Day 24, November daily posting challenge. Some days it’s hard to come up with an interesting subject. (Today may be one of those days.)
I was able to spend a little time today reading a little of the book I found recently, MIDWINTER written by Maurice Stanley. It’s based on a true story about a young woman named Frankie Silver executed in 1833 for the brutal murder of her 19-year-old husband.
It’s an interesting story by the same author who fictionalized Nance Dude, and no less compelling. There are claims that the ballad of Frankie and Johnny, the song recorded by Sammy Davis, Jr., came from Frankie, all of 18 years old when her 19-year-old husband, Charlie, was murdered. She was tried and convicted and thus became the first woman to be put to death in Burke County, North Carolina.
In MIDWINTER we have a glimpse into the imagined private lives of Frankie and Charlie in order to give a reasonable scenario of possible motives, including others other than Frankie who also may have had possible motives without actually making any strong conclusion. Normally we don’t think about women being executed in this country in the 1800s, so the author is asking us to look at the people of the community, and the customs of the time and decide if her execution was justified.
When you write, your research must turn up anything that might possibly throw up a red flag in the mind of the reader, so you try to incorporate as much of the custom of the time as possible so the reader doesn’t have any questions or any reason to stop reading and say, “yeah but” what about…. My red flag moment for this book came during the wedding night scene. Innuendos have already appeared in the first few pages that a possibly frigid Frankie drove Charlie to his prior and more passionately warm blooded friend a year or so later on the day he disappeared, a few days before Christmas 1831. My “yeah but” was why the couple weren’t feated to chivaree.
I don’t know when the custom began in Appalachia, but I know it was brought here from the old countries of origin and was customarily held on the wedding night for most couples. It was practiced–according to handed down family stories in my family–from the time of my grandparents which indicates to me it would have been going on the early 1800s. My own parents were subjected to one although it wasn’t the wedding night as far as I know, because they eloped. I can well imagine the same practice today in more remote parts of the southeastern U.S., especially the mountains.
Customarily, friends and relatives of the bride and groom would appear wherever the couple were spending their first night together. They showed up around midnight, and would arrive banging pots and pans and generally whooping it up as loud as possible. If the couple refused entry, they resorted to breaking in. Sometimes the groom was kidnapped and roughed up or perhaps dipped in the creek or something similarly mean in order to be initiated into the new family.
The bride and groom were expected to serve snacks to everyone, usually cookies and beverages that suited the sobriety observed by the men in the area–beer or moonshine maybe–or coffee, and then after an hour or two everyone would finally go home and leave the newlywed couple alone. It was done in fun but sometimes got pretty rowdy from the stories I heard.
So I was surprised no mention was made in the book, since a family such as that pictured of the groom’s family, would certainly have carried out such a tradition. Did the custom not then exist in the mountains of North Carolina?
I wonder how many people know about it today? Or do you have to be over a certain age (which would make me feel ancient) or come from a certain region of the country to know about it?