Bury­ing Leo Frank

Re­vis­it­ing his hor­rific story, a cen­tury later.

Forward Magazine - - Front Page - By Paul Berger

It’s a sim­ple grave­stone, a small, groundlevel marker iden­ti­cal to the four stones be­side it. Noth­ing about the in­scrip­tion, “Sem­per Idem” —“Al­ways the same” — hints at the sig­nif­i­cance of this 31-year-old man’s un­timely death.

But here, at the edge of Mount Carmel Ceme­tery, in New York City, 100 feet from traf­fic stream­ing by on the Jackie Robin­son Park­way, lies Leo Max Frank.

Frank’s con­vic­tion in At­lanta in 1913 on charges of the rape and mur­der of a 13-year-old girl are well known. So, too, is the lynch­ing of Frank, on Au­gust 17, 1915, af­ter his death sen­tence was com­muted to life in prison.

Less well known is the jour­ney Frank’s body took af­ter it was cut down from an oak tree in Ma­ri­etta, Ge­or­gia, and trans­ported to New York City, where, on Au­gust 20, 1915, as the Forverts re­ported, “softly in a sound­less dawn his body was low­ered in a wooden cof­fin, into the deep grave.”

It was to be a tu­mul­tuous jour­ney.

Frank’s corpse was dis­played and cel­e­brated like a tro­phy by the thou­sands who rev­eled in his mur­der. In New York City, thou­sands more turned out to mourn or to catch a glimpse of Frank’s casket, his be­reaved par­ents or his widow.

Frank’s fi­nal hours alive be­gan on Au­gust 16, when a group of armed men woke him up in the mid­dle of the night. The men dragged Frank, who was wear­ing only a night­shirt, from his jail cell in Milledgeville, south­east of At­lanta, and bun­dled him into one of seven wait­ing cars.

As his car bumped along coun­try roads, head­ing more than 100 miles north­west through the night, to­ward the town of Ma­ri­etta, Frank’s cap­tors gave him one fi­nal op­por­tu­nity to ad­mit rap­ing and mur­der­ing Mary Pha­gan. Frank, who had pro­fessed his in­no­cence for more than two years, re­mained silent, ac­cord­ing to Steve Oney’s painstak­ingly re­searched book about the Frank case, “And the Dead Shall Rise.”

Shortly af­ter day­break, the car stopped at the edge of a wood close to the homestead where Pha­gan had grown up. The men walked Frank to an oak tree, helped him onto a ta­ble and looped a noose around his neck.

At around 7 a.m., Frank was asked if he had any fi­nal words. “‘I think now more about my wife and mother than about my own life,” he is re­ported to have said be­fore the ta­ble was kicked away and Frank, his arms and legs bound, swung in the air.

As the min­utes and then the hours passed, thou­sands came from the sur­round­ing towns and coun­try­side. They cheered, and posed for pho­to­graphs. They cut away pieces of the rope that bound Frank and ripped off swatches of his cloth­ing.

A lo­cal judge, Newt Mor­ris, waded into the crowd, im­plor­ing the men and women to al­low Frank’s body to be taken away. The Forverts, which had cov­ered Frank’s case re­lent­lessly since 1913, re­ported that Mor­ris begged, “What­ever sin the liv­ing Frank com­mit­ted, he has a mother and fa­ther — have mercy on them.”

But no sooner had Frank been cut down than the mob swarmed the body. Among that mob was Robert E. Lee How­ell who, ac­cord­ing to the At­lanta Jour­nal, stomped re­peat­edly

with a “crunch­ing sound” on Frank’s face. Later that day, at an un­der­taker’s in At­lanta, a doc­tor noted the well-de­fined mark­ings of the sole of a shoe on Frank’s nose and close to his left eye.

Even in At­lanta, Frank’s body was not left in peace. As The New York Sun re­ported, crowds swarmed the un­der­taker’s garage threat­en­ing to break down the doors if they were not al­lowed to see Frank. The mob smashed a pane of glass, prompt­ing the po­lice to es­cort Frank’s body to the un­der­taker’s chapel, where, over the space of five hours, about 15,000 peo­ple filed in to view Frank’s body.

That evening, Frank’s casket was placed on a train and, along with his widow, Lu­cille Frank, a few of her rel­a­tives and Rabbi David Marx, spir­i­tual leader of the Franks’ syn­a­gogue in At­lanta, The Tem­ple, the party de­parted for New York City.

Over the days that fol­lowed, news­pa­pers across the coun­try re­ported Frank’s kid­nap­ping and lynch­ing. Early on, they noted that though it was well known that the lynch party was or­ga­nized by civic lead­ers of Ma­ri­etta and Cobb County, in­clud­ing lawyers, busi­ness­peo­ple and politi­cians, no one had been ar­rested. In­deed, many in Ge­or­gia sup­ported the lynch­ing. The mayor of At­lanta, J.G. Wood­ward, an­nounced that “when it comes to woman’s honor there is no limit to which we will not go to avenge and to pro­tect it.”

Much of the rest of the coun­try was hor­ri­fied. For­mer pres­i­dent Wil­liam Howard Taft called the lynch­ing “a damnable out­rage.” The Jews of New York City, who had been so con­cerned about mur­der­ous anti- Semitism in the Old Coun­try, were forced to con­front a sim­i­lar crime com­mit­ted in their new home. On the Lower East Side, they gath­ered out­side the


Laid to Rest: Leo Frank’s grave in Mount Carmel Ceme­tery, in New York City.


The Ac­cused: Frank was con­victed of the rape and mur­der of a 13-year-old girl in At­lanta.


Front­page News: Page 1 of the Forverts on Aug 17, 1915, the day that Frank was lynched.

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