– This original WSRE
presentation is made possible by viewers like you. Thank You. – Former Alabama
Governor George Wallace and the mystery behind an
iconic Mobile, Alabama oak tree. Author Mary Palmer, on this
addition of Conversations. (soft music) Mary Palmer is an
accomplished writer from short stories, to books. Her topics run the
spectrum from tourism, to science fiction,
to biographies. One of her most acclaimed works is a book on the late and controversial Alabama
Governor, George Wallace. In “George Wallace: An
Enigma: The Complex Life of “Alabama’s Most Divisive
and Controversial Governor,” Palmer gives readers an
unprecedented inside look at the man, George Wallace. Her latest book is entitled “Boyington Oak: A
Grave Injustice.” And it is the story about
a young man in the 1800’s, who was wrongly
convicted and hanged for murdering his best friend. The story has become legendary
around Mobile, Alabama. In addition to her writing,
Mary teaches English at Faulkner University in Mobile and as an adjunct at
Huntingdon College. We welcome Mary Palmer
to Conversations. Thank you so much
for joining us. – Thank you for having me. – Tell me how this George
Wallace book first came about. – Well, I went to New Orleans
with another book I had, which was a mystery, which I really wanted
to write about. And this publisher said, “Would you like to write a
book about George Wallace?” And he gave me a tape recorder
and a ticket to write, I mean to buy supplies and I started writing it. And I went to Montgomery
and I got contacts with members of George’s
Cabinet and his family and then six months into this, the publisher went
out of business. But I already had a
good handle on it, so I continued. And I talked to another
New Orleans publisher and they kept the
book for a year. I had finished it
and revised it. And then, the publisher
and editor were brothers and they decided
they didn’t want it. Well, sadly, they
sent me back the book but without a lot of
the pictures I had
gathered at the time and I had to work very hard
to get those pictures back, but I did. And from there I kept writing and then revising
it and updating it and going to see
more and more people. I interviewed over
a hundred people… – Wow.
– During this time. – What year did you
start writing this? – In the ’70s or early ’70s. And then kept on. And then finally I
went back to school to get a degree and
get a master’s degree and I had three different
New York agents. Unfortunately, none
of them sold it. Then I had a person
interested in it that didn’t take it,
another publisher. Then a little bit later, when they founded the
Wallace Foundation, I went to Montgomery and
I brought my pictures. By then I had pictures
of Wallace from birth way up until present
time at that time. And Wallace came to
the Wallace Center and I showed him the pictures. Well, he couldn’t see so I had to make very
big cards to show him. He couldn’t hear, so I had to talk loud and he sat there and looked at all of
these places he’d been and things he’s done, all the people that he’d met. And he was sitting there
with tears in his eyes while I was telling
him about it. And then even a
little bit later, they went out of business. – Oh no! – So that’s two strikes. So then I went to his house
and he sat in his kitchen and just chatted with
him and interviewed him and nobody really knew
how much he was hurting because he kept holding
his side all the time. I went in his van, rode
in his van with him and had lunch at
a barbecue place. And one day he was so depressed, he was just hanging his head, he wasn’t talking or anything. He put ketchup on everything,
maybe even ice cream. But he didn’t even
do that, that day. But I did get an updated thing. He lived in a very
frugal surroundings, he wasn’t pretentious at all. He had come from the
Governor’s mansion to this normal house. – Right, right. And for the longest
time, like you say, people sat on it
and finally though, somebody decided to
publish it, right? A few years ago? – It was very unusual, the way it did
finally get published. I had put it aside and
had written other books and had success with them. I think I had five
with one publisher. And I went to speak to a
group called The Pinsters in Fairhope, Alabama. And John Wood was there. He had just moved to Point
Clear from California and he is a producer
and a writer and a publisher and so on. And he stopped me on the way out and I had mentioned
the Wallace book but sort of in passing, and he said, “I want that book.” I said, “You haven’t even
seen it, you haven’t read it.” He said, “I want that book!” So he took it and I didn’t have, it was actually done
originally on floppy disk. – Oh no!
