Celebrity attachment to an American outlaw is good for business. Since his assassination, countless newspapers and businesses have capitalized on the icon of Jesse Woodson James. Like most advertising and promotion, though, what passes as fact is more often than not lies, distortions, or simply fraud.
Today’s event of lies and fraudulent branding comes from Kelly Kazek, in an article Kazek wrote on al.com, a website for three Alabama newspapers.
Writing about “Haunting Tales from Ghost Town Tours,” Kazek featured the St. James Hotel in Selma, Alabama. The journalist wrote, “In 1881, Frank and Jesse James and members of their gang took a vacation from robbing and killing and vacationed at The Brantly, according to the hotel website.” The Brantly today is Selma’s historic St. James Hotel.
A review of the website for the St. James Hotel confirms what the hotel claims. “Following the war, Benjamin Sterling Turner operated the hotel; the first African-American ever elected to the United States Congress and is reputed to have hosted the legendary outlaw brothers Frank and Jesse James in 1881.”
If true, this would be welcome new history to the Jesse James genre, on many levels. What exactly was the relationship of Turner to the notorious outlaws? To what purpose were Frank and Jesse associating with an elected member of the United States Congress? We know nothing about Benjamin Sterling Turner that links him to Frank and Jesse James. But we do know where Frank and Jesse were in 1881. The story offered by Kazek and the St. James Hotel don’t add up.
Wishing to confront the St. James Hotel with the known and recognized factual record, we emailed Kelly Kazek, asking how long her story would stay on the internet. Her tart email response was, “As long as there is an internet.” Really?
Kazek also asked what claims we believed were false. She didn’t wait for our response, however, before our email response was blocked as spam. Fine enough, Kazek can be notified of our reply below or via Facebook.
Kazek had added to her story of the St. James that the ghost of Jesse James stalks the old hotel in “cowboy clothes” with a girlfriend named Lucinda and Jesse’s dog which “accompanied the James gang.”
We stated in reply to Kazek’s question, “There was no James Gang after 1876 when the Younger brothers were captured, convicted, and imprisoned. Jesse James lived in Nebraska and St. Joe, Missouri in the period the hotel claims. Jesse James never was a cowboy. He was first a partisan combatant of the Civil War, and after, though arguably, a criminal. No evidence has ever been produced linking Jesse James to any woman other than his wife. He was a devoted husband and father.”
Straying from historical fact is expected among journalists with no claim to history. But Kelley Kazek is the author of The Hidden History of Auburn (AL.) and several other history books. You expect factual reporting from such an author. Then again, Kelly Kazek disappeared on us as quickly as her ghost of Jesse James.