Executions

Reporter-Journal, April 12, 1900

OLD-TIME EXECUTIONS

GREAT CURIOSITY MANIFESTED AT THREE TOWANDA HANGINGS

Last One Attracted Greatest Attention and a Long Procession Viewed the Remains

Perhaps no other events give occasion for the display of so great a degree of morbid curiosity as do hangings. Bradford county had ah three of these gruesome ceremonies during her history and in the interest manifested by her citizens she is no exception to the general run of communities.

The first execution was that of James Dolan which occurred in 1844. The files of the Reporter for that year are missing from this office, but from an old resident we learn that the crowd was so great that the cavalry was ordered out to keep the populace in bounds. The Journal of July 3, 1875, says Dolan and his wife were found guilty of the murder of Rufus G. Grier, who was discovered dead in the house of the accused at Milan. Dolan was executed, but his wife was respited and afterward pardoned by the governor on the ground that she acted under compulsion of her husband. Dr. John N. Weston was sheriff and performed the execution. Elhanan Smith was deputy sheriff and made the arrest. The scaffold and rope were made by William Marshall. Sheriff Weston sent for rope to hang Dolan, but it was found so small that he feared it would not answer the purpose and its strength was tested, and sure enough it broke under the first trial. What to do the sheriff hardly knew as there was scarcely time to send and procure another. In the emergency Mr. Marshall said he could make one, having often seen his father manufacture them. So he went to work and at the appointed day of execution the rope was ready and did duty satisfactorily. It was made of shoe thread.

The second execution, says the Journal of the above date, was that of James P. Langford on Dec. 1, 1848, who was convicted of the murder of his wife at the family home in Rome. The trial took place at the Methodist Church—the jail having been burned. William S. Dobbins was sheriff and performed the execution—the term of Colonel J.F. Means, who was sheriff at the time the crime was committed, having just expired. The same rope was used that hung Dolan. There was a large crowd in town on the day of execution and considerable excitement prevailed.

The last execution was that of Albert Brown (colored) for the murder of five-year-old Cora Greenleaf. The child’s parents, Mr. and Ms. M.P. Greenleaf, resided in Canton township. Brown was employed as a farm laborer by James Williams, a neighbor. On the night of Aug. 28, 1874, the Greenleafs and the Williamses were at Minnequa and intended to have a girl who worked for the Williams family stay at Mr. Greenleaf’s until morning. The little girl started to meet the women who was to remain with her, but they missed each other on the way and when Cora got to the Williams’ house no one was there except Brown. He decoyed the child to an upper room, assaulted and murdered her. Immediately after the crime Brow attempted to commit suicide by throwing himself in front of a passing train on the Northern Central railroad. He was badly injured by the train which stopped, picked him up and carried him to Canton. At a hearing before Justice Stockwell the next day he was committed to Towanda jail to answer the charge of murder. Drown was duly tried, found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, the verdict being carried out on July 1, 1875. The Journal of Saturday, July 3, 1877, has this to say of the day’s events:

“At an early hour in the forenoon people began to gather in the vicinity of the jail. Taking up positions on lumber piles, fences, etc., they indicated a disposition to see all that was going on. By 9 o’clock the sidewalks and steps in front were covered, and though it was impossible to see anything inside the yard or building, the crowd waited patiently as the moments went by. A notable feature of this mass of people who hung about the vicinity was the large number of small boys. There were also many women with little children in their arms hanging about intently watching every demonstration on the part of the officers of the law.

“Many of the anxious to get a glimpse ever so slight of the scaffold and its surroundings mounted to the top of Tracy & Moore’s five-story block opposite from which the upper portion of the woodwork was barely perceptible. At the very second that the weight fell some on in the jail yard by a preconcerted signal announced the fact to some one standing on the roof of the Tracy block who at once cried out to those below, ‘he is hung!’ we noticed one enthusiastic young man who continued to wave his hat from the top of the building for several seconds. The drop of the weight was so distinctly heard by the crowd outside and several gave vent to satisfaction at the result by exclamations, swinging hats, etc.

