“Its hideous use”—LaGrange, Georgia

LaGrange Art Museum
112 Lafayette Parkway
LaGrange, Georgia

N.B. Starting on Friday, June 7th, I will be giving ghost tours of my hometown, LaGrange, Georgia. “Strange LaGrange” will cover all types of oddities, ghosts, UFOs, and strange history throughout downtown. This location is one of the primary stops.

In the January 1, 1892 edition of the LaGrange Reporter, an article appeared hailing a new structure that would be constructed later that year; “the new building will be an ornament to the town – barring its hideous use – and an honor to the county.”

The phrase, “barring its hideous use” is quite curious, though apt when you consider that this building, now dressed in a penitent’s white, opened as the Troup County Jail. This building recalls the cruel history of executions at a time when they were carried out by local governments, rather than at the state level as they are now.

LaGrange Art Museum formerly the Troup County Jail ghosts haunted LaGrange Georgia
The tower of the LaGrange Art Museum is popularly thought to have been used for executions, though executions were only conducted in the cellblock. Photo 2019, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The Pauly Jail Building Company of St. Louis, Missouri, which today remains in the business of constructing correctional facilities, designed and built this jail along with hundreds of similar structures across the South and throughout the country.

The contract to build the jail was awarded in January of 1892 for the sum of $13,500. Construction likely commenced shortly thereafter and was completed by September.

To test the quality of the steel cells, the Troup County Commissioners summoned a machinist and tools from Georgia Tech to test the steel cells. The LaGrange Reporter notes that Mr. Frank Hudson “entered the steel cells with his compliment of tools, and, after boring, sawing and chiseling for two hours, without making an appreciable impression, desisted.”

interior Troup County Georgia stockade
The interior of the Troup County Stockade is likely similar to the interior of the jail. The sparseness of the facilities provides scant hope to the incarcerated. Photo by Snelson Davis, courtesy of the Troup County Historical Society and Archives. All rights reserved.

On September 15th, the “county’s boarders,” as they were deemed by the paper, were moved into the new building. They were given haircuts, a bath, and new uniforms to correspond with their new quarters. The paper continues:

It was a gala day for these unfortunates, and they greatly enjoyed the change from the close, dark, and generally uncomfortable cells in the old structure to their bright, white, clean quarters in the new. It was like going into another and a better world, although they are more prisoners than before, so far as means of escape are concerned. They left their filth and much of their gloom behind. Light, air and larger space will make their confinement henceforth more endurable.

About five years after the jail opened, the Atlanta Constitution took the Troup County Commissioners to task in a brief article on January 1, 1898:

Recently, it has been published that the commissioners of Troup county, in order to provide against the public execution, and with the view of saving the city of LaGrange from the usual crowd which an execution draws together, decided to erect a gallows inside the jail building, where it would be in full view of the two condemned men who were to be hanged therefrom.

The LaGrange Reporter very sensibly urges the commissioners to meet and change this order, taking the ground that the prisoners have some rights as well as the citizens, and that they should not be compelled to pass several days in constant view of the dread instrument which is to execute the sentence of law.

It is hoped that the views of The Reporter will be listened to by the county commissioners, and that some other plan should be adopted. To have a private execution it is not necessary that the jail corridor be used.

[The “two condemned men” in this article were George Gill and Will Smith who were sentenced to death for murder. They were supposed to have been executed on January 7, but their sentence was suspended for 30 days, and later commuted to life in prison by the governor.]

The Troup County Commissioners did not take heed of the opinions of the LaGrange Reporter or the Atlanta Constitution and change their decision to hold executions inside the jail.

Troup County Jail LaGrange Georgia now the art museum
A view of the jail, probably in the 1920s. Photo by S. Hutchinson, courtesy of the Troup County Historical Society and Archives. All rights reserved.

The first execution to take place inside this building was that of Edmund Scott, August 2, 1901. Scott, an African-American, was put to death for the deaths of Lena and Carry Huguley in West Point, Georgia (in southern Troup County) in 1900. He claimed the shooting was accidental and that one of the young ladies had been his sweetheart.

