Another Monday has come and gone. Another night of murder most foul. It was a great one. The highlight of the show was singing the songs and telling the stories of the Frankie murders.
The old song “Frankie and Johnny” is based on a real murder from 1899. You may have heard that one before, considering there are over 250 versions of the song. The first versions of “Frankie and Johnny” debuted on the streets of St Louis within 48 hours of Frankie Baker shooting her man Allen Britt in the abdomen. Allen wasn’t even dead (he died four days after the shooting) and the street poets were already singing of his demise. Frankie pleaded self defense and was released from jail but she would never escape the song. Or the movies. Or the stage play. Or the label of murderer. Frankie died in a mental hospital years later.
Notably, another famous murder ballad originated from St Louis. Stack-o-lee shot Billy in a bar just four years earlier, inspiring hundreds of songs covered by pretty much every artist to pick up an instrument. “Stagger Lee” and “Frankie and Johnny” are two gems from the dark history of St Louis.
And yet there is another less-famous Frankie who killed her man right here in the mountains of North Carolina back in 1832. Charlie and Frankie Silvers built a log cabin in Burke County and had themselves a daughter. Charlie decides to go hunting a few days before Christmas. He takes the family axe and chops down a tree. He splits the tree into firewood and stacks it up on the porch so that Frankie and the baby will have plenty of wood to keep warm.
Charlie lays down in front of the furnace, rests his baby girl on his chest, and drifts off for a power nap before heading out. Once Charlie is snoring, Frankie lifts the baby off of his chest and puts her in the bed. She picks up the family axe. She brings the axe down right on Charlie’s head.
But the blow doesn’t immediately kill Charlie. He jumps up and yells “God bless the child!”
I can only speculate as to what he meant by that statement. I probably would have yelled something like, “God bless the giant axe-hole in my head” or “Wow, this axe sticking out of my head is causing me a great deal of pain” or “Really, Frankie? W.T.F.”
Perhaps he thought the baby had hit him in the head with the axe? In which case he had a very confusing final few moments.
Frankie ran and hid under the covers of the bed—like all good axe murderers. Eventually, she heard a thump. Charlie lay dead on the floor.
Now here’s the scenario: Frankie has an axe, a furnace, a tree stacked on the porch (Stack-o-tree? Yup, nailed it.) and a dead husband. How does she dispose of the body?
Ring-a-ding-ding! If you said, “Chop up Charlie and burn him.” Congratulations! You’re gonna be a pretty good axe murderer one day. But if you said “Use the firewood to build a contraption to hold up Charlie’s body and maneuver him like a puppet a la Weekend at Bernie’s” I’m sorry but don’t quit your day job. Axe murdering might not be for you.
Well, there’s more to this story. Much more in fact. A crystal ball. A jailbreak. Even cross-dressing. But for that part of the story, you’ll have to wait. I’ll write it later. But I’ll definitely be telling the complete story at Murder Ballad Monday on April 30th at 7pm. Join us at Sanctuary Brewing Company in Hendersonville, NC. You won’t be disappointed.