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The Handprint of an Innocent Man

On June 21, 1877 a man convicted of murder was excommunicated from the Catholic church and hung. He was denied a proper burial. The man who was executed was Alexander Campbell. Alexander Campbell has gained notoriety not for the crime he may or may not have committed; but he became famous for his hand print.

Alexander Campbell moved from Donegal, Ireland to America in 1868. Alexander arrived in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania; there he got a job as an operator of a local tavern. After working there for some time he moved to Storm Hill of Carbon County, Pennsylvania. It is here that his tragedy and story would unfold.

Alexander Campbell was a defendant of the Irish Catholic immigrants. Having moved from Ireland himself he understood the troubles and problems that the Irish faced in America. It was because of his kinship with his fellow Irish that he acted as recruiter for the Ancient Order of Hibernians. An order that sought to help and aid Irish Catholic Americans. Eventually Alexander became owner of a local hotel and a distributor of fine spirits. It was probably because Alexander was a member of the AOH; that he was thought to be part of the terrorist organization of the Molly Maguires. The Molly Maguires were a pro-active organization seeking equal rights for Irish immigrant workers. This of course was looked down upon by the Rich coal Barons and “Native” Americans.

In 1877 Michael Doyle, John Donahue, Edward Kelly and Alexander Campbell were all accused and convicted of the murder of two coal mine foremen. Campbell was convicted of manslaughter despite the fact he pleaded to only being an accessory to the crime. Alexander Campbell was sent to cell 17 in Carbon County Prison. It is in this very cell that Alexander would forever leave his mark.

On the day Campbell was taken to be executed for his alleged crimes he took his hand from the dirty ground and slapped his hand firmly against the cell wall. He then proclaimed,

“There is proof of my words. That mark of mine will NEVER be wiped out. It will remain forever to shame the county for hanging an innocent man.”

Campbell and the other men walked to the gallows without a fight, or complaint. They sought no mercy but accepted what was to become of them. The four men were hung as well as 13 other men that year. They were all convicted of being Mollies or Irish upstarts.

Campbell’s hand print remains on the wall of Carbon County prison to this day. It has been there for 130 years. Before you ask why they it was not cleaned off I can tell you it was. It was scrubbed, painted over, plaster was replaced, and in 1930 the warden of the Jail had the entire wall replaced. Still the handprint reappeared.

In the 90’s the town of Jim Thorpe had the handprint professionally analyzed. They measured it’s size, composition, and placement. Still they can not tell if it is the original or a facsimile. However with the knowledge of the hand they now have they should be able to pinpoint a copy should it be removed and reappear. Finally in 2005 and 2006 legislation was passed that deemed the Alexander Campbell trial unconstitutional. The Handprint can be seen still today at The Old Jail Museum .

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