HILLSVILLE, Va. — What happened at the Carroll County Courthouse in 1912 has been talked about for generations, much of which took place after the tragedy.
“After the shooting the community came in here with pocket knives,” said local attorney and author Tom Jackson. “[They] picked out all the bullets out of the walls and kept them as souvenirs.”
People have been collecting souvenirs and artifacts from the tragedy ever since.
“Mr. [Gooch] Harmon is the founder, he’s the man who put it all together,” said Steve Cockerham of Harmon’s clothing and boot store in Woodlawn where you’ll find just about anything associated with the tragedy. “We’ve got Floyd Allen’s saddle bag, Wesley Edwards’ hat, photographs and articles.”
Store founder Gooch Harmon passed away in 2010 but before he did he shared his knowledge with Cockerham, a longtime employee. Cockerham frequently welcomes people to the free museum located in the back of the store where you’ll find everything from Allens to a suit worn by juror Augustus Fowler when he was shot and killed.
“True artifacts,” he said. “true artifacts.”
The story of the Allens and shootout became popular among ballads of the time.
“The first recording of that was in 1924 by a guy named Henry Whitter,” said music historian Kinney Rorrer, who says numerous songs were recorded at that time in an effort to capitalize on the notorious shootout.
“Many of those old ballads had a formula,” he said. “Everything starts out bright and sunny, then the tragedy occurs and at the end there is a moral that you need to do right.”
Memorial poems were also sold after the execution of Claude Allen.
“It’s called a memorial, Claude Swanson Allen,” read Rorrer. “The closing line is his sweetheart must have been sad hearted when she saw him lying cold, she knelt down on her knees beside him and prayed that God would save his soul.”
Sidna Allen also saw an opportunity in his story writing his memoirs titled “J. Sidna Allen, a true narrative of what really happened at Hillsville.”
Rorrer has a special connection to the story. His grandmother grew up near the Allens and knew them well.
“She would have been, I think 9 or 10 years old at the time of the shootout,” said Rorror who grandmother was at the Allen’s home when the family got the call the Floyd and Claude had been executed. “She said the whole thing in Hillsville was all about politics, the Allens were all hard shell democrats and the courthouse ring was all Republicans,” he said. “It was an election year, 1912 and of course tempers were already flaring and I can understand how people could get into fights over politics, then and now.
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