Olivia Wilson

Young girl employee of the National Pencil Company who is murdered in its basement. Sweet and pure, the epitome of Southern wholesomeness.

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SONGS
“The Picture Show” – with Frankie Epps
“Trial Part III: Frankie’s Testimony” – with Frankie Epps

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"Little Mary Phagan"

 

By the age of thirteen, Mary Phagan was already a four-year veteran of the workforce, having had two other factory jobs before starting work at the pencil factory. She was very pretty and very flirtatious and the search for her murderer was later to reveal more than one boy who had been smitten by her blue eyes and precociously well developed figure. She was only 4 feet 11 inches (150 cm) tall, but still might have been able to pass for being as old as eighteen. Her family were country people who had moved to the city, known as “crackers” in local parlance.

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Mary Phagan (June 1, 1899 – April 26, 1913) was born in Florence, Alabama, four months after her father William Joshua Phagan died of measles. She was born into a family of tenant farmers that had farmed in Alabama and Georgia for generations. After her father died, Phagan’s mother moved her family to East Point, Georgia, where she opened a boarding house. The children took jobs in the local mills.

Mary left school at the age of ten to work part-time in a textile mill. In 1911, a paper manufacturing plant owned by Sigmund Montag, treasurer of the National Pencil Company, hired her. In 1912 her mother Frances Phagan married John William Coleman, and she and the children moved into Marietta.

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Mary Phagan

This photo has been inaccurately hand-coloured. Her dress was lavender.

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In the spring of 1912, as a pretty little blonde girl of 12, Mary took a job with the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, about half an hour’s trolley ride from her home. Her work was to operate a knurling machine that fastened the metal clips which held rubber erasers to the pencils. It was a simple task and her wages were proportionately small. Mary was paid ten cents an hour.

On the day of her tragic death, Saturday April 26th 1913 – Confederate Memorial Day, she donned stockings and garters, then a store-bought violet dress and gunmetal-grey pumps. Two large bows in her hair and a blue straw hat adorned with dried red flowers atop her head completed the outfit. She carried with her a silvery mesh purse and an umbrella.

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Mary Phagan

Dress doesn’t need to be as complicated. See photo above.

 

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Mary decided to collect her wages before enjoying the day’s celebrations and travelled part the way with a boy of similar age called George Epps (known as Frankie Epps in the show).

She left him on the street and went to the factory on her own. About noon, she collected her pay of $1.20.

She was not seen for the rest of that day.

On the following morning at 3:20am, on April 27, 1913, the factory’s night watchman, Newt Lee, went to the dark and dirty factory basement to use the “Colored” toilet. In fact, very few people, even the blacks who cheated and used the white toilets upstairs, ever went into the basement. There in the filth he found the body of Mary Phagan. She had been beaten and strangled to death. Lee said he discovered the body and called the police, meeting them at the front door and leading them to the body which had been dumped in the rear of the basement near an incinerator. It was so filthy at first the police thought she was a black girl.

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What happened that day?

What happened that day?

 

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What Mary’s body looked like (WARNING! Please do not click on this link if you are easily shocked. It contains intimate sexual language, graphic images and information about the state of Mary Phagan’s body that you may not want to know.)

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See where Mary is buried

 

“Little Mary” a 100 years on

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“Little Mary Phagan” – a Song of the Times

An itinerant musician called Fiddlin’ John Carson summed up the events in his ballad Little Mary Phagan.

Little Mary Phagan,
She went to town one day;
She went to the pencil factory
To get her little pay.
She left her home at eleven,
She kissed her mother goodbye;
Not one time did the poor child think
That she was going there to die.

Leo Frank he met her
With a brutish heart, we know;
He smiled and said, “Little Mary,
You won’t go home no more.”
Sneaked along behind her
Till she reached the metal room.
He laughed, and said, “Little Mary,
You have met your fatal doom.”

She fell upon her knees
To Leo Frank she pled,
She told him she was virtuous
He hit her across the head.

The tears rolled down her rosy cheeks
The blood flowing down her back;
Remembered telling her mother
What time she would be back.

He killed little Mary Phagan,
It was on one holiday;
And called for old Jim Conley
To carry her body away.
He took her to the basement,
She was bound both hand and feet;
Down in the basement
Little Mary lay asleep.

Newt Lee was the watchman
Who went to wind the key;
Down in the basement
Little Mary he did see.
He called for the officers
Whose names I do not know;
They came to the pencil factory,
Said, “Newt Lee, you must go.”

Come, all you jolly people
Wherever you may be;
Suppose little Mary Phagan
Belonged to you or me.
Now little Mary’s mother
She weeps and mourns all day,
Praying to meet little Mary
In a better world someday.

Now little Mary’s in heaven,
Leo Frank’s in jail,
Waiting for the day to come
When he can tell his tale.
Frank will be astonished
When the angels come to say,
“You killed little Mary Phagan;
It was on one holiday.”

Judge he passed the sentence,
He reared back in his chair;
He will hang Leo Frank,
And give the Negro a year.
Next time he passed the sentence,
You bet he passed it well;
Well, Solister (sic.) H. M.
Sent Leo Frank to hell.

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