The New York Times


March 26, 1878







Special Dispatch to the New-York Times.

            Bloomsburg, March 21. Three of the Mollie Maguires who murdered Mining Superintendent Rea for his money, nearly 10 years ago, were hanged at this place to-day.  They were Patrick Hester, Peter McHugh, and Patrick Tully, all Irish Catholics, all middle-aged men, and all richly deserving of the halters that encircled their necks this morning.

            The day was made a holiday in all the country round.  The morning trains running into Bloomsburg were filled with crowds of laughing, joking countrymen, such as may be seen about the Fourth of July times.  The bar-rooms of the town were like bee-hives, and whisky ran freely from every faucet.  It was many times said that every male citizen of Columbia County was here, but this was an exaggeration, for several were sick in bed, and couldn't come.  There arrived before 9 o'clock this morning, in steam cars, stages, and every kind of farm vehicle known in Pennsylvania, not less than 3,000 persons, and the town looked like Long Branch on a race-day.  The main street was lined on both sides with wagons and carriages, and the sidewalks were almost impassable.

            The walled yard back of the jail is very small, not more than 40 feet square, and Sheriff Hoffman was compelled to limit the number of spectators.  He had about 200 tickets printed, and the blanks were filled up by one of the County Commissioners in a dusky vault beneath the Court-house.  The doors of this subterranean room were besieged by hundreds of persons, all anxious to see the death of the Mollies.  There were not less than 500 applications for admission tickets, and 300 had to be refused.  Every man whose uncle was a second cousin to the Sheriff's step-brother by marriage was on hand early for a pass, and every rural politician in the county was offended if he was refused one.

            No one was admitted to the cells of the condemned men this morning except their immediate relatives.  They very wisely declined to say anything to reporters, and spent much of the time between day-light and death in devotional exercises.  At 6:30 o'clock a mass was begun in McHugh's cell, on the lower floor of the prison, the officiating clergymen being Fathers Koch, of Shamokin, and Schlutter, of Danville.  There were present, besides the priests, the three condemned men, Hester's wife, three daughters, and two sons-in-laws, a nephew of McHugh, and several of the Coal and Iron Police.  The mass lasted from 6:30 to 8:30, and then each of the prisoners went to his cell and ate a light lunch.  After this they were all shaved.  At 10 o'clock Hester's wife and daughters bade him a last good-bye, and Tully and McHugh shook hands with their friends for the last time.

            Ten o'clock was the hour fixed for the admission of spectators to the jail yard.  About 30 of the Reading Railroad Company's Coal and Iron Police were stationed around the outside of the jail, to preserve order.  It had been intended to have a military company, but yesterday the Sheriff decided that it would be injudicious, and the Militiamen who attended were indignant at not being allowed to keep at bay a dangerous crowd of about 200 boys that sat on the neighboring fences.  The jail is a very old building, and was once a dwelling-house.  It will fall down in a few years, but not before the handsome new prison building here is completed.  It is reached by a long and narrow lane leading from the main street, and is surrounded by rickety and unsightly sheds.  The lane, in the upper part, was packed with ticket-holders early in the day, and the roofs of the sheds were black with boys and loungers.  The spectators were permitted to crowd their way in, promptly at 10 o'clock.  Nine-tenths of them were elderly farmers who helped elect the Democratic Sheriff, and must have a pass at all hazards.  They thirsted for gore, and what they couldn't get out of the gallows they drew from brown bottles.  After they had crowded through the low, narrow corridor of the Columbia Country Jail, they reached the jail yard, which is surrounded by a yellow stone wall about 30 feet high, and for the first time, saw the gallows. 

            This gallows is a sort of family machine.  It was built by Carbon County, and strangled several Mollie Maguires there.  It is to go back to Mauch Chunk to-morrow to hang Thomas Fisher on Thursday.  It is made to come to pieces, and goes galloping about the country dropping off Mollies wherever it strikes.  It was sent over here on Friday, and was stored in the jail cellar.  On Saturday the ropes and straps came, and then the machine was put up in the middle of the jail-yard, every petty prisoner in the jail being transferred to the town lock-up, while the carpenters were working at it.  It is a new style of scaffold, cross beams run in every direction at the top, and the two trap-doors are held in place till the proper moment by a combination lever.  It is large enough to hang five men at a time, not comfortably perhaps, but thoroughly, and it resembles nothing so much as an old fashioned hay-press.  It is built entirely of oak, very solid, and does its work well, having a fall of between four and five feet.

