Frank’s Mother Pitiful Figure of the Trial

Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.

Atlanta Georgian
July 30th, 1913

Defendant Perfect in Poise, His Wife Picture of Contemptuous Confidence.


Arm akimbo; glasses firmly set, changing position seldom, Leo M. Frank sits through his trial with his thoughts in Kamchatka, Terra del Fuego, or the Antipodes, so far as the spectators in the courtroom can judge.

He may realize that if the twelve men he faces decide that he is guilty of the murder of Mary Phagan, the decree of earthly court will be that his sole hope of the future will be an appeal to the Court on High. His mind may constantly carry the impression of the likelihood of the solemn reading of the death warrant, the awful march to the death chamber, the sight of the all terrifying gibbet, the dreadful ascension of its steel stairs, the few words of religious consolation—and then the drop.

Frank’s Face a Mask.

But if he does realize these things, his face is as completely masked against emotion as that of a skilled poker player.

To all appearances, he is the defendant in a civil suit on a contract of $100, and he has the money in his pocket to pay the judgment if the court should rule against him.

An outsider entering the courtroom, uninformed, would look in vain for the man whose chief interest is in the trial.

There is a world of earnestness written on the faces of the array of counsel. The jurors sit with fixed faces. Their nervous fanning tells their emotion. The court is all interest and the spectators lean forward, ears strained to catch every word, eyes keen to observe every move.

But Leo Frank sits there placid as a pool, calm as a champion about to go forth to assured victory. If anything, his appearance indicates that the trial is not a trial to him. It is simply a detail of a misfortune that is through circumstance.

Frank’s months in prison have not affected him physically. His eyes are extremely luminous. His olive skirt is exceedingly clear. He holds his spare frame erectly.

He speaks seldom. Occasionally he turns to pass a word with his wife. Every now and then he has a brief conference with his counsel. More often he gazes straight ahead—at nothing.

He sits next to the massive Luther Rosser. When Rosser is on his feet he is next to studious-appearing Reub[en] Arnold. When he speaks to them, his voice is impassionate and his sentences are carefully framed.

Frank’s Wife Confident.

Behind him is his wife. Mrs. Frank is a remarkably handsome woman. She shares the stoicism of her husband in the trial. Though she has not missed one minute of the hearing, she has never shown that she realizes that the outcome of the case may change her to a widow.

Twice after the court has taken recesees, and Frank has been turned over to his deputy sheriff guardian, she has embraced and kissed him.

But afterward she has walked from the courtroom, head thrown back, shoulders erect, apparently unconcerned. On the street she would be taken for a woman out for an afternoon of shopping rather than the woman who bears the name of the man charged with the blackest crime known to Atlanta criminology.

Then to the left of her sits the pathetic figure of the trial. To those who believe Frank guilty, his personality is not one to arouse pity. His self-assurance is too apparent. His wife hardly stirs sympathy. She, too, is apparently confident of victory.

But there’s the mother. Hour after hour she sits and listens to men trying to send her firstborn to the gallows. Hour after hour she is thrilled by the skillful struggle that his counsel makes to have the family name cleared of the stain brought by the charge that now rests against it.

Mrs. Frank is a motherly-looking woman. Her form is simple, and in her younger days was evidently a woman of striking appearance. She is typical of the mother of her race—the revered head of the Hebrew family.

In this trial, though her eyes are practically always fixed on her son. Their yearning light spreads through the big courtroom.

Their every flash rends the message that she wants him back on her breast a free man.

No single feature of the trial escapes her. When the prosecution scores, another line is added to the face that has been wrinkled by the three months of waiting and horror. When the defense seems to have an advantage, there is a joy expressed as great as the power of Niagara.

When the attorneys ask a question, her eyes are fixed on the questioner. When the witness answers her gaze is on him. When the court rules, every movement of his lips is marked by her.

But there is always an eye for her son. During the trial he wished a drink of water. The pitcher was on the desk of his counsel, far from his seat and near hers.

When he looked for it, she divined his wish. She was on her feet in a second. The glass was in her hand. The water was poured out. In her trembling grasp it was passed to him.

As he took it his stoicism broke. He smiled his acknowledgement of the little act of kindness, and there was a wealth of love in his smile, and she smiled back reassurance. Superlatives couldn’t tell the meaning of that smile.

* * *

Mary Phagan is dead. She died horribly, the victim of as cruel a beast as ever polluted the soil of the Southland.

But Mary Phagan is dead; she sleeps peacefully beneath a flowered sod.

The mother of Leo Frank is alive and be her son innocent or guilty, the mother is the pitiful figure in this black and baffling mystery.