spirit tours.

Sally’s husband, the former Governor John M. Slaton, was “resurrected” in the previous years, which stirred Atlanta historians’ interests. While Leo Frank is not buried in Oakland Cemetery, his wife Lucille’s grave is a poignant reminder of the ordeal that shocked Atlanta a century ago. Mary Phagan is buried at the Marietta City Cemetery, a special black information marker tells her story in words, but her spirit remains silent.

 

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Posted in History

“Two Floors of History”

Docents, actors, and other volunteers pain-stakingly re-create historic homes in Roswell.


Sunlight falls over the staircase and blankets the many cats and dogs that have curled up on the edge of each step to bask in the warmth. The rustle of skirts can be heard. The smell of roasted ham from the Smoke House creeps into the home through the open windows. The cook, a hungry slave, hums to herself as she enters the house through the back door to set dinner on the table for the family that dresses themselves upstairs. Large windows on the front of the house are being opened. These windows reach all the way down to the floor and contain three separate panes that can be opened or closed to become a small slot for food to be passed through by the slaves, a simple window, or, when pulled up to its full height, a large enough opening that could be counted as another door. If a party were to occur the window would be opened all the way so that guests could come and go as they pleased in and out of the house without having to cluster at the front door. There is the possibility that the neighbors across the street at the Bulloch family home might come to visit after dinner, a prospect that excites the only daughter Eva, who has been best friends with Mittie Bulloch for years. The King clan and the Bulloch family are two of the founding families of this mill-based city named Roswell. In the years before the Civil War the city is peaceful. The King family at Barrington Hall has their mill while the Bulloch’s have their gardens. They expect life to remain the same way for years to come.

The year is now 2014. Their houses remain in Roswell, but the old families have long since passed away. Barrington Hall has since become noticed for sharing the same name as the old fashioned coffee brand, a brand which took its name from the house. Bulloch Hall is now remembered for housing Martha Bulloch Roosevelt who would give birth to Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.—the 26th President of the United States. Her family called her Mittie and the nickname has stuck throughout the years. Today at the historic homes of Roswell she is once again referred to as Mittie.

As I stand on the staircase inside Barrington Hall my fantasies of sleeping pets, rustling skirts, roasted ham, and the hope of distinguished visitors disappears. Today the distinguished visitors are not the offspring of Roswell’s finest families. There are no Southern Belles here, nor are there any handsome young gentlemen who have come to discuss politics and have a smoke with the master of the house. Instead there are only four of us: a docent, two tourists, and myself. The two other tourists, women in their sixties and seventies, comment on the house’s furniture and compare them to their own family heirlooms. They can remember being told stories of the opulence and the noble souls that once lived here, but the place is foreign to me. My generation has grown up with i-phones and laptops. These other women standing with me used typewriters. This house was the home to people who never would have imagined such things.

I eye the back staircase slaves would have used and feel a twang of remorse. As someone who has grown up in the post-Roots and Civil Rights era, I cannot picture the simple lifestyles of the rich family that once lived here without thinking of the disturbing cost of such leisure. The back stairs for slaves merges with the family’s staircase. Here slaves and the privileged King family members might have walked side by side: this is the only place in the house where this could be possible.

The docent mentions this to our little group of four. We stop to ponder this while the sunlight streams in from the large window up above us. The slave cabins are long gone having been replaced by a parking lot for visitors. This staircase is one of the few reminders left of the slaves that walked these same halls nearly two hundred years ago.

The docent is a woman in her sixties. Her hair may be auburn colored, but I am sure that this is the work of a dye routinely scrubbed into her hair every few months. Today people do not want to be reminded that they are old. For the King family that once owned this house, living to be sixty was a privilege many did not have. Every wrinkle and scar was worn as a proud reminder of how the house had stood through the Civil War, even when their mill had been burned, even though Union soldiers had occupied the house, and neighbors had stolen many pieces of furniture. These imperfections proudly stated: we were here and we survived. Today we cover our wrinkles, scars, and blemishes with make-up and lotion.

The South’s prickly history has since become an awkward subject for Americans, especially those of us in the South who cannot trace themselves back to founding families and disapprove of slavery whole heartedly. My ancestors were poor farmers. The only way a member of the Hohn family could enter a house like this would be as tourists a hundred years since the original family died. The other women in my tour group do not seem to share this same problem, coming from several generations of Southerners who could trace their family trees back several generations, who kept old family heirlooms in storage, and visited homes like this to become in touch with their roots. I am only a guest.

The docent is no exception to this. “My mother collected antiques,” she tells me. She can remember joining her mother to hunt down traces of a desk, a hat, or a frame as a child. These experiences in her childhood inspired her love of history. Her mother, now in her eighties, still enjoys searching for and collecting antiques. It is a nice tradition for mother and daughter to continue after several decades. Her interest in antiques influences what she says in our tour. She points out the history of several pieces of furniture, excited to explain how this desk actually belonged to this person and how this quilt made of many different scraps of fabric was a present for that member of the house. “Oh,” she exclaims, walking over to the large wooden wardrobe that sits on the second level of the house. “This is my favorite part of the house.” She runs her fingers along the wood. She explains that this wardrobe was built inside the house, and since it is too big to fit through any door in Barrington, this wardrobe sits on the exact same spot where it was built over a hundred and fifty years ago. She then informs us about the history of other pieces of furniture in the house.

I have been on this tour before. My earlier docent had focused on the various people that had lived here, while today’s docent uses her own background of gathering antiques to praise the furniture. A lot of the furniture in Barrington today is the same furniture the original King family would have used, but some pieces or recreations or period-accurate pieces that had belonged to someone else before being tracked down by antique-lovers.

The layout of historical houses like Barrington is painstakingly re-created time and time again by the few members of staff each house has. A few years ago one volunteer at Barrington was able to track down the actual bed one resident slept in and the matching dresser through the magic of E-bay! I should explain that this would have been an extremely difficult task since much of the furniture in both houses was spread out across the south in storage units, relative’s basements, and museums. This one volunteer was able to find the exact bed and dresser through a lot of hard work and dedication after reading countless family letters that detailed the appearance of these pieces of furniture.

A large part of researching these historic homes and their families comes from reading family letters, journals, and any form of writing that has been preserved after all these years.

One worker, Gwen Koehler, the education coordinator at Bulloch Hall across the street, recently discovered several Bulloch family letters in a museum up in Washington D.C. Since then Koehler and a friend are currently compiling these letters to publish in a book. These letters are especially interesting because they contain correspondence between Mittie Bulloch and her son Theodore Roosevelt, the former President of the United States.

While Barrington Hall covers several generations of family members that have inherited the house, Bulloch Hall is all about Mittie, her ties to the Roosevelt’s, and her parents that had at one point disapproved of the marriage. Every year in December people flock to Bulloch Hall to re-create the wedding between founding family members Stephen and Martha Bulloch (Mittie’s parents). This is one of several important historical events that are re-enacted at Roswell’s historic homes.

The re-enactment of the wedding is noticeable because it does not only feature actors in costumes: the docents and other volunteers have to dress up too. The attention at this event is directed towards the actors playing the bride and groom, but I doubt their costumes are much more comfortable. Volunteers that play the spectators are handed whatever is available or left over. The dresses look tight and very tiny on modern day women. The women of the Bulloch and King families, like many southern women, were very short, so an average sized woman today would not enjoy being stuffed into these old-fashioned clothes for historical re-enactment events. At the time of the actual wedding between Stephan and Martha, women wore an astonishing number of fourteen petticoats (no wonder a fainting couch was kept on stand-by downstairs: women would simply collapse from the heat). Luckily, the re-enactors today do not have to wear all fourteen petticoats, and they get to enjoy modern air conditioning, but I imagine that wearing these costumes is no picnic for anyone. Yet every year the wedding is preformed nearly word-for-word to re-enact the wedding as accurately as possible because Bulloch Hall’s history is that important to the people of Roswell.

