Her theories about the cousins are both psychological -- Mickey has an inferiority complex; Swaggart was disgraced because he never had a girlfriend as a teen-ager and was not allowed to drink Coca-Cola -- and biological. Why is the family successful? "I think it's from all the cousins marrying," Frankie says. "There are cousins marrying that no one talks about in our family. They kept the genes all pure. With pure genes you get some special traits.
"You also get a lot of sadness."
Neither Ferriday nor its favorite sons are what they used to be. The Arcade Theater, where Jimmy first heard God, is gone. A few years back, the town's submachine gun-toting mayor, named Sammy Davis Jr., was indicted. "You don't even have much music anymore," says Gene Tumminello, who volunteers at the Ferriday Museum. "No one is teaching it, not even at the high school."
In Baton Rouge, Swaggart still sings and plays the piano on Sundays, but before a small congregation in a mostly empty complex. Jimmy Swaggart Ministries never recovered from the exposure of his sin in 1988.
Jerry Lee Lewis still performs, but his career never fully recovered from the revelation of his marriage to his cousin 40 years ago. Financial troubles dog him, says his sister, and the Killer has expressed his disgust with the demon influence of popular music.
Mickey Gilley lost millions in a dispute with the partner in his Pasadena, Texas, roadhouse, celebrated in the movie "Urban Cowboy." On July 4, 1990, it burned down; the cause has never been determined.
Gilley, though, seems the most comfortable with the town. He has good relationships with both museums, and fliers for his Branson theater are readily available in Ferriday. This spring, the town renamed a street for him.
"But I don't think it's easy for any of them, and they can't depend on each other," says Frankie.
Meanwhile, the museums are growing slowly. The Ferriday Museum is starting to get bus tours, and Frankie says she may open branches of the Lewis House next year in Nashville and London, spreading the story of her family's pain.
"That's all I do: sell booze and talk about this family and this town all the time," she says, sighing. "It's fun, and heartbreaking, to relive the music. I hope that for somebody, it's worth it."
Pub Date: 12/04/98