Forgotten Ohio: April 13, 2012
Forgotten Ohio
Friday, April 13, 2012

Ohio's Palace of Death

I have long maintained that Forgotten Ohio has quantity, if not quality, and today's update includes a reminder of the quantity side of things. Having run this website since 1999, which now puts me at almost exactly thirteen years (and today is Friday the 13th!), I've accumulated more than a thousand individual html pages. Since I delete very little, it accumulates and stacks up and now I find myself with an extremely large website. Simple in terms of design (and hopefully simple to navigate), it's not difficult to add material to.

The point of the whole quantity issue is that I have undertaken another very time-consuming project for the website, though it's not one that I find unpleasant. It's just fairly slow-moving.

I have transcribed long pieces of writing before, including an excerpt about the fate of the Lady Be Good, an airplane with a tragic history currently on display at the United States Air Force Museum in Dayton. Then there's the scanning of Russel Frey's book Rogue's Hollow: History and Legends, as part of my page about Rogue's Hollow. When a book is highly relevant to something on the site, I will sometimes try to provide access to it, especially if it's old or rare or out of print.

All three of those things are true about H.M. Fogle's 1908 book Palace of Death: A True Tale of 59 Executed Murderers. It's so rare you'd have to really work the used book world to catch sight of it, even in Columbus. But once again thanks to Beth Santore of Grave Addiction, I own a copy of this unique, utterly engrossing and horrifying little hardcover. The spine has crumbled, and it's missing one page near the beginning, but other than that it's quite readable.

Ohio had executed more than fifty-nine people by 1908, and it certainly didn't stop that year. (Today, after a long break, they're at it again on a regular basis.) But H.M. Fogle set out to write a book about all the men executed within the walls of the Ohio Penitentiary up to the date he published it. That means starting with the first hanging to be brought inside prison walls rather than performed as a public spectacle at the corner of Mound and High. And he had access to some remarkable records, thanks to connections at the prison. It all makes for a book so fascinating it's hard to believe it's been so forgotten.

Well, as you might have noticed from the sign in the parking lot, we specialize in the forgotten here, and that's why I've begun transcribing the entire book, word for word, and posting it on its own special page mainly linked from the Ohio Pen section. Click below to check it out, and read the first fifteen chapters for yourself, should you be so inclined. (You really should.)

Palace of Death:
A True Tale of 59 Executed Murderers

It's the transcription, word for word, that takes up so much time and leaves only dense text on the page--but as someone who has, since the age of nine, wanted nothing more than to be a writer, I really don't mind. I think it's worth it; whoever H.M. Fogle was, he wrote a real page-turner of a book, the kind of nonfiction that got Court TV/TruTV junkies through the day before there was a Court TV or a TruTV (or Discovery, or TLC, or A&E, or any of the other high-minded cable networks being dragged into the gutter of "reality" programming by the irresistable pull of ratings). He includes a small photograph of each man (which I have not yet scanned, but will) and tells that person's particular story from before the crime was committed, to the way his body dangled from the rope You can read about the book at greater length on its main page, but I'm going to offer this caveat before you tackle any part of it: This book was written in 1908. I know a lot of empty bullshit is spouted about "good old days" and "simpler times." But let's remember how far we've come in just a single century, and I don't just mean walking on the moon. Palace of Death has, as its darkest feature, the casual racism of a year near the historic nadir of post-slavery race relations. Our president that year was undeniably one of the greatest ever to serve (in the middle of making his biggest mistake: not running for a reelection that was his for the asking), but even he was criticized heavily for inviting just one black person, Booker T. Washington, to dinner at the White House. (Exactly one hundred years later a black man was invited to live there.) Recall that women still couldn't even vote, and that any protections against child labor or corporate monopoly or environmental devastation were newly instituted by Theodore Roosevelt and not at all in force yet. You could be beaten, arrested, even killed with impunity for participating in peaceful protest or forming a labor union.

I won't go on with the history stuff; it's a little pretentious, and what I'm really trying to say is that the overall tone of Palace of Death is ugly because it comes to us from an ugly time. You'll find some N-words in it, and you'll read about female victims who pretty much deserved what they got for being such whores. You'll also find a shockingly cavalier attitude about the concept of executing an innocent person. More than one chapter is about someone "likely innocent" of the crime they're going to their death for. H.M. Fogle seems to think that even if the courts made a mistake, it was most likely an honest one, and you just gotta break those omelette eggs. It reminds me of something I once read about the "Hanging Judges" who gained fame in the Old West, people like Roy Bean and Isaac Parker: When in doubt about the guilt of an accused party, they favored summary execution. Their reasoning? It was a way of referring a difficult issue to a "higher court"--one that was never wrong about which way it judged a defendant. The possibility that the occasional guilty party might walk free was more repellant to them than the consequent guarantee that innocent people would, from time to time, be irreversibly punished. (Even scarier is the fact that some people still feel this way.) And with attitudes like that about hanging or electrocuting people who might have done nothing wrong at all, you can imagine the book's attitude toward capital punishment for legal minors or the mentally retarded.

Not to belabor the point, makes you wonder what a person in the year 2108 will have to say about us.

I hardly know how to say this, but I really must try to say thank you to two people whose names I haven't gotten permission to give out. These two incredibly generous and kind people actually clicked on the main page button to donate to the website via PayPal. I'm at a loss for how to say thank you, but really--thank you. It's easy to forget that people are often really amazing, if you give them half a chance to prove it.

I'm on Facebook; so are you. If you're not, I believe you're in danger of violating some federal law. If you're on Facebook now or will be soon, you should check out the Forgotten Ohio Group which I didn't initiate, but I am extremely honored by and have gone too long without mentioning. I have stuff I can post there which really has no logical home on the website itself.

This being Friday the 13th, it's not surprising that I've been invited to appear on two internet radio programs, both of them on Blog Talk Radio.

The first was at noon today, Free Age Radio with Aeileon. It was fun and went well except for the fact that I touched a dead spider while I was talking and screamed like a six-year-old girl.

The second show, Verse 1, is hosted by a friend of mine, Adam Brown. I will be his guest tonight at 11PM. Both programs should be archived on their respective pages soon enough, and if things go as planned I might start doing a regular monthly guest spot to answer questions and talk about Forgotten Ohio.

Adam does internet consulting work, helps build websites and monetize existing sites, and offers solutions to anyone interested in building a business online. He specializes in moving anyone's web presence further up the search-engine food chain. Visit his company, People Nexus, by clicking below.

I am reading:
FICTION - The Troupe, by Robert Jackson Bennett
Provinces of Night, by William Gay
NONFICTION - The Measure of Madness: Inside the Disturbed and Disturbing Criminal Mind, by Cheryl Paradis
The Novelist's Handbook, by Daniel Alarcon

I am listening to:
David Bowie singin "Magic Dance" from Labyrinth.

Current Update

Next Update . . . . . . . Previous Update