In the summer there are some more historical reenactment events. The most popular one occurs at Barrington Hall. Here people reenact the time when Union soldiers invaded the house in the summer of 1864, where they stayed for two weeks while rebuilding the Roswell Bridge, which Confederates had burned to slow the Union forces’ march through the south. A good amount of men volunteer to re-enact this scene during the summer, not for the pay or acclaim, but for their respect for the town’s history.

I should also mention that everyone that works at these historic homes is a volunteer who typically receives very little money for this, if any at all. Volunteers come here after finishing their busy shifts at their actual, professional jobs, to give tours to whoever straggles in from the streets due to their love of history.

That phrase summarizes the feeling of every worker at these historic homes: they love this history. Each hour spent in the heat wearing thick, uncomfortable costumes, each hour spent on their feet while giving tours of the houses, each hour spent reading page after page of family letters—all are done for each persons’ absolute love of Roswell’s history and their dedication to preserving it in the public’s memory.

As I leave Barrington Hall the fluttering ghosts of the house’s history once again strike me. I look at the dining room and think of the little slave girl one docent had told me would fall asleep while fanning the King family during dinner. I pass the formal visiting parlor that where President Theodore Roosevelt had sat while visiting one of his mother’s oldest friends, Eva King Baker. Over a decade later a reporter named Margaret Mitchell interviewed Eva in the same exact spot, asking about her experience as a bridesmaid at Mittie Bulloch’s wedding. I wonder if the stories of Eva, Mittie, and other Roswell families inspired Mitchell when she wrote the famous heroine Scarlett O’Hara in her wildly popular novel Gone with the Wind a few years after the interview took place. I notice that someone had carved into the windowpane near the front door. Dupart believes a child of the house had tried to write their name there, only to be punished. Over a hundred years later the words carved in the glass are impossible to read, but still potent. As I walk down the front porch steps, I imagine the ghosts of charming Southern Belles giggling behind gloved hands, slaves humming a tune while thinking of abolitionists’ promises of freedom, and Union soldiers camped out on the lawn, waiting for the war to end. Behind me the docents prepare themselves for another tour.


Works Cited

“Barrington Drive.” City Data, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <http://www.city-data.com/fulton-county/B/Barrington-Drive-1.html>

“Barrington Hall: Family Biographies.” Roswell Gov. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. <https://www.rosw-ellgov.com/index.aspx?NID=406>

“Bulloch Hall: Family Biographies.” Roswell Gov. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <https://www.roswell-gov.com/index.aspx?NID=426&gt;

“Catherine Evelyn King Baker.” Roswell Gov. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <https://www.roswellgov-.com/DocumentCenter/Home/View/733>

“History of Barrington Hall.” Roswell Gov. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <https://www.roswellgov.com/-DocumentCenter/Home/View/724&gt;

“Our History: History of Bulloch Hall” Roswell Gov. Web. 5 Nov. 2014. <https://www.ros-wellgov.com/index.aspx?NID=429 >

Posted in History

The Most Dangerous Decade

Last year was…a memorable one. When the world rang in the New Year, social media was bursting with memes declaring 2016 to be the worst year ever, with many fearing this year would be even worse.

Before you click the back button, know that this article is not about politics in that I am not saying one political party is better than another, nor am I saying that 2017 heralds the end of the world.

No. I am here to tell you that it’s all right, that this is not the end of the world. I say this because the seventies were way worse.

Ah, the seventies, a time when music was great, movies were daring, and…America didn’t quite know with to do with itself. The nation was divided: parents and children argued, the old were pitted against the young, liberals waged political war against conservatives, and the Beatles were coming to an end. While the seeds of this conflict were planted in the sixties, they came into full bloom in the seventies.

Still, this picture of the seventies that we remember today came into fruition in the previous year of 1969. If the sixties were a time of marching and protesting, from ’69 onward marching and peaceful protesting turned to rioting and violence.

A Decade of Rage

There were over six separate major incidences of terrorism that year alone: from the bombing and attempted bombing of two different California colleges in February to Sam Melville’s bombing of the Marine Midland Building in New York City that August.

The fall of 69 saw a sharp rise in terrorist activity. Jane Alpert, Sam Melville’s lover, bombed the Federal Building in New York City a month after Melville. Alpert was also responsible for bombing the Armed Forces Induction Center, also in New York. With October came the “Days of Rage,” where 800 protestors hoped to “bring the [Vietnam] war home,” hoping to start a new war from the Chicago streets. While these three days of rioting did contain much of the advertised rage, it did not start a war, but instead resulted in mass arrests, many injuries, businesses looted, car windows smashed, and started a new wave of violent protests.

In November, Alpert and Melville finished off their busy year detonating a bomb in the Manhattan Criminal Court, leading to their arrest.

While Melville was placed in prison, the Weathermen Underground was born.

The Weathermen and other domestic terrorist organizations burst on to the scene, quite literally, when Weathermen member Cathy Wilkerson’s’ townhouse in Greenwich Village prematurely detonated, setting the townhouse aflame and killing three people. The Weathermen soon declared war in retaliation for the death of Black Panther Fred Hampton, who was killed during an FBI raid in December of 1969.

In June of 1970, the Weathermen, now known as the Weathermen Underground Organization (WUO), took responsibility for the bombing of the New York City Police Department headquarters. The group would go on to attack the United States Capital, the Gulf Tower in Pittsburgh, and on May 19, 1972 the WUO even bombed the Pentagon.

The WUO might be the most well-known terror group of the time, but they were not the only ones involved in terrorist attacks. The Jewish Defense League were involved in bombings in New York and D.C. The Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped Patricia Hearst, robbed many banks, was responsible for several deaths, and was behind many more crimes. Puerto Rican terrorist organization, the FALN, were behind the deadly bombing of the Fraunces Tavern in New York City, killing over fifty people. LaGuardia Airport in New York was bombed, killing eleven people and injuring nearly seven times as many, with the perpetrator unknown to this day. This was just the tip of the ice burg.

There were so many domestic terrorist attacks that they became common place, something, which seems unthinkable today.

These attacks only added to the political instability that shook the early seventies, which climaxed with the Watergate Scandal.

Crime wave

From the late 60’s up until the 80’s, America also experienced a crime wave with an emphasis placed on dangerous cults and that new breed of predators: the serial killer.

The summer of ’69 marked a string of murders by the Manson Family. While much has been made of the murder of actress Sharon Tate and several others at her house in Cielo Drive, the Manson Family also killed Leno and Rosemary La Bianca, violin teacher Gary Hinman, and even stuntman-turned-ranch hand, Donald Shea, when he grew suspicious of the group. The Manson Family was behind several more attempted murders, including the attempted murder of several of their own members who started to doubt Manson and his followers. This was not the end of the Manson family’s crime spree, devoted member Lynette Fromme, known by the moniker of “Squeaky,” attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford in September of 1975. Interestingly enough, later that same month Sara Jane Moore would attempt to kill the president before being stopped by the secret service. As for the Manson Family, the group slowly disbanded, but everyone involved never forgot the murders of 1969.

The seventies ended with another killer cult on the news, this time it was the mass suicide of members of the Peoples Temple at Jonestown and the murder of five people, including a congressman, at the Port Kaituma airstrip, which preceded the mass suicides.

As shocking as these events were, one was still more likely to meet their end at the hands of the many killers that now roamed the streets.

California’s Zodiac Killer is believed to have claimed the lives of over twenty people, perhaps as high as thirty-seven, the Zodiac killer murdered several young couples, is alleged to have abducted a woman and her infant before the mother and child escaped, and all the while taunted law enforcement with letters and codes, before slipping away into the night, never definitively identified.

Notorious serial killer Ted Bundy left a trail of bodies behind him from 1974 to 1978, murdering over thirty women. John Wayne Gacy killed his first victim in 1972, killing and assaulting well over thirty people for six years, many of his victims were young boys. Dennis Rader, also known as the BTK killer due to binding, torturing, and killing his victims, murdered the Otero family in 1974.

There are many theories for what could have caused this sudden spike in crime with many attributing it to broken homes and single mothers to lead poisoning, but whatever the cause was did little to comfort the many victims’ families and friends who were left behind.

A Recap

When you consider the alarming wave of left-wing domestic terrorism and brutal murders in the seventies, it is hardly surprising that the following decade would be a return to conservative values under the Regan administration.

