Hanging in Whitesburg – finale

Published 2:00 am Thursday, May 11, 2023


Contributing columnist

Several men were hanged in Gladeville paying the ultimate price for their crimes. Don’t look for Gladeville on the map however as the name of the township was later changed to Wise. It’s located in Wise County in southwest Virginia.

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Approximately 30 miles away as the crows fly lies Whitesburg, Kentucky and they also had a notable hanging in 1910, on May 19th. It was their first and last public hanging.

“Goodbye to everybody forever and forever,” 23-year-old Floyd Frazier said from the gallows that was built especially for his public execution. “My mother, oh my mother! Oh Lord! Oh Lord, my precious mother!

It was a typical morning in Whitesburg except the streets were teeming with people. The roads tying the town to the outside world steadily brought others until a throng estimated by some newspapers as five thousand swelled the town. In that era hangings always brought large crowds.

Everyone appeared orderly as they gathered around the courthouse anticipating that Kentucky Governor Augustine Wilson may grant a last-minute reprieve that would save young Frazier’s life. Some in the crowd felt this when Sheriff Louis Cook appeared at a second-floor window at about 1 o’clock.

“Please move back over to the college grounds,” he announced. “We’ll be bringing the prisoner on over and we need you all to clear this area. Everyone must stay back.”

Soon the streets were clear and the sheriff and guards went to the jail and took possession of the prisoner and escorted him to a carriage bound for the gallows. There was a buzz rising from the crowd but they became surprisingly quiet for that large of a crowd when Floyd Frazier arrived with Sheriff Cook and the other lawmen.

“The sheriff asked me to request that you all be on your best behavior,” Sam C. Tyree announced from the top of the scaffold. “Everyone here needs to keep in mind the seriousness of what we’re doing here. This is a solemn occasion. Demonstrations or taunting the prisoner will not be allowed. It’s his last day here on this earth. That just will not be allowed.”

Floyd Frazier then exited the carriage and paused at the bottom of the scaffold steps. Sam Collins and Will Hall assisted him up and onto the platform. Sheriff Cook, lawmen, ministers and some kinfolk of the doomed prisoner quietly spoke to each other.

Sheriff Cook asked if the 24-year-old Floyd Frazier wanted to say anything to the people who were present. He stepped forward on the platform and looked out over the crowd for the first time since ascending the steps.

“All I have to say is that my mother did not know nothing about the crime they accuse me of,” Frazier said. “She is as clear as the angels in God’s Heavens.”

The doomed man then turned to Dr. Fitzpatrick saying there wasn’t a hair of evidence against him, that he had been forgiven for he had done. The Lord has pardoned all my sins, what sins I have done.

“Doctor, if they put anything in the paper against me, that is let me say it this way, if they have no respect for me they still ought to have respect for my people. I don’t want anything put in the paper about me except what is right.”

Photographers moved forward prompting Frazier to continue his conversation wiih Fitzpatrick. Doctor, “They are trying to take my picture Doctor. I don’t want them to take my picture,” Frazier said.

Judge Fitzpatrick requested that no pictures be taken and the photographers withdrew. (Frazier referred to Fitzpatrick as Doctor whereas stenographer D. I. Day referred to him as Judge.)

Soon Frazier’s time was up. He was reluctant to have his hands tied. The sheriff didn’t want to have them tied by force so several of the men persuaded him to oblige. Frazier put one foot on the trapdoor but quickly pulled it away. They assured him it was safe at that time and he soon put both feet on the trapdoor.  Next the rope was placed around his neck and the hood was placed over his head.

At two minutes after 2 p. m. the rope holding the trap door was cut and the prisoner fell through stopping with a whomp. Doctors Roark, Fitzpatrick and Venters checked his pulse periodically and after twelve minutes he was pronounced dead.

“His lifeless body was gently lifted into a carriage and conveyed to the home of his mother, Mrs. Nancy Adams, where it remained for the night,” the stenographer wrote. “This unfortunate young man, about 24 years old was buried the following day leaving a widowed mother and several brothers and sisters.

It was written that there was no better or more highly connected family in Letcher County than the Frazier’s and it was unfortunate that Floyd Frazier’s life came to such a sad ending.”

Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate. Thanks to Lincoln Memorial University, Alice Lloyd College and the Museum of Appalachia,  for their assistance.