Friday, February 13, 2009

Peterborough’s Last Hanging

So do you know what a “gat” is? I sure didn’t.

I am sitting with my New Friends group enjoying our talk together. The group began at 2 PM and we are now at the 2:50 PM mark. We have all been sitting for almost an hour – and the exchange has been wonderful. People talking with people.

All of the people are older than me – much older. Among the group is my own mom who is an active participant. This day she had brought her wonderful collection of very old Post Cards organized in special three special books for everyone to look at.

The week before I had brought some different antique things from our home, that we had collected over the years, to show. I had encouraged my Friends to treat this like “show and tell” from their own school days. Simple idea but it worked well.

As mom shared her Post Cards her New Friends asked questions where they came from. Mom explained that the people that she had collected the cards from had traveled on the ships from Britain. They had settled in Southern Saskatchewan. The ship line that they had traveled on was the same one that owned the Titanic – which brought more questions.

Mom then told the story about how she had bought the house in her home town many years ago. I told the rest of the story for the whole group to hear.

Mom had convinced my Dad that they should buy the small two bedroom house with all its contents. It sat on three lots and was fully furnished. The cost of the house was $550 – and she bought it from the Town of Truax who now owned it after 10 years of back taxes at $55 a year tax.

That led to more questions. “How much did you sell it for?” a New Friend asked. “About three times what I paid for it.” (more than 20 years later)

That is how the afternoon goes with my New Friends. It is okay to change the topic and let one thought flow into another. My task at the group is to be like a traffic cop – letting everyone know that the topic has changed – the louder voice helps.

When you think of it – it is amazing that 20 some older folks will sit for over two hours and not move, listen closely, and share deeply. And not one went to the bathroom the whole time. They were enraptured with each other.

A daughter of one of our New Friends sat through the whole thing smiling. She listened to the interaction and exchange. At the end she commented to me how impressed she was… and how “they” (the seniors) all seemed to enjoy the interaction and the group so much. She didn’t know that this was only our second meeting. She didn’t catch that a shopping trip had been planned for the same time and half of the group from last week went for the outing – but a new half showed up to take part.

We have stumbled on to something very good!

As part of the input of the afternoon I read from a book that is from their own library.

The book is entitled “My Town – My Memories”. Many of my New Friends have a serious vision problems and have not read for years. And my suspicion is that their kids are too busy to read for them.

As I read the story aloud of “Peterborough’s Last Hanging” they were listening intently. It was in the part of the story about the killing of the man by his friend that I ran across the word that I didn’t know – the “gat”. I paused and after reading that part and asked what a “gat” was. Three ladies and one man immediately said together – “A gun”. I had looked up asking the question. The one older fellow in the group was grinning as he pointed his forefinger at me and with his thumb coming down on his hand – like a gun shooting. He was a former police man by the way. We all laughed – even though the story was very serious.

The man that was hanged was Black. The man he shot was also Black. The killer was named Edward Franklin Jackson. He had killed his partner and friend, Eugene Lee. Both men had hailed from the USA. The story had so many tidbits of info that the author had captured from the years gone by.

The murder had taken place on October 17, 1932. On November 12, 1933 at 12:01 AM Mr. Jackson was hung in the court yard of the small Peterborough Jail behind the present court house.

In the period of waiting for his hanging Mr. Jackson had gained 50 pounds with the food that he had been served at the jail.

That night at 11:45 PM the church bells of Peterborough began to ring for the next fifteen minutes. Then at the hanging moment they stopped. After the man’s death the bells again rang for another 15 minutes telling the city and its residents that the murderer was dead.

As I paused in that part of the story, everyone was thinking deeply. It had happened in their life time. I asked if anyone in the group had heard the bells. There was nothing but silence in our group.

Now consider the fact that at every hanging in early Peterborough, the Bells of the church tolled their long, lonely peal of the death that was taking place…. Wow!

This story led to another fact to be discussed. At a very early age one of the residents had traveled from Bridgenorth to attend a carnival/circus that had come to the city. It was his very first time to see a Black person… and he said they simple stared at the man with fascination. That comment led to more stories and a lengthy exchange about Peterborough and its feelings about Black people…

My New Friends are among the most interesting people that I have ever met… and their stories are amazing.

As I reflect on what has happened again in this group it is powerful for me. Few people in these New Friend’s life have take time to listen to the stories… now they have a place to share them with glee.

Hmmm… is there something here to consider in the wider and bigger world out there? Hmmm…?

~ Murray Lincoln ~

This portion is added a few hours later... I received this bit of information from Jessika... seen as a comment below...

Hello, I actually researched this long ago, and it is so funny to hear about it on your blog today. Did you know that in reality what you read is the "white" version of the story?

Eugene Lee was convicted of rape of a girl he worked for on a farm out in Duoro. The story goes that when his best friend Mr.Jackson found out, he shot him. However, the only weapon Jackson would have access to, would have been a pitch fork.

The gun wounds were in Eugene Lee's back, not his front. When the shots rang out, the farmers wife ran out to find Eugene Lee, dead (FACING) Jackson, and her husband hiding behind a hay bale (behind the two men--specifically Eugene).

Jackson was put on trial, found guilty by a jury of white people, and sentenced to death for the murder of Eugene Lee. Yes the two men argued that night, but I do believe you can now figure out where the gun shots really came from!!

It is a neat story, and I am glad you brought it up. It has much controversy here in Peterborough.

Now an extra little tid bit for you...Eugene Lee was convicted by the farmer, and was being taken to the police station that evening. (The daughter was out late, and came home with blood on her dress, father put two and two together, and said that she was raped by the famous Eugene Lee-so as not to ruin her reputation)

1 comment:

Jessika said...

Hello,
I actually researched this long ago, and it is so funny to hear about it on your blog today. Did you know that in reality what you read is the "white" version of the story?
Eugene Lee was convicted of rape of a girl he worked for on a farm out in Duoro. The story goes that when his best friend Mr.Jackson found out, he shot him. However, the only weapon Jackson would have access to, would have been a pitch fork. The gun wounds were in Eugene Lee's back, not his front. When the shots rang out, the farmers wife ran out to find Eugene Lee, dead (FACING) Jackson, and her husband hiding behind a hay bale (behind the two men--specifically Eugene).
Jackson was put on trial, found guilty by a jury of white people, and sentenced to death for the murder of Eugene Lee.
Yes the two men argued that night, but I do believe you can now figure out where the gun shots really came from!!
It is a neat story, and I am glad you brought it up. It has much controversy here in Peterborough.
Now an extra little tid bit for you...Eugene Lee was convicted by the farmer, and was being taken to the police station that evening. (The daughter was out late, and came home with blood on her dress, father put two and two together, and said that she was raped by the famous Eugene Lee-so as not to ruin her reputation).

Hope you enjoyed this!