There is a tree in Mobile called the Boyington Oak that legend says marks the grave of an innocent man hung for the murder of his roommate. As he stood upon the gallows in 1834, the man maintained his innocence and said an oak tree would sprout from his grave as proof.
The tree still stands. The tale still lingers more than 180 years later. And years after the execution, another man confessed.
The story has been passed down through generations, finding its way into Fairhope songwriter Mike Turner’s imagination where he molded the tale into a folk song.
This weekend Turner may well perform the tune as part of his turn on stage at the famed Monroeville Literary Festival.
Turner is just one of 10 authors, poets and songwriters to appear on the “15 Minutes of Fame Stage” during the 2020 festivities.
“It’s a great honor. I was bowled over,” Turner said.
The Monroeville festival, previously known as the Alabama Writers Symposium, is in its 22nd year of bringing together the premier writers in the Southeast for a weekend of readings, workshops and presentations. This is the first year of the Festival’s “15 Minutes of Fame Stage,” showcasing emerging Alabama writers.
While Turner is growing a solid audience on the Gulf Coast where he writes blues and folk pieces about local lore such as the Boyington Oak, Turner says his musical career began like most men his age. He picked up the guitar as a teenager, dreamed of rock n’ roll fame and put it away again to move on to more responsible endeavors.
For Turner that meant 27 years as a Federal law enforcement executive investigating white collar crime and government misconduct.
Upon retirement, he took a beginner’s ukulele class and wrote his first song. Now, Turner plays four-string tenor guitar, tenor banjo and the dulcimer. He has written dozens of songs that focus mainly on local history.
“Those stories resonate with me,” he said. “One of the great things about living on Mobile Bay is all those stories that are here.
“It starts with story or an idea that is compelling and it becomes a story you want to tell to other people,” he said. “To find the essence of the story and tell it in three minutes and tell the emotion in it and communicate all the mood and mystery of this to an audience, I find that a wonderful challenge.”
Turner also writes blues and country songs that deal with love and loss and more typical lyrical fodder, but says he most enjoys retelling local folk tales through song. He has written about the 2015 Dauphin Island Race tragedy, the BP oil spill and the Sunset Limited train wreck in the Tensaw Delta.