Don’t hang down your head, Dr. Dooley

“It began to appear on the charts in late September [1958], and before Christmas [the Kingston Trio’s recording of ‘Tom Dooley’] hit No. 1.

“The public erroneously connected ‘Tom Dooley’ with Thomas A. Dooley, the Navy doctor recently in the news for his missionary and medical roles in Vietnam and Laos following the French defeat in 1954 [rather than with Tom Dula, the Wilkes County man hanged in 1868 for murdering his pregnant girlfriend].

“Dr. Dooley had published his story ‘Deliver Us from Evil,’  in 1956, helping fan the flames of Catholic anticommunism. Thus accidentally the trio reaped the fruits of anticommunism while drawing inspiration and songs from the [leftist] Weavers and Gateway Singers.”

— From  “Rainbow Quest: The Folk Music Revival and American Society, 1940-1970” [2002]  by Ronald D. Cohen

3 thoughts on “Don’t hang down your head, Dr. Dooley”

  1. This is from a 2008 piece by Statesville-reared Chuck Shuford on the Daily Yonder

    The range of American performers recording “Tom Dooley” runs from Metropolitan Opera singer Norman Cordon (It sounds like what you’re thinking”¦) to the Grateful Dead. There was even a movie in 1959, The Legend of Tom Dooley, starring Michael Landon that featured the Trio hit, but the writers apparently hadn’t heard the story of Tom Dula; the movie focuses on three Confederate soldiers who rob a Union stagecoach and kill two solders not knowing that the Civil War is over.

    Tom Dooley’s popularity was international. Steve Hill, a collector in Statesville, NC, has purchased Dooley record and movie memorabilia from Mexico, Belgium, France, Malaysia, Japan, Israel, Tunisia, Brazil, Singapore, South Africa, and Germany. The Germans, in particular, seem to have an obsession with poor Mr. Dula. Among Hill’s collections is a German movie called Tom Dooley: Hero of the Green Hell — the green hell being the jungles of Brazil. Hill says the film is reminiscent of an old Tarzan movie, except everyone speaks German and every ten minutes they play the Tom Dooley song. Go figure.

  2. I think some serious research has been done on the original Tom Dooley/Dula. As I recall, he drowned his pregnant girlfriend Naomi Wise at a rapid on the Deep River. The spot has ever since been known as Naomi Falls, near Asheboro in Randolph County. Anyone have a good link to post here regarding the true tale of Naomi Wise and Tom Dooley?

  3. Mark:

    I think you have mixed two North Carolina “murder stories.” Tom Dula murdered Laura Foster. (Or he took the blame for murdering Laura Foster, depending upon your understanding of the story.)

    The hanging of Tom Dula in Statesville attracted quite a crowd (including my own great great grandfather Abner Barker).

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