While the seventies produced a lot of great music and ground-breaking movies, its political instability, the prevalence of domestic terrorism, and the troubling rise in crime all together make the seventies perhaps America’s most dangerous decade.


Recommended viewing and reading:

For more on the Weather Underground and 1969’s Days of Rage:

You can view Vanity Fair Confidential’s episode on these events here at Investigation Discovery. You can also read the original Vanity Fair articles by Bryan Burrough and the subsequent book he wrote on the events.

Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence. By: Bryan Burrough.

For more on the Manson Family Murders:

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Family Murders. By: Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry.

There are also plenty of documentaries and television mini-series you can watch on the topic, plus countless of biographies and memoirs of those involved. Bugliosi’s book is the best place to start and is the definitive account of these events, perhaps even more reliable than the accounts given by the killers themselves.

For more on the Zodiac Murders:

Zodiac: The Full Story of the Infamous Unsolved Zodiac Murders in California. By: Robert Graysmith.

I also highly recommend watching David Fincher’s brilliant dramatization simply titled Zodiac.

For more on Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army:

I highly recommend you read Jeffrey Tobin’s recent book, American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst.

Posted in History, Other, True Crime

Should Juvenile Offenders Be Tried As Adults?

Upsetting and somewhat graphic content to follow!

In the past century there has been an ongoing debate on how to punish children found guilty of serious crimes, such as murder. While many children are tried in court as adults and given harsh sentences befitting the crime, other children tried as juveniles are sent to juvenile prisons where their sentences are much shorter and they are released back in to society around the age of eighteen. This differential treatment for some of the same crimes has stirred much debate and even outrage.

I believe that even children should be held accountable for their actions, especially when it comes to serious crimes such as murder. Even though an article by Duaa Eldeib from the Chicago Tribune detailed how several studies have found that children’s brains are not as fully developed as an adult’s (Eldeib), many older children are more than old enough to know that murder is wrong morally and legally, along with other serious crimes such as sexual assault. These older children who certainly knew better but still committed terrible crimes should serve time either in juvenile or adult prisons. An opinions piece by Phillip Holloway from CNN reported that 200,000 children and teenagers have been tried as adults this year alone (Holloway). However, I will leave it up to the attorneys and the judge to decide if the child should be tried as an adult or as a juvenile. Part of this decision comes from the offender’s age, their crime, the severity of the crime, and if they are a future danger to society.

While I stand by this belief, I also think that courts should take in to consideration the difference between the imprisonments of juveniles versus adults. Children and teenagers sent to adult prisons are more likely to be bullied, raped, assaulted, and tormented by other inmates. They also have a higher risk of suicide than children and teenagers serving time in juvenile facilities. However, even at corrections facilities for juveniles, they still run the risk of being assaulted and abused by other inmates and staff members. Some people, though, might see this as fitting punishment if a teenager has committed a similar crime, but I do not condone rape or sexual assault. I still believe that this decision is up to the courts to decide.

I would like to finish this post off with a list of several children and teenagers found guilty of particularly infamous and brutal murders and their subsequent sentences so that you can decide for yourself how these offenders should be treated.

  • Eric Smith (13) murdered Derrick Robie (4) via strangulation, then dumped rocks on his body, and sodomized the youth with a stick. (Calin).
  • Joshua Phillips (14) murdered Maddie Clifton (8). Due to his young age he did not qualify for the death penalty and was sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole (Calin).
  • George Stinney (14) was given the death sentence after being found guilty of murdering two girls: Mary Emma Thames (8) and Betty June Binnicker (11). He was executed at the age of fourteen (Calin).
  • Lionel Tate (14) murdered Tiffany Eunick (6) via stomping on the girl, thus fracturing her skull, ribs, and forcing her brain to swell. While initially sentenced to life imprisonment, this sentence was later overturned and was realised three years later with a decade long probation sentence (Calin).
  • Barry Dale Loukaitis (14) took several students and teachers hostage and killed three people during this hostage and shooting spree at a middle school. He was given two life sentences without the possibility of parole (Calin).
  • Craig Price (15) murdered a woman and her two children during a suspected robbery, stabbing the three over ninety times. After his arrest, he admitted to the crime and even another murder two years prior (Calin).
  • Graham Young (14) poisoned his family, resulting in the death of his step-grandmother. He was sent to a maximum security hospital where he continued to poison and kill several hospital staff members and inmates. After his release, Young only continued to poison others until he was eventually caught and imprisoned once more (Calin).
  • Jesse Pomeroy (15) kidnapped and murdered Katie Curran (10) and was accused of also killing another child, a four-year-old boy. He was sentenced to life imprisonment (Cowboy).
  • Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both only ten, beat, sexually assaulted, and murdered James Bulger (2) and then left his body on the train tracks to be run over by a train. The two were found guilty and imprisoned until the age of 18, when they were released, causing much controversy and outrage (Calin).
  • Mary Bell (11) murdered Martin Brown (4) and Brian Howe (3), strangling Howe, stabbing Brown, skinning his genitals, and carving the letter “M” on his stomach. Mary was convicted of manslaughter, but was released at the age of 23 and given a new identity (Cowboy).
  • Jordan Brown (11) shot and killed his father’s pregnant fiancé (Cowboy).
  • Curtis and Catherine Jones (12 and 13) murdered their father’s girlfriend and were tried as adults. They were released in 2015 while in their early twenties. (Axelrod).
  • Two thirteen-year-old girls murdered a fellow teenager, alleging that they committed the crime because of Internet creepypasta (scary stories shared online) character Slenderman. The two will be tried as adults. (Gomez).
  • Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson (both 13) killed five people and wounded several others in the Westside Middle School Massacre. The two were still tried as juveniles (Farrell).
  • Alyssa Bustamante (15) murdered Elizabeth Olten (9) and admitted that she had seriously contemplated killing her younger brothers too (Cowboy)
  • Andrew Wurst (14) killed one fellow student and wounded three people at his 8th grade dance (Farrell).
  • Shanda Sharer (12) was abducted, brutally beaten, tortured, murdered, and set on fire by four other teenage girls: Melinda Loveless (16), Laurie Tackett (17), Hope Rippey (15), and Toni Lawrence (15). Loveless and Tackett were the ringleaders, while Rippey and Lawrence were accomplices to the murder. Lawrence plead guilty to Criminal Confinement and was sentenced to a maximum of 20 years and was released on parole after serving eight years. Hope Rippey was released on parole after fourteen years. Loveless and Tackett accepted plea bargins and were sentenced to sixty years, however the two could possibly be released in 2020 (Jones).
  • Kipland Kinkel shot and killed two students, wounding eight others, at his school. Several hours earlier he had murdered both of his parents (Cowboy).
  • Cindy Collier and Shirley Wolf (14) brutally murdered a woman after she let the two girls in to her home for tea. Both girls admitted they enjoyed the act and were eager to kill again (Cowboy).
  • Christian Fernandez (12) killed his younger half-brother who was only an infant at the time (Cowboy).
  • Amarjeet Sada (8) was accused of murdering three babies, two of which were his own cousins (Cowboy).
  • Terilynn Wagner murdered nine people before the age of fourteen. She was convicted of several murders, but was realised at the age of eighteen, having served less than four years in prison (Whitney).

Given that this is a touchy subject, I’d love to hear everyone’s opinions in the comments.


Sources

Axelrod, Tal. “Youngest Children Ever to Be Tried as Adults for 1st-Degree Murder to Be Released Soon.” ABC News. 23, July 2015. Web.

Calin, Mirian. “Top 10 Youngest Killers.” Listverse. 14, May 2011.

Cowboy. “20 of the World’s Youngest Murderers.” Pop Crunch. 15, June 2012.

Eldeib, Duaa. “Young Killers Who Stay in Juvenile Court Take Vastly Different Paths.” Chicago Tribune. 12, June 2015.

Farrell, Nancy. “10 Youngest Murderers in History.” Criminal Justice Degrees Guide. 2016.

Gomez, Dayana Morales. “Two 13-Year-Old Girls Are Being Tried As Adults. Here’s Why That Matters.” Huffington Post. 12, August 2016.