– So I didn’t have a way to go back and reprint it. So we took the copy of the book that the Wallace
Foundation had made with the intention
of publishing it. And it was in a ring
binder, and we took it apart and copied it and then
he took it from there and I was able to go
through it one more time. And John actually did publish, Intellect Publishing company. – Tell me about George Wallace. What kind of person
was he really? – Friendly. And he never did
act pretentious. I tried to make my
book very objective, I didn’t just tell the good. I told the good, the
bad, and the ugly as I knew it and found it. But there’s some
things in the book that people never heard about, for example, one time, a black lady who was a maid
at the Capitol Building, she came to him and said
her son had no clothes to go to school and she wanted
him to get an education. Without saying a
word to anybody, George went home and packed
up some of George Jr’s clothes and sent them to her. So he did a lot of
things like that, and I think he was
very conscientious. He was extremely ambitious. And he was going to be
what he wanted to be, he was very determined
to be governor. And he did encourage
Lurleen to take his place when he could no longer run and that was when
she was very ill. And some of the people
that I interviewed, like her secretary
Catherine Steineker and some other people did know that it was an imposition on her to be put in that position but she did a good job. One of my favorite
chapters in that book is called “Now that
was a Wonderful Woman” and I believe Darrell
Gordon told me that. And it tells all about Lurleen. I never met Lurleen, she had passed away
before I got involved. – And in case people don’t know, Lurleen was his first wife. – Yes, Lurleen was
his first wife. – Right. And she did become Governor
of the state of Alabama? – She did. – For a while. – Yeah, she was governor
and she passed away during her term and
then Albert Brewer, who was Lieutenant
Governor took over. – What do you think
George Wallace will be most remembered for? – Probably, unfortunately, his stand in the
school house door. But if people knew him better, I think they might
find some other things to talk about. – ‘Cause everyone thinks
about how he stood on, his thoughts and
opinions on race and obviously many of them
very, very negative and whatnot. But I’m told towards
the end of his life that he sort of changed
his views, is that correct? – He did. I think that it was more
that he intended to do what was politically expedient and he did keep his campaign
promise unfortunately, though it was wrong, But he did keep what the
people said they wanted. He probably didn’t have
a strong an opinion as you might think, but he had to act in a
certain way to get elected. – Right, right. When you talk to
him, did he say, did you talk about that? I mean, did he talk about
regrets in his life? – Not so much. As I said he was
not in good shape by the time I talked to him. He did ask me one time, I
thought it was interesting, when I was in his kitchen and he was just sitting
there talking, chatting. And he said, “Well, why
are you doing this?” And I automatically answered, “Well, I guess it’s
because I like you.” And I did like the man, I didn’t approve of
everything that he did, but I liked him as a person. And I think that he
apologized to Jesse Jackson, and to the parents and the parents are
the survivors of the
four girls killed in that 16th Avenue
Baptist Church bombing, which was most unfortunate. – What made him want
to run for president? – I think it was just
the idea of coming from nothing and
becoming everything. That was just my opinion. I did go on a Presidential
Campaign as an observer up to Greensboro,
North Carolina. And I think he still
wanted to be… I think he had good intentions
wanting to be a help to the people. I think he did care about poor
people and ordinary people, and felt that he, as a
populist, he was one of them. – I read in the book
in his early days, in the Alabama Legislature, I mean one of the things
that he focused on was trying to bring
jobs to Alabama and not, but jobs for the ordinary, for the regular folks, right? – He did. Yes, he did. And also, he did one thing
that benefited me personally. He promoted the Junior
Colleges and Community Colleges and before I worked
at Faulkner University I worked for Falk
State Community College for a number of
years and I think that gives people opportunities
they would not have. Not everyone is prepared
to go to a big college. – Sure, sure. Did he talk to you about what his life was like
after he was shot? – Not exactly that, but
I did go to Maryland and I interviewed his doctor, Dr. Joseph Schanno. Somebody said, “How did
you get the doctor?” I said I asked. And I interviewed
the PR person there and other people
at the hospital. And this doctor said that he was very enamored
with George Wallace, he even came to Gulf Shores
and spent time with him and his family after Wallace
got better and went back in this family home. – You ever think about if he, because if you read the book, I mean, from early on,
he was a politician, for lack of a better term.
