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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Postcard of the Hanging

The hanging in Duluth

On the 15th June 1920, three black circus workers were attacked and lynched by a mob in Duluth, Minnesota.
Rumors that six African Americans had raped a teenage girl gave rise to a mob of five to ten thousand locals.
The circus workers were snatched from the police station and hung from their necks on a corner of the street. Pictures were taken and a postcard offered for sale.
The Chicago Evening Post reported, “This is a crime of a Northern state, as black and ugly as any that has brought the South in disrepute.”
No one was ever convicted for the murder of the circus workers, Isaac McGhie, Elmer Jackson and Elias Clayton.
A physician’s examination of the teenage girl subsequently found no evidence of rape or assault.
Dylan’s song, Desolation Row, from the album Highway 61 Revisited, opens with a reference to the hangings, which took place in his home town 20 years before his birth.

9 Responses to “Postcard of the Hanging”

  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    I don’t think there is anything scarier in this world than the mob mentality. They’re always cropping up in ‘The Simpsons’. I remember long before I understood the concept I discovered the word ‘mobocracy’ in a thesaurus and even then just the idea of it made me uncomfortable. To this day I don’t like being in a large crowd.

  2. john baker says:

    Yeah, I also avoid large crowds, Jim. It’s something to do with control, or fear of losing it. That feeling of being ‘carried’ along in whatever direction – I’ll avoid it at almost any cost.

  3. Sean Dolan says:

    Do you know a book called “Without Sanctuary?” It’s a collection of lynching postcards, which were apparently once regularly made as souvenirs of such gruesome social gatherings. There’s a great website devoted to the book at The photos are horrific and sad, but they speak volumes about a period of American history not that far gone.

  4. john baker says:

    Thanks, Sean. This is chilling stuff, certainly gives a twist to the word ‘souvenir’.

  5. Stuart Moore says:

    Stuart from Australia,
    It is one of the most burnt in lines in my association with that song, yet I never had a true-actual? (our brain is sensational at removing us from pain) visual to associate with, I now feel slightly sickened, yet as a ex policeman from many years ago I have seen some horrible things.
    You have changed the song for me but I’m sure I will bury it sub con.

  6. Ali says:

    The mob mentality is truly scary, to think that little has changed when you hear of the terrible things that happened in Bosnia, Darfur…and the mob now grabs rocks instead of rope in Iran. It makes one despair.

    I love Dylan’s surreal Desolation Row, especially the reworking by My Chemical Romance which closes the equally surreal movie Watchmen, based on Moore and Gibbons’ graphic novel.

    Here comes the blind commissioner


  7. john baker says:

    Hi Ali, Yeah, the blind commissioner was the chief who told his men not to fire on the mob, and let them take the circus workers without much trouble. He’s almost everywhere you look.

  8. Tom Cooper says:

    Only 91 years ago. This is such recent history.30 years before i was born.

  9. Jeremy says:

    They raped a girl, Justice lynching. If they were innocent thats horrible,