DescriptionJim Younger's "Fiddle" Played by Him at the Famous 1898 Christmas Party at Stillwater Prison. Of all the significant relics in the Wilbur Zink collection, this violin is perhaps the most evocative. Cora McNeil, who served as the Younger brothers' unofficial secretary while they were incarcerated, was present at the December 25, 1898, party for the inmates held at the home of Warden Wolfer. The tree was decorated with ornaments made by the inmates, and Cole Younger himself was dressed as Santa.
Cora was accompanied to the party by her nine year old daughter Edwynne. It is widely believed that Cora was at one time Jim Younger's mistress, and quite possibly Jim was Edwynne's father. In any case, "Uncle Jim," as she called him, obviously held her in special regard. His violin was under the tree as a present for little Edwynne.
In 1968 Edwynne Neill Deane, still alive, penned a handwritten account of the event, and that account, along with a typed and notarized version, accompanies this lot. Edwynne had obviously developed a relationship with Wilbur Zink, to whom she entrusted her prized violin. Also included with this lot is a typed parable she wrote which is dedicated to Wilbur's young children, "Lovingly dedicated to Susan Jane and David Allen Zink, Aunt Deedee. February 1968."
There is more to the story than what is covered by the affidavit, as recounted by David Zink, now a Baptist minister in Missouri. The oral tradition as passed on to Wilbur Zink by Edwynne is that Jim Younger had the violin with him during the time he was in prison. It was one of the few possessions that he was allowed to have and he played it often. As time passed, Jim noticed that a little bird would appear most every day in the window of his jail cell. It seemed as though the bird came to listen as Jim played his favorites tunes on the violin. He was lonely and befriended the bird which he named "Swipsy." It would fly into the jail cell and Jim would always try to have crumbs to feed the bird. One day, a fellow prisoner killed the little bird just for spite. Jim then painted a picture of Swipsy on the back of his violin to remember his little friend.
This lot also includes a 1¼" celluloid button picturing young Edwynne. In the early days of celluloid buttons they were still considered a novelty, and it was common for families to commission buttons showing loved ones, as opposed to the familiar versions picturing political candidates. The button is cracked and stained, but by oral tradition it belonged to Jim Younger himself.
The ¾ size violin is in its original case and basically in good display condition. The original bow, although unraveling, is present. The bridge has been replaced and the violin restrung to make it playable, and a CD of Wilber Zink playing it is included. Some of the original strings were saved and are also included.
Also with the lot is a series of photographs, three picturing Edwynne in the 1960s, with handwritten notations by her on versos. One of these is of a doll and the notation on the back reads "Calamity Jane Doll. Given to Mrs. Edwynne N. Dean by Mrs. Mary Jane Burke (nee Canary, better known as Calamity Jane). The doll was seventy in April 1971." Alas, the doll itself is not included.
Of all the items in his collection, Wilbur Zink loved the violin best, and it is easy to understand why.
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