By Bruce Cline, director of the Little Egypt Ghost Society
George Phillip Hanna was a southern Illinois banker, farmer and volunteer hangman. He was born in Epworth, White County, Illinois on September 16, 1873 and became one of the wealthiest landowners in White County, Illinois.
He witnessed his first hanging at age 22 in McCleansburg, Illinois in 1896. When the prison crew bungled the job, Hanna said that it was “brutal, horrifying.” Hanna decided to get his own rope and study hanging. The rope he used for hanging was a handmade 4-ply long fiber hemp that he purchased for $65 in St Louis, MO. Although Hanna officiated at 70 hangings, he stated “I haven’t much nerve” and “I dread hangings. I’m upset for days before and afterwards. When I hanged Birger, a bad man, I hid the noose be hind my back until the cap was adjusted.”
Hanna thought that he could perform hangings better if he used his own equipment. He built a portable scaffold that stood over 15 feet tall. This scaffold was used for the first time in Murphysboro, IL for the hanging of a black man. The hoods used to cover the head of the person to be hung were sewn by Hanna’s wife. The prisoner was given their choice colors, black or white. Hanna would visit each prisoner before the execution and tell them “I am here to help you.” He told them that he would try to spare them any misery and assured them that their death would be painless.
Most of the hangings went according to plan, some did not and some were even brutal. During one hanging in 1920, the condemned man fell to the ground and was severely injured when the rope broke. Hanna ran down the steps of the scaffold, picked up the condemned man and carried him to the floor of the scaffold. The man shouted out, “Hurry up, boys, and get me out of my misery.”
After each execution, Hanna would refuse payment but would make one simple request… that he be given the weapon used to the commit the crime. Among the weapons once used by men he executed is the machine gun used by Charlie Birger in the Birger-Shelton gang feud, an axe, a rag wrapped brick, a shotgun and numerous other murderous items. Hanna died September 6, 1948 in Evansville, IN.
Bruce Cline is the Director of the Little Egypt Ghost Society based in Carbondale, IL. He is a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army as a Corps of Engineers Officer. He is a former municipal, county and state law enforcement officer. Bruce lives in Carbondale, IL with his wife, Lisa and several cats and dogs.