Sam Hose was born in south Georgia near Marshallville, circa 1875. In the 1890s, Hose moved to Coweta County, where he worked for Alfred Cranford. After requesting time off to visit his mother, Cranford refused and threatened Hose. Defending himself, Hose threw an ax he had been chopping wood with and killed Cranford before fleeing. Two weeks later he was found in Marshallville and was returned by train to Coweta County. During his time as a fugitive, newspapers circulated the false story that Hose had raped Cranford’s wife and assaulted his infant child. He was taken from the train by a crowd that grew to more than 2000 people, some whom had traveled there specifically to participate in the lynch mob. Hose’s body parts were severed and the skin removed from his face before he was tied to a tree and burned alive. After the murder, detectives investigating the incident concluded that Hose had never entered Cranford’s home and acted in self defense. No one has ever been charged in Hose’s torture and murder.
The knuckles were in a jar on the grocery store sideboard. Each had spent twenty minutes roasting in a kerosene fire. They were brown and yellow with white underneath. People unable to watch the murder gathered around the knuckles. The grocery store owner was considering how much to charge for them. He watched the kids push against the candy counter. Each time he saw them reach in, he tapped on the glass and smiled ‘no’.
The heart was spread around in various handkerchiefs across Atlanta. The blood dried brown and yellow with white underneath. Hands scrubbed against washboards but it never came out. Some men pushed the stained parts into their pockets.
The liver was cut into squares. Mothers adept at pickling kept it a space apart from blueberries and apples and peaches. It hung in the brine, brown and yellow with white underneath. When the pastor was due to visit, the women clomped down the basement stairs and past it.
The strips of skin from the face were barbecued. A few were used as practical jokes, a few kept in cheesecloth, a few given to the dogs. They were brown and hard and tasted like kerosene.
Girls buttoned their washed dresses, speckled brown and yellow with white underneath. It came from standing too close, the blood of ruptured veins sparking in the heat of the fire. The wealthier threw the dresses out. They smelled like smoke and something they could not place.
The pieces of ear were kept in boxes in dresser drawers. During spring cleaning some of the boxes were emptied into pig troughs. They gobbled them up with the rest of the trash from the kitchen.
The nose was kept by just one person. At night, he turned over, picked it up and squeezed it in his hand. He remembered, heard the sound of metal on bone and, after awhile, slept.
No one claimed ownership of the genitals. The fire might have destroyed them. Or dogs or pigs. Or maybe they were under someone’s bed. It was improper to speak of.
They didn’t wear hoods and Sam recognized their faces. Some from the church balcony. Some men who squeezed his bicep, asked him to come work for them, pushed him down when he did not. Some from the grocery store. The owner always wrote down the exact change and warned he would know if Sam’s boss were cheated. Some were women he pretended not to see on the street. Some boys who threw bottle caps at his feet. Some girls who sniffed at the air when he passed and laughed.
When police put him on the train, Sam said, ‘Accident, accident, accident, accident’. When they took him off the train and the people he knew, the church ladies, the women, the men, the boys, the girls, marched him to his boss’s home Sam said ‘Help, help, help, help’. When they tied him to a tree Sam said ‘Please, please, please, please’. When they began stripping the flesh from his face Sam said, ‘Don’t don’t, don’t, don’t’. When they hacked away his ears, his nose, his genitals, Sam said ‘No, no, no, no’. When they doused him in kerosene and threw a match, Sam said ‘Oh, my God. Oh Jesus. Oh, my God. Oh Jesus’.
It was the first time Sam’s name was in the paper. It was the first time he had been quoted. Just before his mind exploded into fire, he hoped someone might read those words to his mother. So she knew, before Sam died, he had been thinking of Jesus.
Kate LaDew is a graduate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a BA in Studio Arts. She resides in Graham, NC with her cats Charlie Chaplin and Janis Joplin. Kate recommends Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.