– Very ambitious. – Very ambitious and would
probably be considered, aside from whatever the
political views were, just from a pure
political standpoint of, I’ll use this word,
a political animal. There’s some people
it just seemed that was what his
whole focus was. You ever think about what he
would be like in today’s world? – Yes, I think he would
be quite different. I think he was someone who
could go with the flow. And I think he
would have followed whatever the situation
was, at the time. I think he would have done still what was politically expedient. I think he might have
been much more broadminded in today’s world. And everything has
changed so much that he would almost
have to be to survive. – Do you think he had the
charisma to be able to make it in today’s world that’s so
focused on television and image? – I do. And I think he had one talent that I’ve only met a few
people that had that. He could go and meet someone
and see them one time. And the next time he saw them, he not only knew their name, he knew what they did. And I had one incident where
he met this little girl, it was a waitress. And she told him her name and he saw her later at a rally. And he asked her how
she was doing on her job and if she was going
to go to college, and he remembered
everything about her, which is quite a talent. – What did the folks
that you interviewed that worked with him, the members of his cabinet
and his political colleagues, what did they say about him? – All of them respected him. And they all felt that he
had the potential to be, he was a leader. They felt that they would do
whatever he wanted them to do. And I even interviewed
his mother. It was interesting, too, because she told me to come to
this house and I went there, and she was there,
a governor’s mother and she was fixing
dinner for this lady who was sick. And she was just doing
ordinary things ordinary people would do. And I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t
do after they become famous. And I would say she became
famous along with him, to a degree at least. – Yeah, absolutely. Well, it’s very
interesting life. I mean, started out, I mean,
his political career early on as a legislator, and then would go on to
become a judge in Alabama and then eventually governor. – He was a senate page first. – That’s right. Yeah, so he started
at a very young age and he did it all on his own. His father died when he was 40. There was one thing
about George Wallace, a lot of people don’t know, he had a fear of dying. And when he got to be
40, it just consumed him. And he would talk about it
all the time in the book. I have this but just the night before he went to
Laurel, Maryland, he was talking to somebody
and sort of had a premonition. I don’t know if you’ve gotten
to that part in the book yet. But he had a premonition that something was going to
happen to him and it did. – And what kind of
family man was he? – I don’t know that he was all that
close to his family, because he was gone too much. But I think Lurleen
was his true love. And after I finished the book, I went back, as I said,
and did some more research and I went to the graveyard
where he’s buried. It’s in the Circle of Life, I think it’s Greenwood,
in Montgomery. And it was very sad. A friend was with me and
we were taking pictures and I was standing
there thinking, here is this man that was
always surrounded by people. He had there people around him. And he was always
surrounded by people and only one car passed
while we were there. And yet he was there
all by himself, but he went back to be
buried with Lurleen. So I think she was his true love and I think he did
really care about her and I’m not saying anything
about the other two, but I mean, I think he
just went back to her in the long run. – Interesting. Is definitely a fascinating
story, the name of the book, “George Wallace: An Enigma:
The Complex Life of Alabama’s “Most Divisive and
Controversial Governor.” Well done. Great job on that.
– Thank you very much, I appreciate that
coming from you. – Well, thank you. Let’s talk about
your next book here. And this has just
recently come out, it’s called “Boyington
Oak: A Grave Injustice.” Tell me about it. – Okay. This was a story of a young man named Charles R.S. Boyington. He was a printer. And he came to Mobile from
New Haven, Connecticut, he’d been in a little trouble, I think, maybe, of stealing
horse or something. It’s true, it’s called
creative nonfiction, because you have to embellish, you have to put some scenes in that you wouldn’t have
any other way of knowing. And of course, you don’t
know how they spoke. It took an awful
lot of research, and it’s all documented too. There’s only one other book
been written about that. And that was by François Diard. It’s called “The Tree.” And that was in 1949. But it’s more of a documentary. It’s not like a story, it’s more like this happened, this happened, this happened. And what happened was when
he got here he got a job, but it seemed like he
liked to write poetry and he fell in love with this young maiden named
Rose de Fleur, it’s 1834. And the Baron was her father and he did not want
them going together. But then he ended up, was taking care of Nathaniel
Frost, his best friend, who was also a printer. But Boyington got fired
to lack of business, but also maybe other reasons. And then Frost who had, what was called
consumption tuberculosis, he was sick but at that
time did some investigating about germs with
the Dr. Eichold, and they knew about germs
but they didn’t know how contagious something