Holloway, Phillip. “Should 11-year-olds Be Charged With Adult Crimes?” CNN. 14, October 2015.

Jones, Aphrodite. Cruel Sacrifice. Kensington Books. 1994.

Whitney, Heather. “Victims of Terilynn Wagner.” Serial Killers Podcast. 22, January 2011.

Posted in History, Literature

Feasts and Tigers: Titus Andronicus On Film and Stage

Context: William Shakespeare’s scorned and much maligned play Titus Andronicus contains enough violence that would even make seasoned modern viewers cringe. Yet in 1999, one fearless director, Julie Taymor, decided to adapt the little seen play in to a feature film. In this feature article I have compared the original text to its film adaptation. This article functions as both a review and an in-depth examination of both film and play. A word of caution: neither film nor play were meant for the squeamish. This article is not afraid to tackle the difficult and violent subject matter.

Spoilers and descriptions of graphic content to follow.


There’s a famous saying that revenge is a dish best served cold. One Roman general would disagree. Titus Andronicus believes that revenge is a dish best served with the meat of your enemies carefully spread across the plate.

Some critics have dubbed William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus as Shakespeare’s worst play, others call it his most violent and cruel play, but to fans, the play about revenge is a hidden gem that has been ignored for centuries. I tend to agree with the latter.

After reading the play many have asked why Shakespeare would write such a play, a play that features scenes and themes of rape, murder, war, and cannibalism portrayed on and off stage. At the time Shakespeare wrote Titus, the revenge tragedy was a popular form of entertainment, which was usually filled with excess bloodshed and cruelty done in the sake of a character’s revenge. One can imagine Shakespeare hearing about the popularity of these plays and thinking to himself: “you want bloodshed, cruelty, and revenge? I’ll give it to you!” From these revenge plays, Titus Andronicus was born.

The Plot

Titus Andronicus takes the idea of a revenge tragedy to the next level. It is part exploitation, part revenge tragedy, part historical drama based in mythology, and part…well, Shakespeare. The play starts off with Roman soldiers returning home with victory to Rome after years of fighting the Goths, a Germanic people, right as the old emperor dies. The General of the Roman army is Titus Andronicus, a cold-hearted man who has spent most of his life on the battlefield it seems. He brings home with him several prisoners of war: the Goth Queen Tamora, her three sons, and a Moor named Aaron. While the two princes, Saturninus and Bassianus, fight over the throne, Titus slays Tamora’s eldest son as part of a fake sacrifice and also out of revenge for the many sons he has lost in the war. Tamora swears revenge on Titus, willing to do it by whatever means necessary.

Saturninus, a hotheaded fellow, is crowned emperor and decides to free the Goth prisoners and takes Tamora as his wife. Aaron is revealed to be Tamora’s lover and he too is in on this plot of revenge. He turns Tamora’s sons, Chiron and Demetrius, from two young men in love with Lavinia, Bassionus’s wife and Titus’s only and beloved daughter, into cold-blooded rapists and killers. In a blood-curling scene, the brothers kill Bassianus as Lavinia is forced to watch, she is then dragged off deep into the woods where she is raped and mutilated. The boys cut out her tongue and cut off her hands she can’t reveal the names of her attackers. Feeling squeamish yet? Two of Titus’s remaining sons are arrested for the death of Bassianus and Titus lets Aaron cut his own hand off because he, not thinking anything through at the moment, believes that this will get his sons back. So in this version of Rome the saying goes as “a hand for a life” instead of “an eye for an eye”? Titus’s sons are killed anyways and Aaron leaves laughing with glee at his villainy.

Lavinia is able to write the name of her attackers in the ground by holding a stick in her mouth. Titus realizes what has happened and he too swears revenge, except he will go further than Tamora ever planned: he will commit one of the ultimate sins. Titus tracks Chiron and Demetrius, Lavinia’s rapists, down and kills them.

Then in the play’s most notorious scene: he has Saturninus and Tamora eat her own sons unknowingly after Titus baked them into a pie. Some say revenge is dish best served cold, but here it served piping hot and it must be oh so tasty. Yes, if you thought that rape and mutilation were the most disturbing scenes this play could come up with, you have misjudged the depravity of Shakespeare’s mind. The play ends with Titus killing Lavinia, out of “mercy” (like an honor killing), then Titus kills Tamora, Saturninus kills Titus, and Titus’s eldest son Lucius kills Saturninus as Lucius’s son (Young Lucius) watches. Can you guess what this play is a commentary about? Violence.

Shakespeare might have written Titus Andronicus as a way of mocking other playwrites at the time who wrote gruesome revenge tragedies, but the play ends up becoming the very same revenge tragedy it might have started out mocking. Titus is one of Shakespeare’s most underrated and conflicted tragic heroes, or one of his worst villains depending on how one views him. This is a man who starts off at the top of his power and by the end of the play has been banished from his country, stripped of titles, has had most of his children killed with his favorite child raped and mutilated, and reverts to insanity as a way to cope with his personal tragedies. His insanity sets the stage for Hamlet who would enter Shakespeare’s mind a few years later when the Bard was at the top of his game.

Titus on Film

In 1999, Julie Taymor decided to adapt Titus Andronicus into a film, which she merely titles “Titus”. It would be Titus Andronicus’s first time on the big screen after a few made for television adaptations by the BBC in the past. Here the $25 million budget shows and is put to good use because Taymor’s adaption is Shakespeare like most have never seen before. Shakespeare’s writing is filled with anachronisms. Taymor takes this to the extreme. Her film takes on “2,000 years of violence,” as Taymor is fond of saying.

In a film very visually based, the most outstanding visual is also the most tragic: her uncle approaches Lavinia in a swamp right after she has been raped. He asks her to speak, but as she opens her mouth no word comes out, only a ribbon of blood. This visual is scored by the film’s most heartbreaking part of the score. The film is very surreal and is geared towards Shakespeare fans and art-house viewers alike, not the rowdy masses.

Play vs. Film: Changes

The most noteworthy change from text to film is Taymor’s use of Young Lucius, Titus’s grandson. Young Lucius is almost the film’s visual narrator, despite the fact that he rarely speaks. He shuttles the film from one scene to the next and is present for the film’s climax, a statement on how violence is witnessed by children. The film’s ending shot is a major change from the play. Young Lucius decides to stop another generation of violence from occurring, so he takes Aaron’s newborn son and approaches the rising sun, symbolic of the film’s message: violence ends lives, but violence can end, maybe through the lives of our children. It is a beautiful and poetic image that will last with the viewer for days, giving them hope of a new tomorrow after a two and a half hour bloodbath.

Set Design & Costumes

The film’s sets and costumes are a mixture of ancient and modern styles. Titus and his soldiers in the opening of the film wear Roman soldier garb: armored to the nines. Lavinia wears dresses throughout the film and her costumes in her first and last apperances are framed with veils—black for her introduction as a way to show she is morning her brothers, and white (a symbol of the virginity that was taken from her) for the day she dies, in a sick twist on the typical clothing a bride would wear. Lavinia and Tamora both wear red at the height of their revenge: Tamora’s coat is red in the scene before Lavinia’s rape when Tamora refuses to save the girl, while Lavinia wears a red dress when she writes the names of her attackers in the dirt. Saturninus is fashioned after fascist dictators from the thirties and everything from his car to his costumes reflect that. Chiron and Demetrius’s costumes at times are clearly influenced by the rock and grunge style at the time, but also by the costumes of the underage gang members in “A Clockwork Orange”—emulating a mix of modern and futuristic violence in their clothing. Aaron wears black and navy blue trench coats throughout the film, almost as if it’s shielding him from the blackness inside his cold soul. Titus’s armor disappears over the course of the film until the film’s climax where he wears a chef’s uniform. The Goths have tattooed bodies that in some moments, especially in some of Tamora’s scenes, almost look like snakes are crawling up her arms. Tamora’s makeup is especially reptilian at times, mirroring how she easily sheds her skin to be whatever she needs to be to get revenge and regain the power she so easily lost. The costumes in Taymor’s film are rife with meaning and symbolism.

