|From Leo Frank Site|
A little over a month ago, on March 7, 2008, a new Historical Marker was erected in Marietta. It was placed it front of the 1200 Roswell Road Building, under the shadow of I-75, at Frey’s Gin and Roswell Road. It stands a few hundred yards in front of the Kmart and just a couple of blocks from the famous Big Chicken. It commemorates one of the most infamous and intriguing moments in History Greater Atlanta has to offer, representing the end of one life, so intertwined with the end of another. It marks the site in which Leo Frank, convicted, commuted, and (much) later pardoned murderer of Little Mary Phagan.
Now, I’m going to try to avoid taking sides in the issue of Leo Frank’s Guilt or Innocence. My leanings toward Catholic doctrine and Classic Liberalism makes me feel that any use of the Death Penalty is wrong at its core. That is the part of the story this marker commemorates. Its not the murder site of Mary Phagan (Which was at the National Pencil Factory, where the Sam Nunn Federal Building (map) now stands). It not the site where Frank was imprisoned for the murder (a work farm near Milledgeville). But it is rather the site where a mob of what has been purported to be prominent Marietta Citizens brought Leo Frank to and hanged him from a tree.
The point of this post is to show you where this piece of history is at, rather than tell the whole story. The history of the event is recounted quite well on About North Georgia, the New Georgia Encyclopedia, and various other sites. The point of this site is as always to show you where these things are and what they look like in case you wish to experience this piece of History first hand. I’ve included a photograph of Mary Phagan’s Gravesite, located a couple of miles away from the marker, at the Marietta Confederate Cemetery (MAP), where the mob, reportedly, got together and resolved to break the imprisoned Frank out of jail for purposes of ending his life).
A brief synopsis of what happened goes like this: On April 26, 1913, 13-year-old Mary Phagan went to the Pencil Factory to collect her wages from the manager Leo Frank. Early in the morning the next day, a night watchman, Newt Lee, discovered here battered and raped body in the factory. Leo Frank, the last person alive to see the girl, was later arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death on October 13 of that year. It was a momentous case because of the notoriety of the situation and the fact that it was the first Georgia case where a black man’s testimony (Jim Conley) led to the conviction of a white man (though many at the time held Jews, like Frank, as being non-white). Two years later, in June of 1915, Governor Slaton commuted the sentence from death because of irregularities in the trial system. On August 16, 1915, a mob grabbed Frank from a prison work farm near Milledgeville, transported him back to Marietta, where Little Mary was buried, and hanged him from a tree. There are photos of this here and here courtesy of Without Sanctuary, a site that catalogues (get this!!) postcards produced commemorating hangings. In 1982, Alonzo Mann, an office boy at the National Pencil Factory on his death bed stated that he saw the aforementioned Jim Conley at the site carrying the body of Mary Phagan on the night of the murder. Frank was pardoned without exonerating him of the crime in 1986 by the Georgia Pardons and Parole board. Although the Family of Mary Phagan maintains that Frank was convicted correctly. This is the super condensed version of the story, a great book on the subject is And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank, by Steve Oney (overview of book here).
The impact of the event was paramount in the revitalization of the KKK and led to the creation of the Anti-Defamation League. A dark moment in our collective history. Bad trials, Child Labor, Rape, Mob Justice, and a strangely joyous Lynching. Now if we can only get marker up for all our lynchings, maybe we’ll remember how precious actual civilized society is. There is a tree a few feet from the marker, where you can pause and imagine an ugly past and hope for a better future.