THEY HANGED MARY
(I was going to tell you about it)
But then, I got "hung up".
First off, to say "They hanged..." sounds awkward to most ears--even though it is entirely correct grammar!
That stopped me. Temporarily.
I decided on a new title:
MARY WAS HUNG
Oh, Jeeze--that certainly gives a completely WRONG impression of story content! Trust me--can't go there.
Where did this leave me?
A title has to grab the reader.
If I was too clear about it, the story's payoff would be ruined.
As a writer, you can't self-doubt or you're dead in the water.
There is a cross-hairs moment when you pull the trigger on the "reveal" and the impact has to knock the reader backward--if not mortally wounded--at least, morally wounded.
Who was Mary and why did those vile citizens of Tennesse scream for her hanging?
I dare not reveal. The 'trigger' moment is ruined.
What was the location? That too is simply a tipoff. Readers are way too smart--they get out ahead of you. If they guess where you're going--the ride is over. You've failed.
The fact that dear, sweet, lovable Mary brutally murdered a man--if not explained honestly and plainly--will turn readers against her and sympathy instantly dries up making her agonizing death--as awful as it was--much less empathetic.
The story grabbed my heart and a cold chill went down my spine. It was instantaneous. I was sickened. Did I really want to DO THAT by writing it and offering such a negative experience to my friends?
Why would I want to do that?
And there you have it. My hands are tied. Delivering the story of the townsfolk of Kingsport, Tennessee placing a chain around Mary's neck and hauling her up is brutal.
Where is the art in it?
What good can come of it?
Mary was not slim, beautiful, or even very graceful but she was beloved. For instance, by children, for her easygoing and genteel nature. Having traveled from Asian against her will, she was always surrounded by men who would not or could not communicate with her other than through enticement or pain.
If she complied, her life was somewhat easier. If she resisted? Well, that had never worked out. Not at all.
In her own unique way, she had a kind of fame and renown, like a big fish in a small pond. It wasn't much more than lower run 'show business' if truth be told.
What she did and how she did it was entertaining and delightful. How many of us bring smiles and laughter so easily without degrading ourselves or belittling others?
In Showbiz, you don't have to look perfect. You can be unusual and get away with it. Even so-called freaks of nature could find employment.
Hers was a simple life; a life of routine and habit. She enjoyed the company of others and went about her job with dignity and professionalism right up until the day she slowly died.
Let's get this over with, let's face the facts and move on--shall we?
The man's name was Eldridge. He had a shock of red hair and he got the job working with Mary even though he was a hobo and a drifter and no skills. That is unless you call working cheap a skill.
It was after the town's parade had ended everything started to go wrong.
Mary had walked slowly down Main Street that day as crowds cheered, celebrating the arrival of "show people" in town with SPARKS WORLD FAMOUS SHOWS.
She had been with them for years. It was small time but it was show business.
The fresh air and sunshine combined with exercise and a long trek all morning had worked up an appetite. After the parade, Mary settled in for a meal.
That's when Eldridge showed up. Folks called him "Red."
Red didn't care if Mary was enjoying a late breakfast or not. He began screaming orders at her.
Red was just clueless how to treat a lady. The fact he was hired as her boss is a crime in itself. Yet, here he was screaming and cursing at poor Mary. It upset her.
Mary was unable to speak. She was so frightened by Red's outburst and rough handling.
Yes--he was manhandling her now!
So frustrated and ignorant was his rage, he reached for a pointed stick and began threatening Mary.
And that's when it all went mad in the blink of an eye.
That bastard jabbed poor Mary behind her ear and the flash of excruciating pain sent a bolt of electric rage through her body.
She reacted without a moment's thought. It was pure instinct.
A man named W.H. Coleman claimed later to be a witness to the sudden death of Red Eldridge.
He admitted the hobo "boss" had jabbed her and screamed curses. But then, he spared no details of her retaliation either. Red was lying dead on the ground with his skull crushed. Mary had gone mad and stomped him!
A local blacksmith arrived and aimed his pistol at Mary and fired 3 times.
The adrenaline and her size seemed somehow to keep her standing and defiant. She was all worked up and the injustice of her situation kept her on her feet.
And then crowds had arrived and word spread like a grassfire in a drought.
Kingsport was such a tiny, unimportant town with so little excitement--this was chaos and panic beyond all reckoning.
Somebody shouted that there needed to be a hanging.
Nearby, Charlie Sparks, fearing for the reputation of his "World Famous Show" suddenly suggested they use a large crane attached to the railcar just outside on the tracks.
And just like that, in the disastrous bloodlust of small town mentality, so-called "Southern Justice" was at hand!
A chain was placed around Mary's neck and another chain around her ankle. As she was suddenly jerked aloft by the awkward crane mechanism the chain snapped and she plummeted heavily onto her side and her hip broke.
Again she was hoisted in awful agony as her friends and family raised alarm on the other side of the wide-eyed throng of onlookers shouting even louder for her demise.
Reports say 2,500 onlookers and most of that town's children beheld the atrocity as it unfolded to their everlasting shame.
There in the Clinchfield Railroad yard, slowly twisted the body of Mary, as though she were merely nothing more than a fiendish amusement for narrow-minded folks to gawk and gape at.
A fog had rolled in and a steady drizzle set in as Mary's last twitches of life ebbed away.
The chain on her leg had not been removed and the crane's upward lift strained until a loud cracking of Mary's bones suddenly ended the death struggle.
Just like that--the spectacle was over.
The laughter and cheers as Mary's legs had thrashed and trembled now faded into silence--save for the splashing of steady rain as heaven itself wept quietly.
The body of Mary hung still and cold for the better part of an hour before she was finally pronounced officially dead by the local veterinarian.
Yes, this wretched town had hanged an elephant for murder on September 13, 1916.