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  • legend has it that Alexander Campbell slapped a muddy handprint on a prison cell wall in 1877 which has never been removed, despite extensive efforts?

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell
Born 1833
Dungloe, County Donegal, Ireland
Died 1877 (aged 43–44)
Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, United States
Children Rose

Alexander Campbell (1833 – June 21, 1877 in Mauch Chunk, Carbon County, Pennsylvania)[1] was a businessman who, along with three other alleged Molly Maguires members, was hanged for the murders of two mine operatives.

Campbell proclaimed his innocence to the end, and in doing so, slapped a muddy handprint on the wall of his prison cell, declaring that the mark would remain forever as a sign of his innocence.[2] Legend has it that despite many attempts to remove it, including building a new wall, the mark still remains today.[3]



Campbell was born in Dungloe, County Donegal, Ireland. In 1868 he emigrated to America, where he began to operate a tavern in Tamaqua, a town in eastern Pennsylvania. He eventually moved to Storm Hill in the Lansford area of Carbon County, Pennsylvania where he served as a recruiter for the Ancient Order of Hibernians.[4] He became a hotel owner, and liquor distributor,[5] and was allegedly a member of the Molly Maguires.[2] This was a term used in the Pennsylvanian coal mining counties Carbon and Schuylkill by miners, mainly Irish immigrants, to describe those who took part in organised labour movements and violently resisted conscription.[4]

Crime and punishment

The Molly Maguires were generally seen by the mine owners, and other powerful people, as murderers, terrorists and foreign agitators.[6] In 1877, along with three other men (Michael Doyle, John Donahue and Edward Kelly), Campbell was convicted of the murders of John P. Jones and Morgan Powell,[1] but he only admitted being an accessory.[7] However, the trial was unfair. The evidence collected was presented by a single detective from the Pinkerton Agency, and the judge had an anti-Molly bias. The jury also included non-English speaking, Protestant, German immigrants, and Welsh immigrants, known for not getting along with their Irish neighbours.[6] The convicts were taken to Carbon County Jail, and Campbell was put into cell #17.[3] For days they were forced to listen to the noise made whilst the gallows were being built, outside in the courtyard. On the morning of execution, the courtyard was packed with people. The convicts kept their dignity, but when the guards went to fetch Campbell, he tried one last time to proclaim his innocence.[6] When they refused to let him go, he put his hand in the dirt, and marked the wall with it, stating the mark would remain forever as a sign of his innocence. All four men were then hanged.[2]

The handprint

Some claim that the handprint Campbell left is still there today, though the wall has been washed, painted over, and, according to some versions, even knocked down and replaced. A forensic scientist who examined the handprint with infrared photography in the 1990s concluded that it had never been painted over, and stated that the history of Campbell's execution suggests a right hand print on the wall, rather than the left hand print that is currently visible.[3]

The prison is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its excellent example of 19th-century prison construction and for its role in the labour conflicts.[8]

Pennsylvania legislature

Far too late to save Campbell and the other men who were executed on the infamous "Day of the Rope", both branches of the Pennsylvania legislature have passed resolutions (House Resolution No. 527, Session of 2005,[9] and Senate Resolution No. 235 Session of 2006)[10] recognizing the trials of Alexander Campbell and the other accused Molly Maguires as being inherently unconstitutional, and charging the governor Ed Rendell to do the same. However, to date, the Governor has not recognized the trials or executions as unconstitutional.




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