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Lift Up Your Head, Tom Dooley: The True…
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Lift Up Your Head, Tom Dooley: The True Story of the Appalachian Murder… (1993)

by John Foster West

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When Laura Foster, a young & attractive woman, disappeared from her home in Happy Valley in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina in the spring of 1866, residents of the area assumed that Tom Dula (pronounced Dooley in the hill country), a young Civil War veteran, had something to do with it. He was known to be Laura's lover, as well as the lover of many other young women in the area. Months before Laura's body was found, stabbed through the heart, in a shallow grave near the Yadkin River, Dula was seized & held in jail. His trial unveiled a sordid story of sexual immorality, resentment, jealousy & bitterness, & Dula was convicted & hanged before a huge crowd in Statesville, an event that drew national attention. The story lived on, with time becoming entwined with myth & legend, because it inspired a ballad that was sung throughout the mountains. Nearly a century after the murder that inspired it, that ballad became a major national hit for a popular folksinging group called the Kingston Trio. Novelist John Foster West grew up in Happy Valley hearing the stories about Tom Dula. His search for the truth behind them led to this book.… (more)

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Maybe Tom Dooley can lift up his head, but John Foster West needs to hang his.

The old ballad of Tom Dooley was first recorded more than thirty years before the Kingston Trio came along, but it was the mega-hit by the latter which first caused people to look back and try to figure out what had happened to Thomas C. Dula (the correct spelling of his name), murder victim Laura Foster, femme fatale Ann Foster Melton, and their families. Sadly, by the time this was done, all the relevant witnesses were long dead -- and the records of the time almost non-existent. There aren't even proper records of Tom Dula's trial -- just an after-the-fact summary made by the judge and a court employee. It makes it very hard to understand what happened.

Sadly, author West -- a resident of the same area as the characters in the song -- doesn't do a very good job of clarifying. His account was short but nonetheless rather confusing, and is followed by transcripts of the few records that exist -- the best part of the book, but a part that really needs interpretation. And West doesn't really offer it.

West's goal is to show that Tom Dula did not get a fair trial. On this point, I have to agree -- Dula was arrested before anyone could even prove that Laura Foster was murdered, and there is absolutely no direct evidence to link him to the crime. The main witness against him, one Pauline Foster, seems to have been a drunk, promiscuous, dimwit who changed her story in many particulars. There were at least three other people who would have been valid suspects -- none as likely as Dula, but remember, we're looking for proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The bottom line: West has done more than anyone else to bring forth the scraps of available evidence, but has not assembled it into a whole that really makes much sense. To be sure, history often isn't very clear. But the result really left me wanting more. ( )
  waltzmn | Feb 19, 2016 |
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Caldwell County, North Carolina
Friday, May 25, 1866
The fields were still dark, the stars still shining when Laura Foster was awakened by a man's voice, low but urgent, at the window.
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When Laura Foster, a young & attractive woman, disappeared from her home in Happy Valley in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina in the spring of 1866, residents of the area assumed that Tom Dula (pronounced Dooley in the hill country), a young Civil War veteran, had something to do with it. He was known to be Laura's lover, as well as the lover of many other young women in the area. Months before Laura's body was found, stabbed through the heart, in a shallow grave near the Yadkin River, Dula was seized & held in jail. His trial unveiled a sordid story of sexual immorality, resentment, jealousy & bitterness, & Dula was convicted & hanged before a huge crowd in Statesville, an event that drew national attention. The story lived on, with time becoming entwined with myth & legend, because it inspired a ballad that was sung throughout the mountains. Nearly a century after the murder that inspired it, that ballad became a major national hit for a popular folksinging group called the Kingston Trio. Novelist John Foster West grew up in Happy Valley hearing the stories about Tom Dula. His search for the truth behind them led to this book.… (more)

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