The Performances

Taymor’s film has a lot of great actors in it and they give great performances. Anthony Hopkins plays Titus, an odd choice of casting considering the cannibalistic ties to his most famous performance in “Silence of the Lambs” where he plays a cannibal. Hopkins performance took a while for me to warm up to since he plays the part at once subtly and over the top in the same scenes, but over time I have grown to see the brilliance in his performance. He becomes the tragic figure quite nicely. Jessica Lange is Tamora, a revenge goddess with the body a sexy siren on the outside while playing a bloodthirsty mother within. Harry Lennix gives a blood curdling performance as Aaron—he becomes a devilish figure that will frighten many viewers with his intensity. When he is given a long monologue where Aaron discusses his evil deeds, Lennix’s performance will make your heart stop in those moments. This is by far the best performance of his career. Another standout is Laura Fraser as Lavinia who must transform from the picture of innocence into another vengeful woman. Alan Cumming’s portrayal of Saturninus is that of a weak man with a big temper, a dangerous person to be near when his anger is roused. The whole cast portrays their characters at the top of their game, never slipping out of character for a minute, and, like the director, not afraid to make bold choices.

The Music of Titus

Another benefit of moving the story from stage to screen is the score. Musical scores can help enhance the mood of a film and Elliot Goldenthal’s score here follows this rule. When Titus and his soldiers first enter the film the score bursts to life, filling speakers with the sound of ancient chanting in the piece entitled Victorious Titus. Another standout piece is Pickled Heads, which plays over the scene where Lavinia manages to scribble the names of her rapists in the dirt. The music becomes a frenzied rush of muffled words and instruments playing incredibly fast, almost like music one would hear at a dance, but set with the visuals the piece becomes a terrifying nightmare as we see Lavinia’s surreal portrait of the rape in her memory. Her rapists are depicted as tigers lunging towards her while the music joins forces with the battling images of reality and Lavinia’s surrealistic nightmare. The score jumps between somber and brassy, unsettling and jazzy, making the listener hanging on every note. The music ties in very well with the visuals and after viewing this film several times I can’t hear one without picturing the other.

Social Commentary

The film adaptation and the play Titus Andronicus have a social commentary at the heart of it. The film depicts the dangers of violence in general, while the play reflects the problems of excessive violence in the literature of the time. The clearest example of this is in the film when Demetrius, one of Lavinia’s rapists, is playing a violent video game while smoking a cigarette as images of a half naked women and violence flash across the screen. Both film and play are a commentary on violence and the culture surrounding violence.

Verdict: A Tough to Stomach but Necessary Viewing

I, personally, would highly recommend reading the play, seeing it preformed, or even viewing the film. Titus Andronicus is a fascinating play and has inspired a creative film and several interesting takes of the play on stage. The violence in the play and the film will upset many viewers, but that is the point of the play. The film is a very good adaptation because it transfers its message successfully to the screen while still being a highly creative and intelligent adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays.

Posted in History, Uncategorized

Brainwashing a Nation

The Power of Propaganda in Nazi Germany

When the word “evil” comes to mind, one evil regime sticks out, a regime run by one of the most chilling figures of the twentieth century: Adolf Hitler. Hitler and his Nazi party essentially took over most of Europe during World War Two. The overall tally of the Nazi’s victims is believed to be over eleven million people, but this number applies to those who died in labor, concentration, and death camps alone. The actual number of victims is much higher. Victims were gassed, starved, tortured, shot, murdered, and slaughtered like animals in an overwhelming massacre that has left a dark stain over Western Europe for decades.

It would have been impossible for that many people to have been systematically murdered by the government without the common population knowing. Hitler was elected in to power back in 1933 and was beloved by many for years before the Second World War even started. It is easy to shake one’s head in disbelief and think that there is no way anyone could have let a regime so evil come to power, especially not in our enlightened and democratic modern times, yet it is true. The Nazis, like so many other people in the past, found one of their greatest weapons came from the power of images and words. Their chilling propaganda brainwashed thousands of people and as a result destroyed millions of lives.

Words as Weapons

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines propaganda as: “ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.” For many years, propaganda was the most valuable weapon in the Nazi party’s arsenal. The people of Germany, and later many countries across Europe, were inundated with posters, warnings, photographs, signs, billboards, radio broadcasts, and speeches, all of which contained the same message: the Nazis will save Germany from its true enemies. Who was the enemy? The Nazis considered anyone that did not hold the same political beliefs as them as an enemy. However, most of the time their propaganda singled out one scapegoat above all others: the Jews.

The Nazis did not simply embellish and exaggerate the truth in their propaganda. No, they straight out lied. Their statements about how Germany was at the time and how it should be, and who is the blame for all of it, are now obviously seen as completely false. Today we have the benefit of hindsight, but everyone living in Germany in the early 1930’s could never have imagined what was to come.

At the time, many people in Germany loved Hitler. He knew how to work a crowd and the crowd soon became devoted to him. He had to find someone to blame for all of Germany’s problems, so Hitler picked the easy targets: the minorities. How did he convince enough people to hate these minorities? By propaganda, of course.

Hitler’s propaganda was spread over Germany and later the rest of Europe. He and his Nazi party used radio broadcasts, posters, pamphlets, textbooks, science experiments (which the Nazis manipulated to their advantage) all to prove their beliefs that minorities and undesirables like Jews, Gypsies, Blacks, Communists, Slavs, Poles, and others were lesser humans than pure-blooded “Aryans” like himself.

Phase 1: Making Hitler Look Good

The first round of propaganda consisted of posters that declared Hitler a hero and the Nazi party as a helpful hand for the mistreated people of Germany. For one propaganda poster, the Nazis used a drawing of a muscular man (the typical representation of the ideal Aryan male), sporting the caption “Work, Freedom, Bread” as a way of advertising for Hitler’s National Socialist Party (aka the Nazi party). This poster’s caption “Work, Freedom, Bread” referenced the idea that their party would improve Germany by helping people find work, give them the freedom that had been stripped from them since the end of World War One, and that they, the Nazi party, would feed the people of Germany, so that the country would be as great a nation as it once was. Another propaganda poster declared Hitler to be Germany’s “Last Hope.” Other propaganda posters showed Nazi party members giving German citizens gifts, while in other posters Nazis were portrayed as kind citizens, helping wounded veterans These positive images, which would have been posted everywhere, boosted people’s opinions of the Nazi party and Hitler. This over-exposure to positive accounts of Hitler and the Nazi party would be enough to sway the people of Germany.

Phase 2: Making Germans Look Good

The second round of Nazi propaganda centered on setting standards for how a proper German citizen should behave. The most popular subjects of this form of Nazi propaganda were mothers and their children. Beautiful blonde women and their adorable kids became the focal point of many posters as Hitler emphasized the importance of family. Good Germans were portrayed in propaganda through staged photos of happy families made up of beautiful people, while representations of Jewish families were crude, depicting the men as fat and hairy while the women were drawn to be ugly and gaudy. If you are continually exposed to images that portray one type of person as good and beautiful and another type of person as lazy and ugly, your opinion will be swayed by these visuals, whether you like it or not. So was the case in Germany.

Children and young adults were influenced by this propaganda more than anyone else. As early as 1932, a children’s textbook taught young children how to count by using drawings of tanks, canons, and soldiers. This textbook would have been read by seven-year-olds. Just imagine the horrible influence images like these would have had over their young, malleable, naive minds. The book The Holocaust Chronicle: A History in Words and Pictures, published by Louis Weber, mentions that the Nazi party targeted children for even more propaganda by publishing picture books filled with anti-semetic language and drawings (Weber 100).

Adolf Hitler turned himself in to an icon for Germans and became a father figure for young German children. He liked to have staged photographs taken of him spending time with children or with animals. In one such photograph he can be seen gently stroking a deer, which would have endeared him (no pun intended) to young children. If this man loves animals then how can he be bad?

Several years later when Hitler invaded Austria, he threw a big party for the citizens of Vienna on his birthday, complete with parades and a large cake for children to eat. The cake’s icing took the form of a giant swastika, not that the children noticed, since all they cared about was free cake.

