The scene of two tragedies.
The other day I was in Northampton near the site of the old state mental hospital. Of course it's been closed for many years now, with the main structure having been torn down recently under circumstances that some have claimed ran roughshod over concerns about historic preservation. There are still a few buildings on the site that remain standing, but they are in rough shape and the whole site appears pretty gloomy.
That gloom has as much to do with the history of the place as it's physical condition. The Northampton hospital for the insane had a national reputation as one of the cruelest and most barbaric such institutions in the country. In fact, media revelations about what went on there are credited for launching a nationwide reform movement in mental health. No one will ever know the full story of the nightmares that were lived behind those barred windows.
For many, their journey through hell began by passing through this entranceway now choked with dead weeds.
Just beyond the hospital grounds a hulking monument stands upon a hill. If the setting looks a little eerie than it probably ought to because a terrible crime was committed here.
Two innocent men were hanged here before a jeering mob of 15,000 in one of the most infamous acts of anti-Irish prejudice in American history. The names of the victims are on a plaque bolted to the stone.
Here is a summary of the horrible injustice that occurred:
It was on November 10, 1805, that the body of a young man—his head bludgeoned and with a bullet hole in his chest—was discovered in a stream near Springfield, Massachusetts, after his horse had been found wandering in a nearby field on the afternoon of November 9. Two pistols were found near the scene of the murder. Letters in the horse's saddlebags identified the victim as Marcus Lyon, who turned out to be a young farmer from Connecticut making his way home from upstate New York.
Dominic Daley and James Halligan were two Irishmen from Boston who were tried and executed in 1806, in Northampton, Massachusetts, for a murder they did not commit. Francis Blake, one of the defense lawyers, focused on the anti-Catholic, Irish-hating atmosphere of the trial in his summation: "Pronounce then a verdict against them! Tell them that the name of an Irishman is, among us, but another name for a robber and an assassin: . . . that when a crime of unexampled atrocity is perpetrated amongst us, we look for an Irishman; . . . that the moment he is accused, he is presumed to be guilty until his innocence is proved." Northampton was not an isolated case. There were strong anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiments in all of Massachusetts during the early part of the 19th century.
As the Irish-American community became both more integrated and confident, individuals eventually succeeded in gaining a reconsideration of the case, and in March 1984 Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis proclaimed the innocence of Daley and Halligan.
If you stand on the site of the hanging and look in one direction, you can see the ruins of the hospital. Northampton is one of the most beautiful cities in New England. But even beauty casts a shadow, and this small area where the site of the cruel hospital and the site of the evil execution can both be found, must surely be considered Northampton's cursed ground.
The Boston Globe had a front page story yesterday about the controversy that has erupted over a nude portrait hanging in a famous art gallery of Massachusetts hockey deity Bobby Orr. There was a picture of the painting accompaning the article both in print and on the web, and it looked like this.
What's weird is that image is not how the painting really is. It actually looks like this:
So why did the Globe crop the picture at about where Orr's bathing trunks would have begun, had he been wearing any? It's not like they were trying to spare the readers a view of Bobby Orr's cock, as the picture was painted with Orr's hand in just the right location. So what about that painting is so offensive that the editors wanted to spare their readers from seeing it? I guess just male nudity itself, as if the very idea of a man in the nude were taboo. Sheesh, somebody tell the Victorian editors of the Globe that it's almost 2008, not 1808!
Oh well, all this fuss over Orr's nude image should not cause us to forget that he did all of what he's remembered for not in the nude, but with a Boston Bruins uniform on, as shown in this video.