            With about 200 persons inside the jail-yard, and several hundred more on the outside making a great deal of noise, the prisoners were brought out to die.  They had all partaken of the Catholic communion.  Each was preceded by a priest, and each carried a crucifix, holding it in both hands.

            Peter McHugh, the smallest of the three prisoners, was the first.  He was accompanied by Rev. Father Koch, of Shamokin, who several years ago was instrumental in having Hester sent to prison for making a disturbance at a funeral.  McHugh was dressed in a shabby suit of black, and looked careworn and anxious.  He showed no signs of weakness, however, and carried his large wooden crucifix firmly in both hands.

            Patrick Hester, the largest and the most intelligent looking of the men was the next.  He was accompanied by Rev. Father McGovern.  He wore a handsome black suit, and was better dressed in general, than either of his companions.  The small white plaster crucifix in his hands he carried steadily, and walked up the gallows steps as if he had no concern as to his fate.

            Patrick Tully was the last to mount the scaffold.  He wore a blue coat and vest, and a pair of jeans pantaloons, and carried a large bronze crucifix.  He was also a large man, but smaller than Hester.  Rev. Father Schlutter, of Danville, walked by his side.  All of the priests were dressed in long black robes, partially concealed by light white garments reaching below the waist.

            As the doomed men stood for a moment on the platform listening to the last words of the priests, Tully began to tremble slightly, but he soon recovered his self-possession.  The men were not pinioned in any way, and Hester reached up with his right hand and coolly rested part of his weight upon one of the upper beams of the gallows.  As they raised their heads to listen to the priests, it was first noticeable that none of them wore collars. 

            They looked fit subjects for the gallows.  Every one of them was a brutal and dangerous looking man.  Hester, very large and powerful, was more refined in feature than either of the others, but he looked like a man to be avoided on a dark night.  The expression on his face was solemn and troubled, but he bore up very bravely.  His fat face was marked in many places with large blue scars- - a wound with a piece of fresh coal invariably leaving a blue mark.  His forehead, particularly, was spotted with blue.  He looked much too large and heavy for the slender rope that dangled be the side of his head.  Tully at the last looked stolid and indifferent.  His face was devoid of expression.  McHugh looked a little frightened, but stood up firm and brave.

            Each of the prisoners bade good-bye to all the priests who handed them the crucifixes for a last kiss.  Then McHugh made a speech of about a minute's length, in a voice so low that even the Sheriff, who stood on the platform within a foot of the speaker, could not hear him, and his voice was utterly inaudible off the platform.  Hester followed him with a few words in an equally low voice, declaring his innocence.  Then Tully, also in a very low voice, said a few words on religion, and then shook hands with the Sheriff.  Two Deputy Sheriffs handcuffed the prisoners' hands behind them, and put two heavy black straps around their legs, one above, and the other below the knees.  While the deputies were at this work, the faces of several women were seen peering eagerly out of one of the lower windows of the jail, and they retained this eligible position throughout the scene that made many hardy men shrink back in dismay.

            Another deputy pulled a great white bag over the head of each prisoner, the ropes having been adjusted.  Hester and Tully stood upon the eastern trap door, and McHugh, alone upon the western.  The scaffold was quickly cleared, and before anybody was expecting it there was a crash.  The platform fell, and the three men were dangling in the air.  Not one of them was instantly killed.  Not one of their necks was broken, but all died by strangulation, and at very nearly the same time, in from 11 to 12 minutes after the falling of the drop.  The exact time was in doubt for, three doctors being the time keepers, there were of course three opinions on the subject.  Tully and McHugh died without a struggle, hanging limp and lifeless.  Hester did not struggle, but breathed very hard for some minutes, his huge breast expanding many inches, and his shoulders bending toward each other at the back, wrinkling his close fitting coat.

            The crash of the falling platform was distinctly heard outside the jail-yard, and the crowd beyond the walls sent up a howl, that lasted throughout the dying moments of the prisoners.  But the triple tragedy inside was soon to be followed by a violent death outside the jail walls.  More than 50 persons had climbed to the roof of a large coal and wood shed, on the eastern side of the yard wall.  The roof was not nearly high enough to enable them to see over the wall, but it brought them a little nearer the gallows, and it had its attractions.  While the doctors were counting the pulse-beats of the rapidly-dying men, this shed have way with a crash, and the crash was followed by a prolonged yell from the crowd.  Of the many men and boys on the roof all escaped without serious injury, except a little fellow named Harry Williamson who was so badly injured that he died a few minutes afterward.

