By Joe Taylor
I worked for many years for Sunbeam Appliance Company. It was located on red oak road and I went by the beautiful Greek revival courthouse building each morning to work. The plant was a large important one for the company and subsequently we had a steady stream of visitors. Invariably during some of these visits someone would ask what’s in the little building on top of the courthouse. A hanging tower I would say. They would smile and I would watch their eyes widen in amazement as they realized I wasn’t kidding. Really! A hanging tower? Can we go see it? The visits got so frequent that I had my own key to the door that led to it.
I don’t know who the planners were when they sat down in the late 1920’s to design our courthouse, but they saw fit to include a way to carry out the ultimate punishment if someone was condemned to death. Just like the building that sits proud and beautiful today almost a hundred years after it’s construction in 1928. No expense was spared in the hanging tower and to me it looks like with a little grease here and there. It would be ready to use today. My impression is that some company must have been in the business of selling kits that included all you would need to build a scaffold around to create your hanging tower.
I looked to see if I could find a manufacturer name , but could find none. Nevertheless the trap door and handle to spring it is one unit made of substantial steel , along with a impressively large hook to attach a rope. I’m sure it did a effective job in carrying out what it was intended to do.
It was only used one day to execute a condemned person, actually three people were executed on a Thursday morning in 1936 for the same crime. That being the rape and murder of a young girl. For that crime three men: Alex Morrison, James Morrison (brothers ?) and Richard Valentine were hung one after the other and then lined up on the first floor for the curious to view. Henry Bethard tells me that he remembers the courthouse lawn being crowded with people the morning of the execution.
I went this morning to take a picture to put with this article. It’s always a little eerie walking the 17 concrete steps to the scaffold and then climbing the 15 wooden steps to the trap door. Which I cannot stand on. It’s just too weird and macabre a feeling to me. You wonder what would be the last thoughts of a person standing there having a rope fitted around his neck. Regardless, what we have left with is a unique apparatus. I’ve never seen another like it or one that’s in such good condition.
Also interesting is: In the late 1940’s another man was executed. This time using the electric chair. A more humane (?) method that replaced the hangman noose. Apparently in those days if you condemn someone to death the chair was brought to you. So, the electric chair and a generator came to Coushatta. The chair was set up in the court room and there sheriff Ray Adcock brought Amos Batt, who had been found guilty of the murder and robbery of a local taxi driver, and had the sentence carried out.
NOTE: The large lever coming up from the floor in front of the window is the lever that activates (opens) the trap door under the condemned persons feet to complete the execution.