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Medora mayor pulls application to construct gallows for re-enactment

MEDORA, N.D. - No one will swing from a gallows here.

Mayor Douglas Ellison said Monday that he will withdraw his application to build a gallows for staged hangings.

"Some people were kind of upset," Ellison said. "I think the people that were quick to criticize, I think, just did not understand what I had envisioned."

Ellison presented his plan to build a gallows to the Medora Planning and Zoning Commission last week. A safety harness would be used to absorb the impact from the fall, he said. He would have been the only person to hang.

The commission tabled the proposal to address concerns.

The story hit newsstands across the nation. Ellison said the majority of people he talked to supported the idea. Ellison withdrew the application because he didn't want to "give anyone reason for thinking badly of the town," he said.

"If even a minority of visitors finds such an option offensive, I owe it to my hometown to remove the potential irritant," he said.

Councilman Dennis Joyce said people called him with questions and concerns.

"I had some questions to ask, and I guess I don't have to ask him," he said.

The hangings were meant to be a theatrical performance, Ellison said, adding that it would be historical, educational and would illustrate the moral lesson that crime does not pay.

"Some people, just on the face of it from what I heard, they had trouble, you know, understanding where a hanging could be entertainment," he said.

The Wild West Shootout, which is held during the summer in Medora, has attracted immense crowds, Ellison said.

"It's just escapism," he said. "The kids know it's not real."

Re-enactments are also popular in Deadwood, S.D., said Sarah Anderson, Deadwood Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau events coordinator. The tourist town is known for the shooting of "Wild Bill" Hickok, which is dramatized inside Saloon No. 10, where he was killed by Jack McCall in 1876.

The idea of building a gallows for staged hangings in Deadwood was discussed about three years ago, Anderson said. The chamber wanted to use it to raise money for charities, but a lack of funds kept it from being built.

"When they do the re-enactments at the Masonic Temple of the trial of Jack McCall, it's usually packed," she said. "I think (a hanging) would just be an added attraction."

Ellison is very thoughtful, said Randy Hatzenbuhler, Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation president.

"He is a true historian, and I think his idea was with good intention," he said. "We had contacted him and said, 'You know, I think there could be a lot of unintended consequences and hope we can find a different historical presentation.' "

While Ellison said he was retreating from his stance on the project, he is not surrendering. He doesn't plan to bring back the idea any time soon, but he reserves the right to do so.

"I still think if done as originally intended it would be done tastefully and educationally," he said.