“Two or three persons looking through the second window in the basement caught sight of the hanging body an immediately and immense crowd struggled to get a view. The door from the basement to the yard had been left open and the outside window being in direct range with the gallows, numbers of those outside were witnesses to the struggles of the dying man. The announcement of a deputy that all who wished might view the body was the signal for such a crush as is seldom witnessed. Hundreds of people crowded against the railings, and as the coffin containing the remains was placed in position, all struggled forward to get a glimpse of the body. Many formed a line, passed and view the body, only to go back and come up in line again and again. Coarse jests and drunken gibes were a distinguishable feature of this part o the performance.”

The Bradford Reporter in its issue of the same week says:

“Notwithstanding the fact that the execution was to take place within the prison walls, to ve seen only by a limited number of persons, and that not a glimpse could be had from outside of the gallows nor of the proceedings within the enclosure, yet the unusual occurrence brought to town hundreds of people impelled by a morbid curiosity or attracted by the vain hope of seeing something connected with the execution. The crowd which was unusually orderly, consisting of boy males and females, gathered about the to the number of hundreds, and as the time for the final consummation of the sentence approached, watched with anxiety to catch, if possible, the sound which proclaimed that the dread sentence of the law had been fulfilled, and that a fellow-being had been launched in an instant from time to eternity.”

The unique illustration of the gallows upon which Brown was hung is here shown. It appeared in the Journal’s description of the execution and, so far as we have any means of knowing, is the first illustration of a news “story” printed in any Bradford county paper. The cut was made by William H. Morgan, Esq., and the Journal tritely observes: “Although done on short notice and with a jack-knife, he has succeeded in producing a good likeness.” Of this instrument of death that paper says:

“It was built by a Mr. Frink of Montrose, who made the gallows on which Irving and O’Mara were executed (at Montrose). It consist s of an oak beam 27 feet long extending from the southern wall of the jail yard. Beneath and with one end attached to this beam is a hickory plank, the other end supported by a standard 13 feet 9 inches long extending to the ground. These timbers are held together by three bolts placed at intervals—the one near the end acting as a pivot. This construction, it will be seen, makes it act on the principle of a springboard. At the extreme end of this projecting beam is a pulley, and directly underneath this is built the drop or deadfall, on which rests a 440-pound weight. A rope attached to this weight passes up over the pulley above, is carried forward, passed over the pulley at the end of the beam and down nearly to the ground. At the end of the rope is tied the hangman’s knot, and when all is ready the noose is adjusted, the latch of the deadfall pulled, the weight drops and the ill-fated victim is jerked into the air. Mr. Frink was also the builder of the jail and was assisted in his work on the scaffold by John McIntyre.”


Reporter Journal, July 27, 1905

INSTRUMENT OF DEATH

Luzerne County Scaffold Used in Execution Here

The scaffold used for the execution was secured by Sheriff s. F. Robinson from Luzerne county where it has been used for a number of hangings, among them that of Red Nose Mike, Terrible Pete Waasil and Maren Rasmus. There is nothing ornamental about the instrument of death. It stands about 14 feet high from ground to the top of the beam. The platform is six feet eight inches from the ground and is about seven feet four inches square. In the center of the platform is the trap which consists of two doors opening down from the middle.

Rods run under each door and they are governed by a lever which is pulled by a rope. This springs the rods out of the doors and lets them fall, the person standing on the trap being suddenly dropped through it. The noose is suspended from the beam and its pressure and the weight of the condemned person’s body as the trap is sprung either breaks the neck or causes strangulation.

The scaffold was place at about the centre of the east wall of the jail yard. It faced the north wall, the steps going up in front. The entrance to the jail yard is through the kitchen of the jail. This is the only door that opens to the yard. The prisoner was brought down through the jail and without leaving the building taken directly to the yard and upon the place where he paid the penalty for his crime.

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