Young people had to join clubs sponsored by the Nazi Party, the most popular of which was the Hitler Youth. If you did not join, then your parents were given an official document where the child and the parent would have to sign their names, write their address, and place of work so that everyone would know of their decision. This was an easy way to target nay-sayers and shame them. Just imagine how even more effective this would have been if the Nazis had access to today’s social media.

Phase 3: The Making of a Genocide

 Once Hitler roped in enough people and brainwashed them to share his twisted beliefs, he found that it was time to use propaganda to stir up fear and hatred for those who were not Nazis, people like the Jews and other undesirables. This was his final wave of propaganda, a way to announce his hatred publically for all to see. Signs and propaganda posters started to pop up which labeled “Jews as our [Germany’s] misfortune,” others told Jews to leave the country and return to where they came from, and more still blamed the nation’s problems on Jews. In one particularly memorable poster, Jews were blamed for the miseries of farm life. Another spread the lie that Jews were descendants of the devil.

The Holocaust Chronicle points out several examples of Nazi propaganda found in newspapers, one example is of a political cartoon that portrayed the Jewish population as a spider, tangling Europe in its web (Weber 316). Nazis also distributed even more propaganda through radio broadcasts, ensuring that German citizens had radios to access this propaganda (Weber 142). Hitler entrusted Joseph Goebbles as the head of his Ministry of Propaganda. Goebbles then helped create a slew of propaganda films and documentaries that celebrated the Nazi party and demeaned undesirables like the Jews.

The Nazis, emboldened by the popularity of their propaganda, created laws, which restricted what Jewish people could do. Jews were forbidden from entering certain parks and were unable to shop at non-Jewish-owned stores. Stores owned by Jews were decorated with graffiti and anti-semetic drawings so everyone would know the religious affiliation of the store’s owner. Gentiles were shamed if they were caught in a Jewish-owned shop. A poster appeared in one Germany town publically listing the names and addresses of women who still bought from Jewish shops as a way of shaming them in to submission. A large dark mark struck through the list, the equivalent of a giant “X.” Everyone who saw the poster would know to never buy from a Jewish-owned shop again.

These propaganda posters each pose a striking image that is rather chilling today. Germans and “Aryan men” are portrayed as hulking, muscular, beautiful figures of perfection, while Jews are depicted as fat, ugly, and less than human.

These propaganda posters surrounded the German people everywhere they went. The message was unavoidable, so it took root in people’s brains like a deadly disease, growing and growing until such hatred seemed normal. This propaganda helped the Nazis rise to power and this propaganda eventually helped them murder millions of people while most of Germany, and later parts of Western Europe, watched silently, agreeing with their actions.

 

Works Cited

Holocaust Chronicle, The: A History in Words and Pictures. Ed. Louis Weber. New York: Publications International, 2003. 70-100. Print.

“Propaganda.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Web.

Posted in History, Uncategorized

Two Floors of History

Docents, actors, and other volunteers pain-stakingly re-create historic homes in Roswell, Georgia.

Sunlight falls over the staircase and blankets the many cats and dogs that have curled up on the edge of each step to bask in the warmth. The rustle of skirts can be heard. The smell of roasted ham from the Smoke House creeps into the home through the open windows. The cook, a hungry slave, hums to herself as she enters the house through the back door to set dinner on the table for the family that dresses themselves upstairs. Large windows on the front of the house are being opened. These windows reach all the way down to the floor and contain three separate panes that can be opened or closed to become a small slot for food to be passed through by the slaves, a simple window, or, when pulled up to its full height, a large enough opening that could be counted as another door. If a party were to occur the window would be opened all the way so that guests could come and go as they pleased in and out of the house without having to cluster at the front door. There is the possibility that the neighbors across the street at the Bulloch family home might come to visit after dinner, a prospect that excites the only daughter Eva, who has been best friends with Mittie Bulloch for years. The King clan and the Bulloch family are two of the founding families of this mill-based city named Roswell. In the years before the Civil War the city is peaceful. The King family at Barrington Hall has their mill while the Bulloch’s have their gardens. They expect life to remain the same way for years to come.

The year is now 2014. Their houses remain in Roswell, but the old families have long since passed away. Barrington Hall has since become noticed for sharing the same name as the old fashioned coffee brand, a brand which took its name from the house. Bulloch Hall is now remembered for housing Martha Bulloch Roosevelt who would give birth to Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.—the 26th President of the United States. Her family called her Mittie and the nickname has stuck throughout the years. Today at the historic homes of Roswell she is once again referred to as Mittie.

As I stand on the staircase inside Barrington Hall my fantasies of sleeping pets, rustling skirts, roasted ham, and the hope of distinguished visitors disappears. Today the distinguished visitors are not the offspring of Roswell’s finest families. There are no Southern Belles here, nor are there any handsome young gentlemen who have come to discuss politics and have a smoke with the master of the house. Instead there are only four of us: a docent, two tourists, and myself. The two other tourists, women in their sixties and seventies, comment on the house’s furniture and compare them to their own family heirlooms. They can remember being told stories of the opulence and the noble souls that once lived here, but the place is foreign to me. My generation has grown up with i-phones and laptops. These other women standing with me used typewriters. This house was the home to people who never would have imagined such things.

I eye the back staircase slaves would have used and feel a twang of remorse. As someone who has grown up in the post-Roots and Civil Rights era, I cannot picture the simple lifestyles of the rich family that once lived here without thinking of the disturbing cost of such leisure. The back stairs for slaves merges with the family’s staircase. Here slaves and the privileged King family members might have walked side by side: this is the only place in the house where this could be possible.

The docent mentions this to our little group of four. We stop to ponder this while the sunlight streams in from the large window up above us. The slave cabins are long gone having been replaced by a parking lot for visitors. This staircase is one of the few reminders left of the slaves that walked these same halls nearly two hundred years ago.

The docent is a woman in her sixties. Her hair may be auburn colored, but I am sure that this is the work of a dye routinely scrubbed into her hair every few months. Today people do not want to be reminded that they are old. For the King family that once owned this house, living to be sixty was a privilege many did not have. Every wrinkle and scar was worn as a proud reminder of how the house had stood through the Civil War, even when their mill had been burned, even though Union soldiers had occupied the house, and neighbors had stolen many pieces of furniture. These imperfections proudly stated: we were here and we survived. Today we cover our wrinkles, scars, and blemishes with make-up and lotion.

The South’s prickly history has since become an awkward subject for Americans, especially those of us in the South who cannot trace themselves back to founding families and disapprove of slavery whole heartedly. My ancestors were poor farmers. The only way a member of the Hohn family could enter a house like this would be as tourists a hundred years since the original family died. The other women in my tour group do not seem to share this same problem, coming from several generations of Southerners who could trace their family trees back several generations, who kept old family heirlooms in storage, and visited homes like this to become in touch with their roots. I am only a guest.

The docent is no exception to this. “My mother collected antiques,” she tells me. She can remember joining her mother to hunt down traces of a desk, a hat, or a frame as a child. These experiences in her childhood inspired her love of history. Her mother, now in her eighties, still enjoys searching for and collecting antiques. It is a nice tradition for mother and daughter to continue after several decades. Her interest in antiques influences what she says in our tour. She points out the history of several pieces of furniture, excited to explain how this desk actually belonged to this person and how this quilt made of many different scraps of fabric was a present for that member of the house. “Oh,” she exclaims, walking over to the large wooden wardrobe that sits on the second level of the house. “This is my favorite part of the house.” She runs her fingers along the wood. She explains that this wardrobe was built inside the house, and since it is too big to fit through any door in Barrington, this wardrobe sits on the exact same spot where it was built over a hundred and fifty years ago. She then informs us about the history of other pieces of furniture in the house.

I have been on this tour before. My earlier docent had focused on the various people that had lived here, while today’s docent uses her own background of gathering antiques to praise the furniture. A lot of the furniture in Barrington today is the same furniture the original King family would have used, but some pieces or recreations or period-accurate pieces that had belonged to someone else before being tracked down by antique-lovers.

