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Audiences 'hang' on every word of Patti Clark's “Yours Truly, Tom Dooley”

Lacy Hilliard,
Tomahawk Writer/Photographer

Johnson County Community Theatre (JCCT) can boast a fantastic opening weekend for “Yours Truly, Tom Dooley.” Heritage Hall was packed with audiences in eager anticipation of this locally written tale and they certainly didn’t leave disappointed.
Written by Patti Clark, adapted for stage by Lisa Zeggert, and edited by Katie Walsh; “Yours Truly, Tom Dooley” is a take on an infamous story with a local tie. The legend of Tom Dooley is etched as deeply in Appalachian folklore as Daniel Boone and because the crime occurred in 1866, many of the details surrounding it have long been lost to tall tales and individual interpretations of the evidence. Tom Dooley refers to the story of Tom Dula, a farm hand and Confederate soldier that found himself at the center of a murder scandal so rich that even the New York Times made their way to his tiny Appalachian town to report on the happenings. Though Tom Dula lived in Wilkes County, the story has a distinct and factual tie to Johnson County. When Dula was named as a suspect in the murder of his girlfriend Laura Foster, he fled to Trade, Tennessee and adopted the name Tom Hall. In Trade, Dula worked for Colonel James Grayson who later helped bring Dula to justice when he discovered his true identity.

At the opening night performance of “Yours Truly, Tom Dooley,” it was announced that the next mural in the Musical Heritage Mural Project” will depict the infamous tale of Tom Dula. A letter from the projects creator, Cristy Dunn, was read at the performance and stated: “The Tom Dooley mural will feature Banman Grayson and our dear friend, Frank Grayson. The fiddlers will stand aside with their instruments as Colonel Grayson and his men, on horseback, approach Tom Dooley. True to legend, Tom will sit on the banks of Doe Creek with his boots off soaking his blistered feet. The 8 by 40 foot panoramic mural will be installed on the Muse Hardware building facing west on Church Street.” The unveiling of the Tom Dooley mural was originally set to coincide with the opening of “Yours Truly, Tom Dooley,” however, due to tragic loss of Dunn’s husband Shane, the timeline has been moved forward. Dunn stated in the letter that she has gained “momentum as the weeks pass” and its clear that the community is excited for the unveiling of what’s certain to be another fantastic contribution to downtown Mountain City just as Dunn’s first mural, depicting Clarence Tom Ashley was.

Even 148 years later, anyone that knows the tale has an opinion as to whether or not Dula was guilty. Some romanticize the tale and refer to it dreamily as a love story with a tragic ending while others consider the tale little more than a seedy account of a murderous love triangle. Regardless of ones opinion of the story, one constant remains – people remain fascinated by the story of Tom Dula, Laura Foster and Ann Melton.

The role of Tom Dooley was acted by seasoned JCCT veteran Derek Visser. True to expectation, Visser gave a fantastic, heartfelt performance that most certainly tugged at the heartstrings of even the biggest Dooley doubters.

To read the entire article, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.