While Murder Trial Goes on Witnesses While Away Time With Old Camp Meeting Songs

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

Atlanta Constitution
August 7th, 1913

By Britt Craig.

There is one woman with no connection whatever with the Frank case who sits undisturbed in an obscure corner of the courtroom. Throughout Jim Conley’s testimony, she remained in her seat while court deputies removed women from all parts of the place and sent them outside at order of the judge.

She is Mrs. Hattie Barnett, a detective, and a woman who has seen more of the world and knows more of its multivaried phases than many of Atlanta’s most successful business men. She has seen and heard enough not to be touched by the negro’s sordid story. She has rubbed shoulders with all manner of mankind long enough not to be affected by anything which might develop in the trial.

Mrs. Barnett is attending the Frank case to study human nature and to study court procedure in a state’s biggest trial. To her, it will be a liberal education. She will learn many things that will be of inestimable value in her work.

Spectators have watched her as she sits alone in the obscure corner and listens intently to all of the trial. They have wondered at who she is and why she is able to remain there unmolested in a courtroom where all women have been barred. If the truth were known there is room for but little wonderment.

She is there for an education in a line of work she follows daily. A peculiar education it might be but a valuable education it is.

Mrs. Barnett is a middle aged woman who has been an investigator for the larger part of her life. She has been connected in many of the state’s biggest criminal cases and at first, did a deal of work on the Phagan investigation. Since the movement has been started in police headquarters to employ female detectives, it has been suggested that she be put at the head of the squad of women.

Witnesses Sing Time Away.

Sitting quietly for hours and hours in a large room is enough to try the patience of a modern Job. Thirty or more witnesses for both the state and defense in the Frank trial are cooped up in the second floor of the [1 word illegible] court building whiling away the long and tedious days by gossiping and talking and reading and dodging the newspaper cameras.

Wednesday, shortly before noon, sounds of songs filtered down the stairway. It reminded many of the song service of an old fashioned campmeeting and, to the court attaches out front, who had been bred on rural soil, brought back memories of Indian summer and campmeeting time in the mountains and lowlands of their boyhood homesteads.

Somebody with a curiosity as well as an ear for harmony, investigated and found a dozen or more witnesses, men and women and children gathered in the center of the witness room singing the songs of the old country church and singing them with a zest that rocked the building with music.

There is a fountain filled with blood,

Drawn from Emanuel’s veins,

And sinners plunged beneath that flood

Lose all their guilty stains

A little girl in white with a big bow of pink ribbon fastened about the single strand of hair that fell down her back arose at request and sang a solo. Others followed. Men with deep bass voices sang as fervently as though they were singing at the church of their childhood.

Many verses were sung in solo—verses of quaint old time songs that are fragrant with the past. The gathering would join in the chorus and there would be a leader who would sing and mark time with a broken chair rung as he stood beside a table.

Most of these were the plain simple folk who had worked at the pencil factory—folk with the average home of the factory worker but folk with happy pasts of boy and girlhood in which the country church and quaint song had been fragrant actors.

This was the way they passed the time Wednesday and so pleasantly did it pass that they no doubt will pass it in the same manner today and henceforth. That is until they are called downstairs where their recitals are to play respective parts in the grim drama of tragedy that is being enacted therein.

It is easy to forget the ghastliness of the affair with which they are connected when these simple folk can sing the songs of youth and it is a happy way to while along the fretful hours of their stay in the courtroom.

Therefore there was not a complaint when Wednesday the volume of song poured from the witness room on the second floor.

Instead there was rejoicing.

Trial Marked by Intenseness.

There has never been more intenseness in a courtroom in the history of Georgia—or probably any other state—than has been noted in the Frank trial.

The audience sits with bated breath and eager ear and eye as tragic tales are unfolded from the witness stand. There are grim flashes of humor, pathos and sordidness that spring frequently from the trial’s procedure, and, never yet has one of these incidents failed to elicit its share of emotion’s expression from the hushed gathering.

Wednesday, when Solicitor Dorsey argued fiercely with the state over a disputed portion of Harry Scott’s testimony, revealed the statement in question, and heard from Attorney Rosser’s lips an admission of a mistake, there was spontaneous applause that came from all parts of the room.

The deputies rapped for order, and Judge Roan gazed over the throng with astonishment. Several court attaches spotted men who had applauded and they were forthwith ejected from the room.

There was pained surprise in the faces of the attorneys for both the state and defense. They wondered, as all others wondered, why should there be applause when the procedure there in effect would surely, lead one of two men to the scaffold.

And Tuesday, when Jim Conley strove to explain the heighth and width of the crocus bagging in which he had removed the body of Mary Phagan and upon being asked by the attorney if he knew what were two feet answered with a point to his shoes.

“Them’s two feet,” there was a ripple of laughter that could not be restrained. Even the deputies and lawyers could not check smiles.

Friday, when Dr. Roy Harris held to view of the courtroom two tiny vials of cabbage that had been removed from the slain child’s stomach, there was a faint exclamation of horror. Women turned their faces from the spectacle and two girls left the courtroom shielding their gaze with newspapers.

This is one thing that the court cannot control—the expression of emotion. Sentiment, is at a high pitch, and nerves are strung to their keenest point. And there was no cause for amazement Wednesday morning when Jim Conley lay himself prone upon the floor in a distorted position to explain to the jury the exact position in which he had deposited Mary Phagan’s corpse in the basement blackness, someone in the audience uttered audibly:

“My God, that’s awful!”

Also, there was still less cause when another audible voice agreed,

“It is—it certainly is!”

* * *

Atlanta Constitution, August 7th 1913, “While Murder Trial Goes On Witnesses While Away Time With Old Camp Meeting Songs,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)