Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Valorus P. Coolidge Redux
Back at the beginning, there was a lively account of Chris D's distant relative, Dr. Valorus P. Coolidge, and his murder of the unfortunate Edward Mathews in Waterville, Maine. During the discussion, it was discovered that a murder ballad had been written about the event, and your humble servant undertook to retrieve a copy of said ballad through the magic of inter-library loan, as published in Olive Woolley Burt's American Murder Ballads and Their Stories.
Now, Ms. Burt is apparently prone to repeating less-than-accurate historical accounts, based as they are on hearsay scores of years after the facts occurred, so we will skip her version of the murder, and move on to the lyrics of the ballad itself. The ballad, she states, is twenty-six stanzas long, of which she includes for publication stanzas 3 through 21, which she qualifies as "the only pertinent ones." To wit:
Poor Edward Mathews, where is he?
Sent headlong into eternity.
The mortal debt by him is paid,
And in his narrow bed he's laid.
No more will anguish seize his soul;
No more will poison fill his bowl;
No more will friendship clutch his throat,
Or o'er his mangled body gloat.
O! V.P. Coolidge, how could you
So black a deed of murder do?
You on your honor did pretend
To be his nearest earthly friend.
You knew to Brighton he had gone,
And watched each hour for his return.
The hay for cattle which he drove
You swore within your heart to have.
You failed in that, but did succeed,
By promising a mortgage deed,
Of all on earth that you possessed
So that he could in safety rest.
The money from the bank he drew
And brought forth with faithfulness to you,
Not dreaming of your vile intent,
Alone into your office went.
You said, 'Dear Mathdws, worthy friend,
Our friendship here shall never end.
A glass of brandy you must drink;
'Twill do you good, I surely think.'
He drank the liquor you had fixed,
With Prussic acid amply mixed.
Then cried, 'O Lord! What can it be?
What poison have you given me?'
You seized his throat and stopp'd his breath,
Until your friend lay still in death;
The with your hatchet bruised his head
After he was entirely dead.
His money then you took away,
And hid his watch out in your sleigh;
Then called to your confederate
And all your doings did relate.
I have a secret, Flint, you said,
And if by you I am betrayed
The state will me for murder try
And on the gallow I must die.
That cursed Mathews, don't you think,
Came here and did some brandy drink,
Then instantly he fell down dead,
And I have thumped him on the head.
Where can we now his body thrust,
So that no one can us mistrust,
Inyonder room his corpse is laid,
I wish the river were its bed.
The murder we have done this night,
Tomorrow will be brought to light,
But my good character and name
Will shield me from all harm and blame.
We dragged his lifeless form away,
Into a cellar there to lay,
Until some one by chance did see
His mangled, bruised, and dead body.
O, Edward Mathews, could you know
The scathing pangs I undergo,
You surely would look down from heaven,
And say let Coolidge be forgiven.
An interesting side note is that the broadside that Ms. Burt used as her source was actually signed "V.P. Coolidge," which she speculates over thusly: "...whether he actually composed the verses or this was the wily trick of one who wished to profit by the event it is now impossible to say." Hmm. Yes, Ms. Burt, ponder on. How many murderers write their own murder ballads?! Well, technically, I guess Dr. Coolidge could have, since the best information indicates he did escape his death sentence...
Burt herself is an interesting study in personality, as she has "loved murder folklore since childhood," when "her mother clipped mournful verses from newspapers and saved them in a scrapbook."