The Hanging Tree Is Gone

Jackson MO Hanging Tree 03-26-2010Americans have long recorded songs about justice being delivered at the end of a rope. The Kingston Trio sang the sad tale of Tom Dooley, the victim of the eternal triangle involving him, a Mr. Grayson and a beautiful woman. In the song, he laments, “This time tomorrow, reckon where I’ll be, down in some lonesome valley, hanging from a white oak tree.”

Toby Keith, in Beer for my Horses, takes a grittier tone, when he sings.

Grandpappy told my pappy, back in my day, son
A man had to answer for the wicked that he done
Take all the rope in Texas
Find a tall oak tree, round up all of them bad boys
Hang them high in the street for all the people to see that

[Chorus:]

Justice is the one thing you should always find
You got to saddle up your boys
You got to draw a hard line
When the gun smoke settles we’ll sing a victory tune
We’ll all meet back at the local saloon
We’ll raise up our glasses against evil forces
Singing whiskey for my men, beer for my horses

Jackson’s Hanging Tree

Jackson's Hanging Tree 04-15-2014I first heard about Jackson’s Hanging Tree in 2010, when MDOT proposed a roundabout on the north side of the Cape County Courthouse. Not only would it have eaten up a significant piece of the courthouse square, but it would also have endangered the tree where Cape County’s last hanging took place in 1899. The photo at the top of the page was taken in 2010. You can read the history of the tree here.

Every spring, Mother would want to drive by the courthouse to see if the old Mulberry tree had made it through another winter.

When I shot this in 2014, I thought maybe this was the last spring for it, but a closer look showed it was budding out for another go.

See something missing?

Jackson Hanging Tree site 04-18-2016_7171When I looked at The Missourian this morning, it had a story, “‘Hanging Tree’ in county courthouse square taken down.” Curiously, the photo was taken not by a staff photographer, but by the tree service that chopped the tree down.

In 2010, when the roundabout was being debated, Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones said, “If these three commissioners agree to give up that much of our beautiful courthouse lawn, there would be a three-person hanging on that hanging tree, and I believe that would be us.”

The newspaper story said the tree was cut down Sunday after county officials “ordered it removed after determining that it no longer was healthy enough to remain standing.”

It must have been a decision that was kept really quiet, because I got an apologetic email this morning from a good county source who wrote, “My apologies that I didn’t give you a heads up on the hanging tree coming down. It was a surprise even to me.”

Wonder if another one will pop up?

Jackson Hanging Tree site 04-18-2016_7180I saw a bunch of seeds on the ground where the tree once stood. I wonder if any of them are mature or hardy enough to grow us another hanging tree? You just never know when you might need one to “fight evil forces.”

Preserving a few pieces

2016-04-18 Jackson Hanging Tree 01The fellow who cut the tree down was quoted as saying the wood would likely not be used for anything because it was severely rotted. The story continued, “the tree was part of local history, and he expects people to be sad to see it go.”

I couldn’t resist snagging a few pieces of bark for myself and the Cape Girardeau County History Center. I’m sure the center would liked to have had a bigger chunk for exhibit.

 

 

Hanging Tree Hanging On

s Jackson's Hanging Tree 04-15-2014When Mother and I made a pass through Jackson today, I took a glance over at the Cape County Courthouse and said, “I think winter maybe finally got the Hanging Tree.” It sure looked bare.

Winter hasn’t been the only hazard The Tree has faced. In 2010, there were fears that a proposed roundabout would come close enough to kill the tree.

Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones was quoted in The Missourian as saying, “If these three commissioners agree to give up that much of our beautiful courthouse lawn, there would be a three-person hanging on that hanging tree,” Jones said. “And I believe that would be us.” Cooler heads prevailed and the tree and courthouse lawn were saved.

What’s the Hanging Tree, you ask?

The tree, now more than 100 years old, was the site of one of the last – if not THE last -hangings in Cape County. You can read about Sheriff Bernard Gockel carrying out John Headrick’s sentence that he “be hanged by the neck, between heaven and earth, until he is dead” in my 2010 post.

