Love stories are big business. Many have made a good living on the emotional wings of passion-driven stories often filled with sordid affairs and moderately complex plots.
The diversity of these stories and their fans are evident: from the classics to modern renditions of stories that are, for the most part, conscious or not, inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
It seems as if the nature of young love and its many challenging attributes continue to inspire new books, plays and movies, and I suppose this will never change, and why should it? You don’t have to be a public romantic to see the value in a good love story.
Growing up in the foothills of the Carolinas, I remember hearing the stories about Tom Dula, better known as Tom Dooley. I don’t think I thought about the story as being about murder or passion. It was, however, never a question if he was a real or fiction. We all know he was real, but there was always a question about whether he killed Laura Foster, a crime for which he hung.
One thing is for sure. Tom Dooley would become legendary, and his story would far outlive his short life of only 22 years. Over the years, I would engage in many conversations about Tom, and it was in 2011 that I produced my first TV special about the life of this Carolina legend. It was titled “A Wilkes County Tale of Love and Tragedy.”
The show got a lot of attention. However, I had no plans to do anything else on Tom, that is until I got a lead on a new book and its author, Charlotte Corbin Barnes — and even then, I was not convinced. So once again, I found myself back in research on our legend. However, this time I was looking at the people who are in love with the story of Tom Dooley, rather than the loves of Tom’s life.
It’s one thing to look at the short life of Thomas C. “Tom” Dula, who was born June 22, 1845, and had an active life of passion from the age of 12 and who would enlist three months before his 18th birthday in the Confederate Army as a private in Company K, 42nd N.C. Infantry Regiment.
When Tom returned home after the war, there would be many twists and turns with his assorted affairs, and he would end up being charged with the murder of Laura Foster. Even though he was represented by future Gov. Zeb Vance, he would be found guilty and then guilty again on appeal, and he would hang before his 23rd birthday. Tom did a lot of living in his short time on earth.
I was intrigued by Charlotte Barnes, not because she had written a book about Tom, but rather that is was almost 50 years in the making. Her book, “The Tom Dooley Files: My Search for the Truth Behind the Legend” is a 485-page book that is an extensive collection of files on Dooley’s life.
It was her childhood story of being sick and bedridden for some time and hearing the Kingston Trio’s Tom Dooley song that so moved her emotionally. Her mother would tell her that Tom was not a real person, and the song was not something that should upset her. So, Charlotte would soon forget about Tom, until years later when she came across an article in the Charlotte Observer about Edith Carter opening a Tom Dooley museum in Wilkes County.
Well, that’s all it took for Charlotte to become forever in love with the story of Tom Dooley. Edith would become her mentor and friend, and the journey to discover the truth about Tom would become a priority for a once little girl who was told that the object of her emotional expressions was not real.
Yes, Charlotte, Tom is real and so is love, and thanks to you we’re not done with telling the story either.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
Carl White is the executive producer and host of the award winning syndicated TV show “Carl White’s Life In the Carolinas.” The weekly show is in its seventh year of syndication and can be seen in the Greenville, Spartanburg viewing market on WLOS ABC 5 a.m. Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. Sundays at WMYA My 40. Visitwww.lifeinthecarolinas.com, email White atCarl@lifeinthecarolinas.com.