The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

February 10, 2013

Researcher, local group face off in gallows authenticity debate


Blanshan uses forensic evidence to argue that the timber can only be a piece of the 1862 scaffold by trying to decipher an assortment of mortises and cut marks.

He said his work identifies corner brace mortises as used in timber framing at the time and said spacing of notches for ropes match the width of a military file (one man in ranks).

The timber’s history

The timber has been in the possession of state or local historians since 1881, 19 years after the execution.

This much is known:

Mankato business and civic leader John F. Meagher, who had witnessed the hangings, said that he bought gallows timber shortly after the hangings. He said he used the beam in construction of his hardware store.

When a fire damaged the store in 1881, Meagher removed the beam he said was from the gallows and sent it to the University of Minnesota for safe keeping. He attached a cardboard tag to the beam that included his name and indicated the beam was from the scaffold. That tag remains on the beam in Mankato today.

The university kept the beam until 1927, when it shipped it back to Mankato to the county Historical Society.

Local official still doubtful

The article is the latest to counter ongoing conclusions by the county Historical Society to suggest the timber is not from the gallows.

Early last year, Potter said the timber in her collection could not be from the gallows and instead was likely a beam from a military bridge. She said the timber was not the same one that had been held for years by the University of Minnesota.

But in April of last year Potter confirmed the timber was in fact the same one that had been at the university. The turnaround came after a photograph taken of the timber at the university — thought lost — was found in files at the Minnesota Historical Society. The timber in the photo matches the one now in Mankato.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News