The tree lives!

Jackson's Hanging Tree 04-15-2014After checking out some other things, I headed back to the Courthouse Square for a closer look. The old tree was full of leaf buds. It is ready for service, just so long as the bad guys are really, really short.

Click on the photos to make them larger.

Ross’s Leaves Downtown Jackson

Longtime downtown Jackson business Ross Furniture is moving to East Jackson Blvd. from South High Street, a story in The Missourian reported June 12, 2012. The store had been at that location since 1979. As Cape’s business center has shifted west, I guess it’s only logical that Jackson’s would move east. The furniture store had one of the two bay windows that existed in the Courthouse Square area. It must have been exciting to look up and down the street and toward the courthouse Back in The Day.

Looking north toward Courthouse

Late afternoon isn’t the best time in of the day to shoot a north-south street. I was limited to shooting the businesses on the east side of the street because of dark shadows.

Even though I worked at The Jackson Pioneer, I have very few memories of Jackson’s main drag. I covered lots of governmental meetings and school activities, but there must not have been much happening in the business district.

Well, I have vague memories of a bit of a stir when one of The Pioneer’s editors developed a strange obsession with a local high school girl a third his age. When the girl’s father, one of our largest (and, to be honest, few) advertisers refused to let them date, the editor picketed the father’s place of business. I’m not sure even that was enough to get you fired at The Pioneer, but he didn’t last long. One of these days I’ll get around to writing about the collection of misfits we had working there.

Other Jackson stories

Photo gallery of South High Street businesses

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.

Cape County Courthouse in Jackson

This night photo of the Cape County Courthouse was probably taken when I was working at The Jackson Pioneer in 1964 or 1965. There is a story, maybe true, maybe not, that the Pioneer staff threw food color in the fountain the night Barry Goldwater was nominated for President. They wanted Jackson to wake up to Gold Water in the fountain.

2010 courthouse hasn’t changed much

I wonder if anybody will be dunking teabags in the fountain to carry on the tradition?

Took 40 years to clean the skylight

I used my quest for Jackson’s Hanging Tree as an excuse to wander around in the old courthouse. The old art glass skylight is still impressive.

The Dec. 16, 1949, Missourian had a story that the skylight had been cleaned for the first time in 40 years.  “A washing compound for glass with a sponge was used by Thomas Brothers, in charge of the interior decorating of the building. Covered with a film of black smoke and dust, the pretty color had been hidden from view. Jackson children who had grown to manhood and womanhood had never seen the glass of the dome clear and bright.”

“Each small piece of the art glass is held in place with lead and since they are fragile, the workman was cautious and expected to spend many hours on the high ladder for the cleaning.”

1870-era courthouse had basement privy

This sign looks like they might have moved it over when the 1908 courthouse was built.

Contractors shaved some corners

Records show that the contractors used columns that were composed of several pieces instead of one at the main entrances.

One of the goals was to make the building as fireproof as possible. Wood construction had been used in the dome, but the Court agreed to pay an additional $3,000 to remove the wood in the dome and replace it with metal. All of the parts of the dome, except the part where stone was exposed was to be covered in copper.

Wood floors replaced with mosaic tile

The contractors tried to slip in wooden floors, but they were required to put in ceramic mosaic tile as specified.

Tile has held up well

Despite the thousands of feet pacing on it, the tile floors have held up well.

Much stone came from Cape and Jackson

The Jackson Post & Cashbook quoted workman William Craig that “blue limestone was quarried near Jackson and was hand cut on site. The white limestone of the second and third stories was quarried at Cape Girardeau near the old Normal School (Southeast Missouri State University today).”  Some of the sheets were 10’x10’x4.

The steps were also quarried near Cape. The cornice stone is from Bedford, Ind.; the wainscoating is of Tennessee marble and the columns are Bedford stone.

View toward downtown

This is looking south from the second floor toward the Jackson’s downtown.

World War I Memorial

I wrote about the memorial to the Cape County World War I dead earlier.

Gallery of Jackson Courthouse photos

Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the photo to move through the gallery.