A Preference on the Gallows


 A funny anecdote connected with the Hon. Joe Blackburn’s first race for Congress was told to me the other day.  Joe happened to be passing through Owenton, the county set of Owen County, on the occasion of the hanging of a noted criminal.  As a hanging is a rather exceptional episode, the honorable Joe concluded he would stop over a few hours and witness the event.  The gallows was erected in the public square so that no citizen, no matter how humble, should lose the opportunity to witnessing the unusual spectacle.  It was, in fact, a gala day such as the history of Owenton has seldom recorded.  The Sheriff, with true Kentucky hospitality, invited Blackburn, as one of the distinguished guests present, to occupy a seat on the gallows.  Blackburn did so.  After the preliminaries had been arranged the Sheriff consulted his watch and discovered that it was not quite 12 o’clock, the hour fixed for the execution.  Turning to the prisoner, he said: “You have ten minutes yet to live.  Is there anything you desire to say in the meantime?”

The prisoner sullenly replied there was not. At this instant, Blackburn sprang from his seat, and advancing to the edge of the scaffold, said:  “If the gentlemen will allow me his remaining ten minutes I will be glad to announce myself as a candidate for your suffrages.  If elected to Congress – “ At this point the prisoner interjected: “Say, you! Is your name Joe Blackburn?” “Yes, sir,” responded Blackburn, politely. Turning to the Sheriff, the prisoner said: “We won’t stand on a few minutes, more or less, when the alternative is presented is ol’ death on one hand or listening to one of Joe Blackburn’s long-winded speeches on the other.  Flip the trap and let me go.” The good natured Sheriff obligingly “flipped the trap” and the next instant the desperado swung into eternity, while Blackburn clambered down the gallows, exclaiming while he went, that he had lost the greatest opportunity of this life.  


From the New York Times, January 12, 1886, and likely reprinted from a Cincinnati or Louisville newspaper,