The layout of historical houses like Barrington is painstakingly re-created time and time again by the few members of staff each house has. A few years ago one volunteer at Barrington was able to track down the actual bed one resident slept in and the matching dresser through the magic of E-bay! I should explain that this would have been an extremely difficult task since much of the furniture in both houses was spread out across the south in storage units, relative’s basements, and museums. This one volunteer was able to find the exact bed and dresser through a lot of hard work and dedication after reading countless family letters that detailed the appearance of these pieces of furniture.

A large part of researching these historic homes and their families comes from reading family letters, journals, and any form of writing that has been preserved after all these years.

One worker, Gwen Koehler, the education coordinator at Bulloch Hall across the street, recently discovered several Bulloch family letters in a museum up in Washington D.C. Since then Koehler and a friend are currently compiling these letters to publish in a book. These letters are especially interesting because they contain correspondence between Mittie Bulloch and her son Theodore Roosevelt, the former President of the United States.

While Barrington Hall covers several generations of family members that have inherited the house, Bulloch Hall is all about Mittie, her ties to the Roosevelt’s, and her parents that had at one point disapproved of the marriage. Every year in December people flock to Bulloch Hall to re-create the wedding between founding family members Stephen and Martha Bulloch (Mittie’s parents). This is one of several important historical events that are re-enacted at Roswell’s historic homes.

The re-enactment of the wedding is noticeable because it does not only feature actors in costumes: the docents and other volunteers have to dress up too. The attention at this event is directed towards the actors playing the bride and groom, but I doubt their costumes are much more comfortable. Volunteers that play the spectators are handed whatever is available or left over. The dresses look tight and very tiny on modern day women. The women of the Bulloch and King families, like many southern women, were very short, so an average sized woman today would not enjoy being stuffed into these old-fashioned clothes for historical re-enactment events. At the time of the actual wedding between Stephan and Martha, women wore an astonishing number of fourteen petticoats (no wonder a fainting couch was kept on stand-by downstairs: women would simply collapse from the heat). Luckily, the re-enactors today do not have to wear all fourteen petticoats, and they get to enjoy modern air conditioning, but I imagine that wearing these costumes is no picnic for anyone. Yet every year the wedding is preformed nearly word-for-word to re-enact the wedding as accurately as possible because Bulloch Hall’s history is that important to the people of Roswell.

In the summer there are some more historical reenactment events. The most popular one occurs at Barrington Hall. Here people reenact the time when Union soldiers invaded the house in the summer of 1864, where they stayed for two weeks while rebuilding the Roswell Bridge, which Confederates had burned to slow the Union forces’ march through the south. A good amount of men volunteer to re-enact this scene during the summer, not for the pay or acclaim, but for their respect for the town’s history.

I should also mention that everyone that works at these historic homes is a volunteer who typically receives very little money for this, if any at all. Volunteers come here after finishing their busy shifts at their actual, professional jobs, to give tours to whoever straggles in from the streets due to their love of history.

That phrase summarizes the feeling of every worker at these historic homes: they love this history. Each hour spent in the heat wearing thick, uncomfortable costumes, each hour spent on their feet while giving tours of the houses, each hour spent reading page after page of family letters—all are done for each persons’ absolute love of Roswell’s history and their dedication to preserving it in the public’s memory.

As I leave Barrington Hall the fluttering ghosts of the house’s history once again strike me. I look at the dining room and think of the little slave girl one docent had told me would fall asleep while fanning the King family during dinner. I pass the formal visiting parlor that where President Theodore Roosevelt had sat while visiting one of his mother’s oldest friends, Eva King Baker. Over a decade later a reporter named Margaret Mitchell interviewed Eva in the same exact spot, asking about her experience as a bridesmaid at Mittie Bulloch’s wedding. I wonder if the stories of Eva, Mittie, and other Roswell families inspired Mitchell when she wrote the famous heroine Scarlett O’Hara in her wildly popular novel Gone with the Wind a few years after the interview took place. I notice that someone had carved into the windowpane near the front door. Dupart believes a child of the house had tried to write their name there, only to be punished. Over a hundred years later the words carved in the glass are impossible to read, but still potent. As I walk down the front porch steps, I imagine the ghosts of charming Southern Belles giggling behind gloved hands, slaves humming a tune while thinking of abolitionists’ promises of freedom, and Union soldiers camped out on the lawn, waiting for the war to end. Behind me the docents prepare themselves for another tour.

Works Cited

“Barrington Drive.” City Data, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <http://www.city-data.com/fulton-county/B/Barrington-Drive-1.html>

“Barrington Hall: Family Biographies.” Roswell Gov. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. <https://www.rosw-ellgov.com/index.aspx?NID=406>

“Bulloch Hall: Family Biographies.” Roswell Gov. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <https://www.roswell-gov.com/index.aspx?NID=426&gt;

“Catherine Evelyn King Baker.” Roswell Gov. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <https://www.roswellgov-.com/DocumentCenter/Home/View/733>

“History of Barrington Hall.” Roswell Gov. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <https://www.roswellgov.com/-DocumentCenter/Home/View/724&gt;

“Our History: History of Bulloch Hall” Roswell Gov. Web. 5 Nov. 2014. <https://www.ros-wellgov.com/index.aspx?NID=429 >

NOTE: This article originally included the names of the docents I interviewed, but their names have been left out of this version for their own privacy. 

View a PDF reimagining this piece as a mock magazine spread here.

Posted in History, Uncategorized

The Dangerous Hybridity of Mary, Queen of Scots

Abstract: A look at the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, and how she represented several gender roles through the theme of hybridity. 

Hybridity can be seen as a positive or negative quality in a person, especially as positive and, or, negative qualities in historic rulers like Kings and Queens, especially the hybridity that comes when two culture are connected and merged through an arranged marriage and subsequent child. Female rulers are particularly defined by traditional gender roles and stereotypes. One of the most famous queens in popular culture, Mary, Queen of Scots, has been defined by her hybridity for hundreds of years during her lifetime and after her death.

First off, it is not easy being the queen, nor should it be, but in the case of Mary Stewart, or Marie Stuart as she was known in her lifetime (Dunn 69), Queen of Scotland, the life of a queen was more difficult than she could have ever imagined. Like many of us, including myself, Mary lived a happy and rather sheltered childhood where she was loved by many, had many friends, and even found a best friend and later boyfriend in Francis (in France his name is spelled Francois). What separates Mary from the rest of us is that Mary was a queen and she had been named Queen of the Scots since she was less than a year old. Still, there is a very important lesson to be learned from her life, a lesson many of us can to some degree relate to, especially young women everywhere: act with caution and do not let your feelings get the better of you. Mary only made two major mistakes in her time as queen, but even just two mistakes can ruin someone’s life, as was the case with the unfortunate Queen of Scots.

Mary, Queen of Scotland and France

Mary Stewart was the child of the King of Scotland, James V, and her French mother Marie de Guise (who was born into a powerful Catholic family in France). Her father died very soon after her birth. Mary’s mother, Marie de Guise, was left to rule in her husband and infant daughter’s stead. She was able to make a deal with the King of France, Henri II: young Mary would marry Henri’s infant son Francis (later known as King Francis II). At age five, Mary was sent to live in France where she experienced a happy, carefree, wonderful childhood and lived a fairytale life at French Court with her beloved Francis. They married when she was a teenager and Francis became king soon afterwards when Henri II died after a painful jousting accident, part of a lance pierced his eye, and protruded into his brain (Dunn 134). Even though Mary and Francis were old enough to rule France and Scotland, since they were now teenagers, they did not have much control. In fact they were simply puppets to Mary’s uncles from the powerful Guise family. The Guise family was filled with fanatic Catholics who deeply resented the growing number of Protestants in France, so they persecuted Protestants, leading to several French Wars of Religion, which would plague the country for almost a century. Here is the first lesson we can learn from Mary’s life: she did not take responsibility, instead she was content to let others do her job for her and because of that a series of events spiraled out of control and her uncles were nearly killed and her husband nearly deposed from the horrible state the country was in. Francis died after reigning for barely a year and a half. Mary was sent back to Scotland at age eighteen, completely unprepared for the responsibilities of her reign.