            It was 11:07 when the drop fell.  The rope around Hester's neck kept its position, the knot being behind the left ear, but on both Tully and McHugh the knot slipped to the back of the neck.  The undertaker brought in three coffins, and at about 11:30 McHugh was cut down and carried to his coffin.  Tully was taken down next, and Hester last, his great weight making it necessary to carry the coffin directly under the rope.  The thing but strong cord, about half an inch thick, left a livid mark and a deep indentation on all their throats.  When the taking down of the bodies was begun the crowd in the jail-yard pressed up closely around the scaffold, hardly leaving the undertaker's men room to do their work.  When all was over a side door in the yard was opened and the public were admitted to see the scaffold and the bodies.  Not less than 1,000 persons availed themselves of the opportunity.  McHugh's and Hester's coffins were at once taken to the railroad depot for transportation to Kingston, thence to Wilkes-barre, the hearse being followed by several hundred persons.  A great crowd met the bodies, soon afterward, at the Kingston depot.

            Last Tuesday night, after the prisoners had abandoned all hope, Patrick Tully gave the following confession to George E. Elwell, on of his counsel, stipulating that it should not be given to the public until after his death:

            "I was born in Ireland on Dec. 17, 1830.  County of Cavan, Parish of Drughn.  I emigrated to Scotland in 1854, and came to this country in 1863.  I lived in Reading a while, and in Glen Carbon, Schuylkill County.  I went to Centralia in this county in the Fall of 1865.  I moved about a good bit, and there are a good many things that I do not care to say anything about.  I know there are many people who will believe what I am going to say is true, and there are others who will say it is false; but I am done with this world now, and have to answer only to the Almighty, and I will tell nothing but the truth.  Concerning this crime, I can't say that I am innocent.  I cannot say that any of the party is innocent.  You can make Patrick Hester innocent if you like, but he was there.  He was there all the night at Tom Donohue's saloon, and he gave his pistol to Kelley, and he was at the toll-gate that morning.  Kelly swore to some lies about the circumstances of the Rea murder, but most that he said was true.  Neither Hester nor McHugh told me to do the deed.  What I did was done of my own accord.  But Hester was Bodymaster, and McHugh was County Delegate, and if they had said the thing shouldn't be done they could have stopped it.  It was not so much the Ancient Order of Hibernians, as it was whisky that me into it.  If I had followed my early teachings I never would have got into this trouble.  When the trial first began I would have pleaded guilty, but I had no lawyer, and no money to pay one, and I didn't know what to do, so I pleaded not guilty, as the others did, when I knew it was a lie.  I would have made a statement long ago, but I was with the other two, and had no chance.  I never had a chance to talk to you alone or I would have told you this before; but I couldn't do it in the cell with the other two.  On the trial some of the witnesses against us swore false, but most of what Kelly said was true.  He could have sworn to a good deal more, but I guess he didn't mind it at the time.  I do say that Tom Donohue is innocent of this crime.  He knew nothing about it.  Most of the evidence for our defense was false, and many of the witnesses were paid for their evidence. *  *  *  I knew of a man who would swear that I sat up with him when he had a broken leg the night before Rea was murdered.  But when you asked me during the trial whether I had any witnesses, I would not tell you of this man because I knew it was two nights before the murder that I sat up with him, and I was not going to bring him here to swear to a lie, even to save my neck.  I do not make this statement out of spite toward any one, or to injure any one's memory, but simply because I truly repent of my crime, and will not die with a lie on my lips.  This statement is given by me, of my own accord to George E. Elwell, one of my counsel, and written down by him at my request this 19th day of March, 1878, to be published after my death.

                                                                                    PATRICK TULLY.

            In the place indicated by stars is a place indicating several other persons in the Rea murder, and this part of the confession is to be kept private for some time, in the hope that the guilty men may be arrested.

            After the hanging, there was a scramble in the jail yard for pieces of the rope with which the men were strangle, and when the demand began to exceed the supply in large ratio the plaiting was opened and only pieces of single strand were given.  Many Columbia County homes are happy tonight over the possession of these precious relics.

            The scaffold was taken down immediately after the hanging and will be sent back to Mauch Chunk tomorrow.  Thomas Fisher is to be hanged on it there Thursday.