Locals can quench their seasonal thirst for the eerie with a brew of literature, stagecraft and murder that’s as “Mobile” as eating oysters and moonpies beside an azalea bush. The hair-raising event concludes at a legendary graveyard for that perfect October touch.
The blend of true crime, romance and the supernatural is courtesy of author and college instructor Mary Palmer. Her yen for the Charles Boyington tragedy birthed the one-act play “Remembrances” taking place at Oakleigh House Museum (300 Oakleigh Place) on Oct. 24 at 1:30 p.m.
“This is the last act of a three-act play I wrote,” Palmer told Artifice. “It’s the ghosts coming back and telling us what happened.”
The eventual aim is to turn the full play into an annual affair aimed at tourism, along the lines of Monroeville’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” production. Eric Browne will direct a trio from Joe Jefferson Players.
This month’s abridged version is al fresco, with players on Oakleigh’s balcony and the audience safely distanced below. Admission is free, but reservations need to be made through the Historic Mobile Preservation Society.
Most Alabamians know the story from Kathryn Tucker Windham’s “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey” series. A 1996 Gulf Coast Historical Review examined the source saga in detail.
The tumble of historic dominoes led 23-year-old Boyington from Connecticut to Mobile in 1833. The violent eradication of indigenous people from Alabama’s resource-rich interior, then statehood and King Cotton primed Mobile for boom times. Fortune-hungry Americans flooded into the newly bustling port town.
A printer by trade, Boyington’s admitted love for the fast life and his brushes with the law explained his residence in a succession of boarding houses. At a December 1833 ball, Boyington fell for Rose Le Fleur, the scion of a respected family. Perhaps to generate better appearances, the young man began to have his poetry published.
Boyington’s ambition already outpaced his income when he lost his printing job in April 1834. He discovered his roommate, fellow printer and tuberculosis victim Nathaniel Frost, had enough spare cash to float him a loan.
On May 10, Frost and Boyington headed to Church Street Cemetery in conversation. Hours later, Frost was found stabbed to death, with his money and watch missing. Boyington had secretly bought passage out of town.
The young poet was captured and returned. He was convicted at trial despite an unwavering insistence of innocence.
“Rev. William T. Hamilton counseled Boyington in jail and always believed he was guilty. He tried to convince him to confess. His descendant, Palmer Hamilton, showed me a painting he has of the minister and his wife,” Palmer said.
Sentenced to hang, Boyington’s February 1835 execution was a public spectacle. Palmer said a third of the city’s 3,190 citizens turned out to picnic and watch his march to the makeshift gallows in what became the Oakleigh neighborhood.
“Ordinarily, the convicted person rode on top of the coffin behind a one-horse carriage, but because [Boyington] published a lot of poems in local newspapers and his girlfriend was well bred, he walked behind it,” Palmer said.
Boyington maintained a cool demeanor en route but in the final moments, he lost his nerve. He tried to run. He pleaded. Most famously, he declared that due to his innocence, an oak tree would sprout from his heart and grow atop his grave.
Boyington was buried in the pauper’s section of the city graveyard at the northwest corner of what is now Church Street Cemetery. Before long, a sapling emerged from his grave. When the original brick wall fell, its replacement excluded the pauper’s section. The legendary oak is constantly accessible now, near the Bayou Street sidewalk across from Big Zion A.M.E. Church. Stories of faint ghostly weeping heard from the oak on dark nights spice up the legend.
Following the Oct. 24 hour-long performance, the gathering will move — possibly via trolley — to Serda Brewing (600 Government St.), where the actors will remain in character for discussion. Afterward, everyone will journey to the oak where Palmer will unveil a new marker replacing one that disappeared decades ago.
“We may lay a wreath, but I know we’re going to do the marker that we got through a grant with the William Pomeroy Foundation in Syracuse, New York,” Palmer said. “I sent a letter to the mayor so I’m hoping some dignitaries will be there.”
Pointing out irregularities in Boyington’s trial, a later confession from Frost’s landlord and conversation with lawyers and a judge, the playwright and author is looking for another impact.
“We’re collecting signatures to get Boyington a posthumous pardon,” Palmer said.
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