I am reminded of my first night alone in a college dorm room my freshman year: I was excited, but also nervous and afraid because the responsibilities of college life felt like too much for me. Imagine all of that fear and huge amounts of responsibility and multiply that by a thousand and then you will start to understand how Mary felt. Her mother had died after struggling to keep Scotland peaceful. Mary and her mother were Catholics, while most of Scotland was Protestant. The two women were French, while the common Scottish people hated how Scotland had been taken over by France in the past two decades. If Francis had not died, Mary would probably have never visited Scotland again, she would have remained in France while her husband and uncles turned Scotland into a satellite country or colony of France.

Mary, Queen of Scotland

Mary had another strike against her in the eyes of the Scots: she was a woman and just like so many other women in power, women were not thought to be good rulers (the stereotype still exists to this day sadly). However, for the first few years of her time in Scotland, Mary was actually able to keep life relatively peaceful, having taken her mother’s advice and allowed religious tolerance.

Then she made her first big mistake, one that many of us have and will make in our lifetimes: she fell in love with the wrong person. Ever since Francis’s death men all over Europe had been desperately vying for her hand in marriage even before Francis’s corpse was cold. Mary kept her suitors at bay for a few years until she met Henry Stuart, the Lord Darnley. Darnley was tall, charming, and handsome. He was also in line to both the English and the Scottish crown. England at the time was ruled by Elizabeth Tudor who had no intentions of marrying, thus leaving her crown open to any suggested heir. Mary fell head over heels in love with Darnley, and when he got sick she nursed him back to health, she went hunting with him, she danced all night with him, and she spent all of her time with him. Though Mary was madly in love with this young man no one else in the Scottish court was, not her friends, not her relatives, and certainly not her advisors. Everyone could see what a sleazy jerk Darnley was except for Mary. David Loades, in his book The Tudor Queens of England, outright calls him “both vain and stupid” (169), a sentiment which is agreed on by many historians. She went against everyone’s advice and followed her heart instead, marrying him after only a few months of courtship. The honeymoon period did not last long as Darnley started to show his real colors: he was vain, he was cruel, he was a jerk who lauded his position over everyone, and he might have slept around. Like so many victims of domestic abuse, Mary realized the truth about him too late and had to put up with his abuse for several months.

He and his cronies murdered one of her friends, David Riccio, right in front of her when she was six months pregnant (perhaps in the hopes that the shock would cause her to have a miscarriage or die during childbirth). Magnus Magnusson describes all of the gruesome details of the scene: one of Darnley’s conspirators placed a gun against Mary pregnant belly so that she could not call for help as Riccio was stabbed over fifty times before his bleeding corpse was thrown down the stairs (353). Antonia Fraser’s biography Mary Queen of Scots vividly recounts what happened next: when some Scottish citizens tried to help their queen, one of Darnley’s cronies threatened her that if she signaled for help they would “cut her up in to pieces” and throw the remaining bloodied chunks of her body out the window (254). Mary knew she was defeated at this moment, but she did not give up. She was able to convince Darnley that he was in danger too and the two escaped. She was able to give birth to her son James VI and made no secret of her hatred for her husband.

Then Darnley was mysteriously murdered. His death is a murder mystery that people have tried to solve for hundreds of years, and we will probably never know the full truth. Sometimes Mary is fingered as the culprit, some historians believe that even if she did not physically kill him, perhaps she gave the order. Most historians, such as Antonia Fraser, Magnus Magnusson, and Jane Dunn, believe that Mary was innocent of the crime and was just as surprised as anyone else by Darnley’s death. What we do know is that she then made her second huge mistake soon afterwards: she married the man the common people thought was the murderer, James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell.

Like many women suffering from a horrible relationship, Mary turned to another man for support, Bothwell, and she effectively traded one dangerous husband for another. Some historians and contemporary accounts claim that Bothwell raped Mary, David Loades states so outright (Loades 171), while other biographers like Fraser hint at the possibility. If she was raped, then perhaps she decided to marry him out of guilt for having sex outside of marriage (sadly this is the case for many rape victims, even today, in cultures where rape victims must marry their rapists in order to preserve their “honor” and “virtue” after it has been ripped from them), while other historians believe the rumors of rape were done to protect Mary’s honor (somehow at this time the thought of a woman being raped was better than a woman jumping into bed before properly married). This marriage upset a large number of people and through a complex series of events, a small war was started, Bothwell fled the country, and Mary was deposed, stripped of her title as queen. She would lose her life two decades later.

Mary Stewart’s reign was undone by her background as a hybrid of two different cultures (Catholic France versus Protestant Scotland) and her attempts to fulfill two distinct roles at once (powerful monarch and wife). Her hybridity cost her the crown, but it was not what cost Mary her life.

Mary, Queen of Nothing

Alone and without her title or country, Mary decided to travel to England, probably in the hopes of convincing her cousin Queen Elizabeth I (the daughter of Henry VIII) to help her take back her country. Instead Mary’s presence was unwelcome and it put Elizabeth’s own rule in jeopardy since Mary was in line to the English throne as well, since Elizabeth was born through the union of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, which had happened after he divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, so Elizabeth was considered a bastard in the eyes of Catholics, making her unfit to rule. Mary was put on trial for Darnley’s murder and the verdict consisted of English lords basically throwing their hands up in the air and shrugging. Despite not being found guilty, Mary became a prisoner in England and was unable to return to Scotland to get her crown back. Her son, the infant James VI, became king and Scotland was ruled by a series of regents who ruled through James, including Mary’s treacherous older half-brother James Stewart. Mary became caught up in several plots to return to Scotland and when these plots panned out, she is supposed to have become entangled in several plots to take the English throne from Elizabeth. This was her downfall. She was eventually executed for trying to usurp Elizabeth’s throne.

A Dangerous Hybridity

I decided to write about Mary Queen of Scots here because her life was filled with ironies, dualities, and hybridities, and her story is one I believe we can all relate to and learn from to an extent: it’s a lesson on responsibility, growing up, and keeping one’s emotions in check in a world where emotional entanglements can undo years of hard work. We can relate to this today in my opinion. Just think of today’s emotionally-charged and politically correct world where a simple text or tweet can ruin someone’s life: they could get fired, then have scores of people on social media sites attack their name and family for years, letting a few simple ill thought out words ruin someone’s life. Mary was the victim of a similar folly, just on a more political stage before the invention of social media. In his book Scotland: The Story of a Nation, Magnus Magnusson recounts how after her surrender to the confederate lords, Mary was pushed through the streets, “the soldiers jeered and shouted coarse insults at her…there was a huge crowd awaiting her, shouting ‘Kill the whore!’ and ‘Drown her!’” (362) even though these same Scottish citizens had praised her and loved her for many years before. This scene reminds me of today’s witch-hunts on social media platforms, where people are loved and then universally hated in an instant. Mary’s life is a tragic tale that resonates with young people today more than we might initially realize. She had each foot in one of two worlds: the simple, happy world of her childhood and the cold, harsh world of adulthood, just like all of us, myself included.

Yet hybridity is not always a curse. While hybridity may have destroyed Mary Stewart’s reign, Elizabeth Tudor, her cousin and rival, was made better by it. She embraced both the masculine and feminine side of herself, she was strong like her father but willing to play the part of an indecisive female if it helped her. She loved to dance and flirt, wearing the most elaborate fashions, yet underneath her red wig her hair was as short as a man’s, and she inspired her soldiers on the battlefield with the ferocity of any man. Instead of marrying and giving birth like other women, Elizabeth remained unmarried, instead referring to her subjects as her children. Her willingness to embrace both roles of man and woman, king and queen are what made her successful and made her an inspiration for centuries.

Works Cited

Dunn, Jane. Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens. New York: Vintage Books, 2003. Print.

Fraser, Antonia. Mary Queen of Scots. New York: Delta, 1969. Print.

Loades, David. The Tudor Queens of England. New York: MJF Books, 2009. Print.

Magnusson, Mangus. Scotland: The Story of a Nation. New York: Grove Press, 2000. Print.