On August 30, 1867, on a New Jersey gallows, convicted murderer Bridget Durgan was hanged before a crowd of over five hundred men, women, and children who behaved as though they were attending a carnival. She remained suspended until the cheering crowd was satisfied that justice had been done.
But had it? In Bridget's Hanging, Sheila Duane looks carefully at the evidence and concludes that justice was not done: Bridget was tried, condemned, and executed for a murder she didn't commit.
Instead, she was guilty of being poor, illiterate, Irish Catholic, an immigrant, and not beautiful, all of which were loathed in nineteenth-century America. Tried by a media not unlike today's and condemned by mob mentality, Bridget and her sensationalized story eclipsed the murder victim herself-Mary Coriell, for whom Bridget worked as a domestic-and a more likely suspect.
While journalists at the time painted a picture of Bridget as monstrous, Duane looks with fresh eyes at a character who was intellectually childlike, who practiced a foreign religion, believed in unfamiliar superstitions, and who spoke with a brogue that was difficult for Americans to understand.
Both a well-documented study and an absorbing whodunit, Bridget's Hanging dissects the case against Bridget Durgan and finds it wholly unconvincing. In doing so, Duane manages to find a little justice for Bridget at last.
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About the Author
Sheila Duane has been teaching research writing at the college level for more than twenty years. She has also worked as a researcher, a journalist, and an advertising copywriter. She has been publishing her poetry for many years, most recently with the Journal of New Jersey Poets. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of New Mexico, a master's in teaching from Monmouth University, and a master's in English literature from Rutgers University.
Duane resides in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, with her husband, Dean, and her son, Jude.