Truth be told, one of the reasons I love doing history is that there’s always something new just around the corner. Today, filing sources that I pulled to write about the execution artifacts, I encountered two more newspaper clippings about the burning of the 1862 scaffolding timbers.
Both clippings are from the Pay Family subject file at the Blue Earth County Historical Society. I found them only because I was interested in Benjamin D. Pay and his son, William H. Pay. But these clippings are highly relevant for the story of what became of the majority of the timbers re-purposed from the 1862 gallows.
Or, in this case, William H. Pay says, what didn’t happen to the timbers.
This article, like the one I previously cited, is dated July 23, 1896. But this one is from the competing paper, the Mankato Free Press. There’s another tip about doing history. If a newspaper makes a sensational claim and it is a two- (or more) paper town, chances are you’ll find another editor trying to correct the other paper’s stories.
So here’s the Free Press version of the story about the 1896 fire in the old warehouse at Second and Walnut streets. The competing paper’s story is the second article transcribed here.
OLD LANDMARK BURNED
Something of Its Early History –Want [sic] be Rebuilt
“At about ten o’clock last night the old frame building at the corner of Second and Walnut streets, nearly opposite the opera house, was discovered to be on fire,and the department was called out. The building was so badly burned, being nothing more than tinder, that the remains were pulled down. There are suspicions that the fire was of incendiary origin. The building was among the oldest in the city, the last purpose to which it was put being a cooper shop, blacksmith shop, and paint shop. It has not been used for some time and was of no value.
The burned structure was erected in the spring of 1865 by B. D. Pay, and was used by him until 1870 as a livery barn. It was strongly built of native lumber, oak, elm and basswood. In 1870 Mr. Meagher purchased it and has since rented it for various purposes.
Mr. Meagher, who owns the property, intends to tear down the remains of the building, and will not rebuild at present. The old building was not worth insuring.
Someone asked Mr. Meagher for permission to burn the building up on the night of the fourth of July, to add to the illuminations, but Mr. Meagher informed him that there was a severe penalty attached to setting fire to buildings in the city limits,even if he had been willing to have the building burned.”
Five days later, On July 28, 1896 a short notice in the Free Press noted:
“The relic hunters who imagine they are getting a part of the old scaffolding on which the Indians were hung, in the remains of the of building that burned last week, are way off. W. H. Pay, whose father built the barn, says none of the scaffolding went into the building. The scaffolding must have been sufficient to build the state capitol, to judge the reports of different buildings in which it was put. Like the rope used to hang Guiteau, there is no end to it.”
So there you have it. My report isn’t even public yet and I’ve already revised one point: the end of note 28 on page 34. Like I said, there’s always something new around the corner.
[“Guiteau” was Charles Guiteau, who assassinated President Garfield in 1881 and was executed by hanging in June, 1882. According to this period newspaper story Guiteau’s executioners received unsolicited donations of hanging rope sufficient to hang many men.]