03/01/05 — Courthouse tales keep audience rapt

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Courthouse tales keep audience rapt

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on March 1, 2005 1:47 PM

Almost 150 people listened Monday in the old superior courtroom at the Wayne County Courthouse as local lawyers told tall tales from the county's legal past.

Geoff Hulse, Charlie Gaylor Jr., Tom Brown and Assistant District Attorney Claud Ferguson wove a series of stories by mixing facts with local legends.

The session was part of the Wayne County Reads campaign.

This year's selection, "Big Fish," is a book by North Carolina writer Daniel Wallace, in which a son gets to know his dying father through his father's tall tales.

Hulse said he wanted to make it clear at the start that the lawyer's stories were spelled "tales" and not "tails."

He used a quote from the book to begin the evening's presentations.

"In the beginning of the book the father says to his son that 'remembering a man's stories makes him immortal,'" Hulse said. "And what makes a lawyer immortal are some of the great stories told around the courthouse."

Hulse's father, the late Herbert Hulse, was a well-known Goldsboro lawyer. The younger Hulse said he remembered spending a lot time around the courthouse as a child.

"This was an exhibit in a trial in the early 1960s," he said, pulling out a toy pistol with a long rod attached to it.

The trial, Hulse explained, was that of Johnny R. Fowler, who was charged with killing a local police chief.

"My father told me he was in need of my gun, but told me he'd give it back," Hulse said. "He put masking tape around it and attached the rod. That's how you showed the trajectory of the bullet."

Hulse said that at the time he thought to himself that being a lawyer would be a great job because "you can take your toy gun to work."

It was only recently that Hulse got his toy gun back. The exhibit was still in the courthouse, though it wasn't in a property room any longer.

"This was found in a back room," Hulse said. "They used it to turn the air on."

Hulse also remembered a defendant by the name "King Solomon," who had a number of unsavory charges against him.

Solomon's lawyer told the judge that his client was a changed man, and was now attending church regularly.

So the judge challenged him, asking if the defendant knew who the Biblical King Solomon had married.

"The judge said, 'If you can tell me that, I'll find you not guilty," Hulse said.

There was a short conference between defendant and defense attorney before the lawyer admitted that, "My client did miss last Wednesday's prayer meeting."

Gaylor, whose father was a Wayne County judge, spoke about the history of the courthouse, and explained the styles of architecture used in its construction and in the additions made since it was first built.

He also told a story of a time when his father found a woman guilty of shoplifting.

Gaylor said the woman was very angry with his father, and soon the Gaylor family was getting phone calls every night. The caller wouldn't say anything when the family answered the phone.

Judge Gaylor finally picked up the phone and called the woman by name, saying "Don't call this house again, or I'll have you arrested."

The next day the woman stopped by the judge's office to tell him that "It wasn't her that had been calling him."

Brown shared the histories of the judges and lawyers whose portraits hang in the big courtroom.

He also had a little fun at Hulse's expense.

"I knew where I stood in this program when I came in and the armed guard downstairs asked me if I was looking for the Geoff Hulse Show," Brown said.

Burkes told the tallest tale of the evening by explaining how a bullet hole got in a stained glass window behind the judge's chair.

The story took place in 1920, when a "great shadow, like the plague, was upon the land. And it was known as Prohibition."

"A people who live in a parched, dry land are not a happy people," Burkes said.

But, he added, the people of Wayne County figured that the government would eventually come to its senses, and in the meantime they drove out to Adamsville to buy their liquid refreshment from a bootlegger and gas station owner.

"They drove to Mr. Jones's place because he was a little out of town," Burkes said. "They couldn't do it in the city limits because they might run into someone from their Sunday School class."

One day, five strangers bought gas from Jones and noticed a big wad of money he was carrying. A fight broke out, and Jones was killed.

Burkes said the community got up in arms, literally, when they learned that their only bootlegger had been killed.

The bullet hole was the result, Burkes said, of a melee that erupted when the accused went on trial for the bootlegger's murder.

The Wayne County Public Library is stocking "Big Fish" at its main library in Goldsboro and its branches. But people don't need to have read the book to attend the Wayne County Reads events, all of which are free and open to the public.

The movie "Big Fish" will be shown at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday in the student activity center at Wayne Community College. It is located in the college's main building. The movie is free, but the college's drama club will be selling popcorn and soft drinks with proceeds going to benefit the theatrical group Stagestruck.

On Monday, March 7, Dr. Geoff Weiss of Mount Olive College will lead a discussion of the 2003 movie at the Wayne County Library on Ash Street. Weiss will show move clips, discuss director Tim Burton's style, and talk about how the movie differs from the book. The talk begins at 7 p.m. in the Weil auditorium.

The Wayne County Reads campaign will conclude with a storytelling festival on Saturday, March 12, at Wayne Community College. Four-time Grammy Award winner David Holt will lead a diverse group of storytellers, who will begin performing at 10 a.m.

Following lunch, people can choose to attend workshops where they will learn storytelling techniques. Some will be chosen for public performances of their stories at 3 p.m.

People will be able to buy lunch catered by Wilber's Barbecue for $5 apiece; otherwise, the festival is free.

People wanting more information on Wayne County Reads are urged to call 735-1824.