Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Technology and Family Lore

Just as modern forensics - DNA, fingerprints, etc. - have enabled law enforcement and the judicial system capture and convict more felons (or release wrongly convicted innocents) - the World Wide Web and all the information on it have enabled me to fletch out stories from my past.
Such a story concerns my grandfather, George A. Lynam. (Pictured above, possibly around the time this happened.) Re-reading one of my journals from ten years ago - I had been called for jury duty for the first time in my life, so that was on my mind and probably figured into the discussion my brothers and I were having at a get-together at Mom's.
From the journal - "Ron and Les and I got to comparing memories. Funny the differences in what we remember. Or how we remember events. Ron told of Grandma Lynam (Bessie) telling about Grandpa Lynam (George) and a neighbor or friend who got up early one a.m. to chore and then head the team and wagon for Maryville to witness a hanging.
Ron said he had heard the story when he lived down there. A black man was jailed for the murder of a school teacher at a country school west of Maryville. Apparently word got out that he was to be moved to another location, but, of course, was taken by the mob and hung. It would be interesting to dig into the facts (if they still exist) and see if the black man was even near the crime."

Through the magic of Google, I was able to learn that yes, the event really did take place - 80 years ago this past January - Raymond Gunn was tied and burned alive at the very school house where the murder took place. This picture from the Nodaway County (Missouri) Historical Society shows part of the crowd witnessing the tragedy. (Was my grandfather one of the men pictured with their backs to the camera?) The case drew national attention and was invoked unsuccessfully in an attempt to pass a law called the Wagner-Costigan Act.

Raymond Gunn did confess to the crime. Would DNA evidence have confirmed his confession? If he had been a white man, would a lynch mob have extracted justice?

As much as I wonder about those questions, I wonder more about my Grandfather's participation. He lived in the north part of Taylor County at the time. Maryville would have been at least forty, very cold, miles away. Was he the one who wanted to go to the lynching, or did he go along because his neighbor wanted to go? Who was the neighbor? And what kind of lasting impression did such a scene have upon Grandpa?

Those questions not even Google can answer.

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