According to articles in both the LaGrange Reporter or the Atlanta Constitution, Scott was “ready to go.” During his confinement, he had met with pastors from the Methodist Church and the pastor of the Presbyterian Church met with him the morning of his execution. The Constitution provides a good description of the hanging:

The hanging took place inside of the jail at 12:18 o’clock. The gallows is built over the space between the iron cages and the brick wall of the building. Thirty or forty persons saw the hanging. Scott was dressed in a black suit with a standing collar and black tie. He walked up the ladder to the top of the cells without assistance and was calm. He had but little to say and spoke in a low voice. Rev. J. Kelsey, pastor of the colored Baptist Church, offered an earnest prayer. The black cap was then placed over his head. As the noose was being arranged Scott asked:

“Who is placing the rope about my neck?”

The sheriff’s deputy replied:

“Sheriff Brady.”

“The man,” said Scott, “who places the rope about my neck will die.”

The sheriff sprung the trap and Scott’s body went down. Death came in fifteen minutes and the body was cut down in sixteen minutes from the time it dropped. His neck was not broken.

The note that Scott’s neck was not broken is particularly cruel. The use of a drop in hangings is meant to provide a relatively quick and humane death to the condemned with the short, sharp, shock of a jerk of the rope. However, this requires some mathematical calculations involving the height and weight of the condemned and a specific length of rope. If the rope is too short, the condemned will strangle to death. If it’s too long, the condemned could be decapitated.

The next man to die here was Ingram Canady, Jr. who was executed here for the rape of a white woman. Canady, or Canida as his name is sometimes rendered, was hung March 20, 1908. His last words were recorded by the Atlanta Constitution:

I don’t know anything in the world about it; I am ready to meet death, and know my soul will be saved. I don’t know a thing in the world about the crime, and am innocent. All be good; expect to meet you in heaven.

Just before the trap was sprung he said, “The old Master will straighten all mistakes.”

The Reporter noted that again, his neck was not broken. Canady died of strangulation after sixteen minutes.

On January 2, 1909, Lucius Truitt was hanged for the murder of Dock Tatum during a robbery and home invasion. Walter Thomas died here on June 10 of the next year for the rape of a child.

The final man to die here was 22-year-old John Marvin Thompson, who was hanged in July 26, 1918 for the slaying of Troup County Sheriff William Shirey. The sheriff led a raid on an illegal liquor still in the southern part of the county. Thompson, who owned the still, opened fire on the raiding party and the sheriff was killed.

Before “a small crowd of friends of Thompson, his father, and the newspaper men,” Thompson ascended towards the fateful noose. His last words were recorded by the Atlanta Constitution:

I want all of you to know that I am dying innocent of what I am accused of. I have done things that I ought not to have done in my life, and God will forgive me for all I have ever done and take me home.

To his father he said, “Tell all of my people good-bye for me, papa.” His father responded, ““I am sorry for you, John; I wish I could go with you.”

The reporter for the Constitution notes that, “No struggle whatever occurred after the trap was spring, his neck evidently having been broken by the fall.” Thompson was the first and only white man hung in the county as well as being the last man to die a state sanctioned death in the jail. Several years later, the state revoked the privileges of localities to conduct their own executions and executions were removed to state correctional facilities.

With the construction of a new jail facility, the inmates were moved elsewhere in 1939, and the structure was converted to use as an office for the local newspaper, The LaGrange Daily News.” The building also served as a furniture store until the local Callaway Foundation granted funds to convert the building into an art facility.

LaGrange Art Museum formerly the Troup County Jail ghosts haunted LaGrange Georgia
The jail probably around the time it ceased being used as a jail in 1939. Photo by S. Hutchinson, courtesy of the Troup County Historical Society and Archives. All rights reserved.

I’m still trying to understand the original layout of the building. So far, research has pointed to this first section as being used as a residence for the jailer and his family. I have been told that there was no interior connection between the buildings, therefore to reach the cellblock, the jailer would have to leave his residence and use an outside door to enter.

It should be noted that there is no evidence that the building tower, which resembles a finger uplifted in moral admonishment, is not a “hanging tower.” In the newspaper accounts of executions in the building, all of the hangings took place within the cellblock, and not in the jailers’ personal space.

