What is the community’s response to such a murder? How varied is that response? Do some say, “She had it coming.” Do others question themselves and feel guilty because they didn’t intervene when their ethical/moral belief system told them they should have? What about the photographers at the crime scene or law enforcement personnel or the coroner, persons who deal with death on a regular basis? Do they ever get emotionally involved?
If the one who is murdered is pretty, does that make a difference? If she has a child, does that impact community response?
Today, I conducted the first rehearsal of a play I am directing this semester, “Dark Flower,” which is loosely based on three murders in the small town of Troy, OH.
Written by Professor Catherine Essinger, it is a part of a collection entitled “What I Know of Innocence,” published in 2010 by Main Street Rag of Charlotte, NC.
The rehearsal went well, with the exception of the glitches that everyone who has ever been involved in theatre accepts as something to be expected.
I took a little nap after I got home from rehearsal and after that nap, I was energized and began to think about murders of young women in Harlan County:
— It was Sept. 7, 1920, and according to songs collected in the Appalachian Center Archives, Miss Lura Parsons, “a fair maiden,” a teacher at Pine Mountain School, “couldn’t resist the cowardly brute, she was too weak and frail/He assaulted her and beat her brains out with a rail,/ And threw her body over a bank and covered up his trail.”
— And then it was June 2, 1969, according to WEBSLEUTHS.COM, when a “man out picking wild flowers for his wife stumbled upon a nude badly decomposed body of a young woman in a secluded area on top of rural Pine Mountain.” She had been beaten, stabbed in the chest and “punched so hard that some of her teeth rested in her throat.”
— Move forward to the Feb. 19, 1987, issue of the “Lexington Herald-Leader” that reports the murder of 27-year-old Nancy Garrett, of Cawood.
So you ask, “Vivian, where are you going with all this?”
Dramatist and poet Essinger says that the play I am directing “is mostly about memory, personal and collective, and how we define ourselves in relation to events that have influenced us.” She indicates that murder is especially defining, and she is “fascinated by how a community remembers, how people learn to live with that kind of trauma.”
The trauma is immediate for some and long lasting, extremely difficult. One night after I had put out a call on college e-mail soliciting volunteers to help with the play, I received a frantic call from a former student, “Vivian, I want to know something. Is this play about my sister who was murdered by her husband?”
This student had given a persuasive speech in one of my communication classes two summers before in which she described her sister’s murder and advocated cautions for women attempting to get out of abusive relationships.
I explained to her that, yes, in a way “Dark Flower” is about her sister whose story is one of the three murders upon which the drama is loosely based, but the play is fiction. It’s fiction that asks us to explore the realities of our lives: death, violence, memories- memories that tear us apart.
So why do I take on this play because I certainly am not required to do it? I’m not being paid to do it.
I do it to pay tribute to the author; I do it to eulogize young women who are victimized; I do it to give the audiences an opportunity to realize that rare as it is, no community — no matter how small, how insulated- can always be free of those who commit horrific acts.
Finally, I do it because I’m fascinated with the arts. I’m determined to see if I can direct a play that combines live music, dance, and drama in a continuous flow as it explores a theme of violent death.