like that would be. So they allowed
this guy to work. And it took a lot of research because think about, okay, you’re going
to have him go shave. Well, he couldn’t
go in the bathroom, the one, the bathroom, he had to go the outhouse and you think about the
dirt streets and the horses and the smells and all of
the things that they had, they weren’t so
much good old days. But anyway, Boyington ended up, he said he was
going to leave town and go back and visit his
mother and his brother who was a Presbyterian minister. And so his best
friend was killed at the Church Street Graveyard, which is a famous
place in Mobile. And they kept him in jail
from May to November, he had the trial. He was convicted subtly on
circumstantial evidence. One man on the jury
was a British citizen. Another said if the judge
didn’t hang him, he would, so he was convinced
he was guilty. So it ended up that
changed the way, not just for Mobile, Alabama, probably a lot of other places the way that circumstantial
evidence was viewed, and the way jurors were chosen. So then, he was taken, walked
down the streets of Mobile in the top hat and was marched to the Church Street Graveyard. It said they took an hour. I don’t know how far it
is, how long it took, but they hanged him
somewhere near Oakley. And then he was buried there
in the Church Street Graveyard in potter’s field. Well, he said an oak tree
would grow from his grave site, proves innocence. There’s a million
acorns there now. Lots of trees grew. That one did grow right
on his grave site. But that one lasted
through storms that fell many on oak tree. So it has a little bit
of superstitious touch. But we have found an ancestor, a young man who’s in Dothan, Alabama
named Preston Boyington. And he has come back and visited and he has a sister and then
there’s a cousin that we found and also Palmer Hamilton,
Attorney in Mobile told me that he is related
to the minister who counseled Boyington
in jail for a lot of time. But the minister always
thought he was guilty and said, “Oh, confess and save yourself.” Boyington was an atheist. He never confessed. He never admitted
that he did it. But 12 years later, his landlord confessed. And on his deathbed, six… – The landlord confessed that
he killed Boyington’s friend. – Yes. 60 years later, Parma Hamilton’s ancestor. Let me get this straight. Now, 60 years later, the female Florence
White confessed. And then John Tyson, a John
Tyson and Jaime Viola, judge, had this other man Richardson
come before him as an attorney and said that they should quit viewing circumstantial
evidence the way they did so loosely because
of what happened, you know, because this
other guy confessed and it was a deathbed confession to understand and they
take those very seriously. So some of my research is
now working hard now maybe to get Boyington
a posthumous part and then we got 55 signatures
at our launch party and we’ve got other
people involved. And then we also want to
get a market for that tree. You can send people to the tree, but there’s no market so they don’t even
know which tree it is. There hasn’t been a
market there since 1971. I don’t know what
happened to it. Before that friends of the
person who was murdered, Nathaniel Frost, they
put a market there so they could say that
Boyington killed Frost to keep Frost remembered. – So you had the
deathbed confession, and then a lady comes
along later and confesses. So which one? I mean, what’s the feeling
of who actually did it or were they working
together or what? – I had some what-if’s in
the back of the book saying, could they be working
together, you know, could they be that she
was in love with him and they were going
to run off together and they want the money. There was a watch
involved that they said that they thought Boyington
had when they apprehended him on a boat but nothing’s
ever been proven and though some
people have claimed that the prostitute that
confessed had the watch or the guy that confessed
earlier had the watch, the landlord, but there’s no watch that I
could prove was found anywhere. – Do you think that Boyington
became a major target or a scapegoat or
however you want it because he was an atheist?
– I think he became a scape goat. Maybe being an atheist
didn’t help it. But also, I just think
the people in Mobile got what they wanted. They wanted the crime solved. He was 19 years old. That kept haunting me. And the fact that
he kept saying, “Sooner or later,
I’ll be exonerated. “Sooner or later,
I’ll be vindicated.” Well, it’s a little
late, like 185 years. And one time, this is just
a little suspicious thing. But my friend that
actually got me started on this book in the first place. Her name is Maureen Maclay and she wrote the foreword. And we were sitting at my bar
and she was writing foreword, we were going over, and I heard a knock
at my back door, which was maybe 10 feet away, just a tapping,
she heard it too. I went there and
nothing happened. And I went to the front
door, and nothing happened. We don’t know what that was. But there’s been some other
incidents with the computers with Shannon Brown who did
the editing of this book and did a lot of research. I had about four researchers, that the computer wouldn’t work. Now I know that
can be human error. But some of the things
were kind of eerie when we were really trying
to get something done, something would stop us. – Wow. Interesting, fascinating story. I mean, it’s a story obviously that’s captured people’s
attention since the 1800s. I mean this hasn’t happened.