LaGrange Art Museum formerly the Troup County Jail ghosts haunted LaGrange Georgia
Oblique view of the museum building. The section of the building in the foreground was added when the building was converted into a museum. The middle portion with the bricked up windows was the cellblock. The galleries now occupy that portion. Photo 2019, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The second section contained the cellblock. This section was also two stories and prisoners were separated by race. Contemporary sources say that white male prisoners were held on the first level with women, juveniles, and people of color being held on the second. On a recent tour of the building, I was able to see the basement space located underneath this section. As we closely looked at the original brick walls, we were able to see names carved into the brick, perhaps by restless inmates.

The conversion to an art museum, reconfigured the building to include office space in the front section with connecting doors between the two buildings. In a space where inmates wiled away their sentences, visitors now contemplate works of art. Sighs of the condemned have been replaced with the joyful chatter of children enrolled in the museum’s educational programs. Growing up here, I spent time at the museum attending an arts camp and classes.

With my curiosity about ghosts, I’d always wondered if the museum was haunted. A co-worker reported to me that she had seen faces peering from the tower windows at night. When I worked for the LaGrange Daily News some years ago, I interviewed the museum’s director and asked about activity. She responded that there were often odd sounds, especially at night.

When I started work on my upcoming ghost tour of downtown, I talked with the current director. She shared with me that she would frequently smell the odor of tobacco smoke in the entrance hall of the museum, which is a smoke free facility and has been for many years. I also spoke with the maintenance man who said he regularly heard footsteps in the building when he was alone at night. He noted that he would walk throughout trying to find the source, but to no avail.

In preparation for my tour, I visited the museum with a sensitive friend. As we walked up the front steps he noted that there were three spirits in residence. Upon entering the gallery portion (which had once been the cellblock), he saw an African-American man standing against one of the walls. He attempted to communicate, but the spirit didn’t want to talk. Walking to the other side of the gallery, we felt a chill in the air where the sensitive detected the presence of a hunched back man.

We attempted communication with the first spirit again. This time, he was a bit more forthcoming and revealed that his cell had been at the back of the space. He proclaimed his innocence, saying that he was defending himself. Still, he was reticent to speak.

LaGrange Art Museum formerly the Troup County Jail ghosts haunted LaGrange Georgia
Second floor of the gallery which occupies what was once the cellblock. Photo 2019, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Heading to the second floor of the gallery, we encountered a feminine presence, which the sensitive noted was related to a man incarcerated here, “either a mother or an older sister.”

LaGrange Art Museum formerly the Troup County Jail ghosts haunted LaGrange Georgia
The old jail, now dressed in a penitent’s white, provides educational opportunities to many local children, some of whom are featured in murals that currently adorn the building’s brick wall. Photo 2019, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

This building, which once was so hideous, now rings with the chatter and laughter of children, or the silent contemplation of adult art patrons. It is my sincere hope that whoever the spirits are in this old building, they have finally found the peace.

Sources

  • “The Contract Given.” LaGrange Reporter. 8 January 1892.
  • “Edmund Scott Hanged.” LaGrange Reporter. 9 August 1901.
  • Hanging. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 27 May 2019.
  • Hearn, Daniel Allen. Legal Executions in Georgia: A Comprehensive Registry, 1866-1964. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2016.
  • “John Thompson hung for Murder of Sheriff.” Atlanta Constitution. 27 July 1918.
  • Johnson, Forrest Clark; Glenda Major, and Kaye Lanning Minchew. Travels Through Troup County: A Guide to its Architecture and History, LaGrange, GA: Family Tree,
  • “Negro Hanged at LaGrange.” Atlanta Constitution. 21 March 1908.
  • “New Jail Received.” LaGrange Reporter. 16 September 1892.
  • “Scott Hanged in LaGrange.” Atlanta Constitution. 3 August 1901.
  • “That Jail Corridor Hanging.” Atlanta Constitution. 1 January 1898.
  • “To Be Hung To-day.” LaGrange Reporter. 20 March 1908.
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