Events scheduled for Great Hanging Commemoration

Dr. Pat Ledbetter | Sep 28, 2017

GAINESVILLE, TX On October 14, 2017, the North Central Texas College (NCTC) Social Science Department, the Great Hanging Memorial Foundation, and Datalus Films will present a full day of activities commemorating the historical event known as the Great Hanging of 1862. Scheduled programs will offer a variety of ways to consider this incident as a part of the Civil War conflict then raging across the nation. 

At 10 am, Ron Melugin, retired NCTC Professor, local historian, and chair of the Cooke County Historical Commission, will lead a tour of Fairview Cemetery focusing on gravesites of those involved in the tragedy. An optional excursion to the Clark Family Cemetery, where hanging victim Nathanial Clark is buried, will follow. 

From 3 to 4 pm at the First State Bank Center for the Performing Arts, North Central Texas College, a theatrical reading of “October Mourning” will be staged. Based on Dr. Richard McCaslin’s book Tainted Breeze: The Great Hanging at Gainesville, Texas, 1862, the play tells the story of the death of forty-two men, the largest extra-legal mass execution in United States history. Local actors assume the voices of Civil- War-era Cooke County citizens to capture the urgency of the times. Although controversy persists about this incident, most agree that the tragedy unfolded because of the fear and insecurity brought on by the Civil War. 

With regard to the theatrical reading, local historian Pat Ledbetter noted, "Some of our local actors, like Kevin Beall, Russell Schmid, Ron Melugin and Steve Gordon, have appeared in all prior performances. This year we are welcoming back performers Rodney Hess, Danny Winters, Denny Hook, Hollis Parsons, Ed Zielinski, Gordon Smith, Frank Lorne, Crystal Wright, Jane England and Paul Hutchins. 

We are pleased to add to the cast a new history professor at North Central Texas College, James Jones. True to the tradition begun by Dr. L.D. Clark, a member of the Clark family, Jason Clark, will portray Nathaniel Clark, one of the citizens who was hanged.” 

Immediately following the reading, Datalus Films will offer a screening of the award-winning film, The Great Hanging and filmmaker Johnathan Paul will discuss the making of the movie. 

Filmmaker Jonathan Paul adds that his film “focuses on how, in the fog of war, good men will do bad things in the name of law and order. We also look at the desire of the community to distance themselves from this tragedy.” 

Finally, at 5:00 pm, a Commemoration Ceremony at the Great Hanging Memorial in the Georgia Davis Bass Park will honor the victims of the Great Hanging with a bell-ringing service. Dr. Richard McCaslin will be available to discuss his scholarly work. The Corinth Community Choir will perform and Rev. Frank Lorne will offer a prayer to bring the day’s activities to a close.

Chair of the Great Hanging Memorial Foundation Steve Gordon said, “Our organization was created to sort out the conflicting myths and include these men’s stories in the historical record. By offering a variety of events on this important day we hope to provide a deeper appreciation of the difficulties the community faced in these dark times.” 

Melugin added, “Understanding the past cannot be built on myths, and myths have arisen on both sides of this story. This year’s events will expand our understanding of those awful days, and the audiences can draw their own conclusions”

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Cast member Rodney Hess on location for the film The Great Hanging, photo by Rudy Cervantez.