Mayor of N.D. tourist town has to wait to hang

BISMARCK, N.D. — The mayor of the southwest North Dakota tourist town of Medora is seeking permission for a hanging, and he is sticking his neck out by volunteering to be the one to go to the gallows.

Mayor Doug Ellison wants to erect a gallows on his property to stage mock hangings for tourists, and he has taken his request to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

“The matter was not on the agenda and they were a little taken aback,” Ellison said. “There was about five seconds of stunned silence and at first I think they thought I was joking.”

The commission, of which Ellison is a member, tabled the idea on Tuesday and will vote on it next month. Commission members want to be assured the idea is safe and that a locked fence would surround the gallows display.

“I’ve spoken to the commissioners individually, and I’m optimistic it will pass,” Ellison said.

“My vision is to stage a shooting, where I’d gun down someone in the street, have a trial and a hanging, all within 20 or so minutes,” he said. “Anything longer than that and the tourists would lose interest.”

Ellison, 49, said he would purchase material for his mock gallows from a movie industry stunt supplier. A harness would be worn under his clothes that would take the impact of the fall from the gallows, he said.

“The rope is just a prop — there is no danger of breaking your neck,” he said. “If all goes well, it will look very realistic. I will be the only one being hanged, just to keep it safe.”

Ellison’s wife, Mary, said the gallows would be at the couple’s home in town and she’s just as worried about tourists trampling her flower beds as she is for her husband.

“I have to work this into my landscaping,” she said. “I am a little uneasy about (the mock hangings) but he will take all precautions.”

The couple owns an inn, bed and breakfast and a Western book store in the city of about 100 people, in the heart of North Dakota’s desert-like badlands that could serve as a backdrop for a cowboy Western movie.

Medora was founded in April 1883 by a French nobleman, the Marquis de Mores, who named the town for his bride. Lt. Col. George Custer passed through in 1876 on his fatal march west to the Little Bighorn, and Theodore Roosevelt ranched and hunted in the area before becoming president.

North Dakota entrepreneur Harold Schafer who launched the popular Mr. Bubble children’s bubble bath began a restoration and modernization of the town in the early 1960s, developing attractions that give the community an Old West atmosphere.

Ellison said the city’s population swells to about 400 in the summer with seasonal workers; about 200,000 tourists visit the town each year, Ellison said.

The mock hangings, which would be held on the weekends, “will be a great chance to interpret our history, and I think it will be one of the big attractions,” he said.

Ellison, a Western history hobbyist, said North Dakota had about a dozen vigilante lynchings and only a few legal hangings before capital punishment was outlawed in the state in the early 20th century. None of them were done in Medora, he said.

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