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HANGED MAN IN HIT TUNE
Out of the jukeboxes in almost every bar and candy store came the three-part harmony plea of an old folk song imploring a gay blade headed for the gallows to hang his head in shame before the hangman fitted it through a noose. The pleas are 90 years too late, but the record sung by the Kingston Trio is one of the liveliest on the bestseller lists. "Tom Dooley" is the title. The real-life reprobate all the singing is about was a Blue Ridge Mountain folk hero named Tom Dula who was hanged for murder in 1868. As impenitent Tom becomes the pride of Tin Pan Alley, which tinkered a little with the tune's lyrics, his reputation around Wilkes County, N. C, is now getting gradually retouched to match his eminence.
Tom Dula was a handsome young country fiddler, devoted to the jug, averse to the plow and a constant delight to the ladies. He went off to fight the Civil War with Zeb Vance's 26th Regiment and returned to resume his own ways, especially with the ladies. They were, in particular, Laura Foster and her cousin Ann Melton. One day in 1866 Laura was found in a shallow grave. Ann was accused but found not guilty. Tom was convicted after two trials.
Tom rode to the gallows on his own coffin and rambled on blasphemously for an hour when asked if he had any last words to say. When Ann Melton died, years later, she made a last-minute confession to her husband. The husband never revealed what it was, but around Wilkes County a lot of folk legend fanciers are sure that cleared Tom Dula.
A sprinkling of national sympathy for Tom has followed the song hit. The proprietor of a Galesburg, 111. bar took up a collection for the deceased Tom Dooley last month and ended up with a small tombstone and wreath that adorn his establishment. In Las Vegas a pair of disk jockeys stirred up a "Save Tom Dooley from the Gallows" campaign
"Reprinted by permission from Life, Vol. 45, No. 24, December 15, Copyright 1958, Time Inc."