– It’s never been out. Well, it’s not
been talked about. If anybody goes down
there and sees the tree, and they say they hear whispers, I didn’t hear any whispers, I didn’t get too
close to that tree. (both laugh) But I didn’t hear any
whispers or anything, but I could tell that
some people really believe that his spirit is still there. And this is kind of creepy, but an arborist who was on
a TV clip with me one day, he was telling about
how the roots went. Oh, I don’t know how many yards but a long way to the next
street over and that way too. And he said that
because the tree grew, some of Boyington’s body is
bound to be up in those roots. And that’s kind of creepy. – Yeah, I would say so. – So he’s kind of
immortal last in a way. – Yeah, interesting. Fascinating. What kind of books
do you like to write? I mean, I know you write a
lot of different types of, you know, you’ve
written science fiction and you’ve written
tourism type stuff, but what’s your favorite? What do you enjoy the most? – Well, I did really get a lot
out of this one I got into, it’s so deep because
it’s my hometown, I’m an ’80 Mobile. I really like history and I do like that. But I wrote one book called
“Chance for Redemption,” that is a fantasy book. And I think it was
the most fun to write. And it’s about a man who
commits suicide on Good Friday. He’s exploited
everybody to get rich, and he goes to heaven. And Peter said,
“You can’t come in.” So he tries to
write him a check. And he said, “You
still can’t come in. “You have to go back
and live your life over “and you got from Good Friday
to Easter Sunday to do it. “And you got to right all the
wrongs with these people.” It’s all like “Five
People You Meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom. And you got to do this. And he still messes up, but he has an angel
to the name Ezekiel that comes and helps him, but he messes up good. – Interesting, interesting. Do you write every day? – Not every day. I have to take
care of my glasses. But I write, most of the time I’m
doing something with
writing every day. I’m disciplined with it. When I wrote the Wallace book, I would go in that every day and write like eight
to 12 or something and then go back and revise it and go ahead and get dressed
just like I was going to a job. And just sit there and write because I think you can
do it better that way. If you’re haphazard, you
lose your train of thought. I belong to a critique group that I really feel
helps me a lot. We have a variety
of people in there, lawyer, former magazine editor, person who’s connected with
hospitals and an engineer and each one of
them has some input. They have different
things to offer. – I’ve asked this question of a lot of writers
over the years. Do you enjoy the
writing part of it or do you enjoy the
research part or both? – I like it all. – You like it all?
– Yeah. The research it just
expands you so much. You find out things you
never thought you’d hear. People tell you anything. Yeah, I’ve been in
line at grocery stores where people tell
me strange stories, I thought, oh I gotta
write that down. They do. They’ll tell you things
that you wouldn’t think they’d reveal to the
best friend much less to a complete stranger. Or maybe that’s the secret. Maybe they don’t think
the stranger would tell. – That’s true. That’s true. I’ve got about one minute left, anything in the future
you’re working on or hope to work? – I’m working on, like I said, I started out really wanting
to write mystery story. So I’m working on a mystery
story about a detective and a reporter, female
reporter and a male detective. And the male has lost his wife and he became a policeman too. He was in other fields
and he became a policeman to find out about
his wife’s killer. And I’ve written, it’s
called “Fatal Entanglements,” and then I wrote the
sequel, entangled web. So I’ve had both of these
reviewed by my critique group. I wanted to write
about six of those. But I want to use, you
know, the same characters. But I really like mysteries because I like to
solve problems. – That’s awesome. Thank you so much
for joining us. – I appreciate you having me. It was a pleasure. – Absolutely, our pleasure. Mary Palmer, her
latest book is called “Boyington Oak: A
Grave Injustice,” legendary story that’s
been around Mobile, Alabama since the 1800s. And she also wrote a book
about George Wallace, the late and very controversial
governor of Alabama, “George Wallace: An Enigma:
The Complex Life of Alabama’s “Most Divisive and
Controversial Governor.” Mary Palmer has been our
guest on this edition of Conversations. Yes, ma’am. – It’s available on
Amazon and Barnes & Noble and if you want it from
me autographed copies, you can go to my website, and got lots of
independent places in The Haunted
Book Shop in Mobile and different booksellers. – Sounds great. Thank you so much, Mary,
all the best to you. By the way, you
can see many more of our conversations
online at wsre.org, as well as on YouTube. I’m Jeff Weeks. Thank you so very
much for watching. I hope you enjoyed
the broadcast. Take wonderful care of yourself
and we will see you soon. (soft melancholy music)

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