Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Some schools have skeletons in their closets waiting for us storycatchers to find.
Maybe the skeletons are best left where they lie.
Or, maybe not.

Yesterday I met Frankie through my research. She'd been on my mind ever since a person I was interviewing bowed her head and whispered the name. Frankie. Then I heard it again from someone else. And then again.

Pilot Mountain School had a Frankie. A hundred years earlier there was another Frankie, not too far away. Frankie Silver. She killed her husband, supposedly. She paid the price at the gallows. She became famous. Infamous. Sharyn McCrumb wrote a book about her. There was a ballad about her.

Oh! Lord, what will become of me?
I am condemned, you all now see,
To heaven or hell my soul must fly
All in a moment when I die. . . .

Recognize her?

Same county, Bloody Burke, it's been called. This 1959 Frankie, Pilot Mountain lunchroom lady, also killed her husband. She bought the gun, took it to school and showed it to the other cafeteria workers, but never hinted at what was to come. She loaded the gun. There. At the school. She went home and killed her husband.

Then she killed herself.

She had written a suicide note four days earlier. I saw a copy of the note. Chilling. She planned the murder for two weeks. Left instructions. Denied the gallows. Denied the spectacle of a trial. Did she know about the other Frankie? Did she sing that verse of the ballad all day that day, cooking and serving the children and thinking of murder?

She didn't leave behind a ballad in her honor. She didn't leave behind a novel told by a gifted writer.

She left behind sorrow. Children who couldn't comprehend and teachers who couldn't explain. Over fifty years and still they can't tell the story without whispering.


Catch of the day,



  1. I'm covered with goosey bumps!!

  2. I write mystery and suspense. Quite a story popped into my head when I read this.

  3. Ooooh, a story idea. Go for it.
    I have Frankie's picture in my notebook now. She was beautiful, also quite kind, from what everyone said. I hope what I end up saying about her in the book does her justice.

  4. Hi, Gretchen, Thanks for stopping by. My hub just brought me back from ICU, where I've been since LSU played (is that the right verb?) football (they did play football, right?) the other night. Hope your LSU friend is also recovering!! (You know I jest about ICU!) But Bravo to UNC for playing with true grit! Gotta hand it to them, that was a class act.

    By the way, a few years ago, when I taught 12th grade, there was an expectant brouhaha over some English books coming in. As it turned out they were old books, the same books I'd used in reading class in the 9th grade in Louisiana.

    None of the 12 grade classes in this state could handle the vocab, including the AP class. The team leader quickly pulled the books. And this isn't an indictment of any state, just what happened...and the times, I guess.

  5. Poor Frankie. There was a reason that drove her to the limits. A dominate Narcissist can do that to a woman.

  6. Great post, Gretchen!

    Lori T.

  7. Oh my! What a story. Life is full of mystery and sorrow.

    Glad you are catching these stories.