The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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April 30, 2012

Turnabout on ‘gallows’ beam

Hanging artifact draws historical dispute



The location of the beam at the time the picture was taken is key because Potter had concluded the beam had been lost and switched with a bridge beam sometime after it was sent from the university to Mankato in 1927.

The old photo shows a beam with identical notches and holes as the one in the county Historical Society storage room.

The controversial beam also is getting new attention from a study done by an independent historian relying heavily on information from the Minnesota Historical Societyl. The a 37-page study, authored by historian Carrie Zeman, details much of the known research on the gallows and the beam in Mankato and suggests further study of the beam. 

Beam from the gallows?

The provenance of the beam the county Historical Society holds is now well documented from 1881 through today.

According to newspaper stories from Mankato and the University of Minnesota, Mankato business and civic leader John F. Meagher, who had witnessed the hangings, bought the gallows timber from the military shortly after the hangings. 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. Potter had previously speculated that the tag was accidentally or intentionally removed from the original and put on the “bridge” timber at some point.

The university kept the beam until 1927, when it shipped it back to Mankato to the Blue Earth County Historical Society. The beam was stored at several locations over the decades as the county Historical Society relocated.

The beam drew new attention this year as state and local historical societies planned marking the 150th anniversary of the war later this summer.

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