Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Jodie Hamilton and Mourning Photography

There were a number of things that struck a chord with me during our visit at the Museum of Mourning Photography, so many that it is difficult to chose what to write about. Like Evan, I was taken in by the many photos of mothers cradling their deceased children, their eyes fixed on the camera, the secrets of what thoughts occurred in their heads during the minutes required to take the photo now buried as deep as the dead children in their arms.

I was overwhelmed by a photo in one of the Sleeping Beauty books of a young woman seated, eyes open, book in her lap as though she has just been reading, and scrawled along the side of the photo is written "Mother not ready to let go of only daughter--photo taken after dead 9 days." According to the notes in the back of the book she had been put on ice so her mourning mother could delay burial.

Then there was this photo:


This is the Parsons family of Houston, Missouri. They were murdered by Jodie (or Joda, or Jody, depending on which source you are researching) Hamilton on October 12, 1906. It is not clear how exactly they died--or rather, there are several different versions of how they died. First Jodie shot Barney (or Carney) Parsons when he confronted him and his family on a road as they were departing Houston, Missouri. Mr. Parsons had sold his share of crops/land to Hamilton as the family planned to leave town, but apparently there was bad blood and the deal did not run smooth. Parsons and Hamilton did not like each other at all, and Parsons haggled the price until he was satisfied; clearly Hamilton was not. So after the family packed up their things and got on the road out of town, Hamilton decided to follow them and confront Parsons again. It did not go well; Jodie shot Barney Parsons, then beat him with the butt of his rifle until the patriarch of the family was dead. This is were it gets a little murky...he then beat Mrs. Parsons to death with the rifle in some accounts, in others with a pole ax. I've also read that Mrs. Parsons was pregnant. In other accounts, she was not. In some accounts he also beat the children to death, in others he slit their throats with their toy knives. He then loaded the bodies into the wagon and drove them over to Piney Creek where he threw them into the water. Not long afterward fisherman found the bodies after they had traveled some downstream. The bodies were pulled from the water, and the photo above was taken of the whole family. Unlike most mourning photos we have seen, this has details that speak to the violent deaths these people endured. Just as the dehydrated, skeletal children tell of the horrors of cholera, the Parsons family tell a tale of murder.

In this way, this photo represents for me a hybrid of sorts. It is part mourning photo, part evidence without being at the scene of the crime. They are part sleeping, part bloodied. They look at peace, but the marks upon their relaxed faces reveal that they did not know peace in death. No doubt this photo was used to provoke anger and sympathy in that small, midwestern community.

Jodie, Joda, Jody Hamilton eventually confessed to the murders, but tried to claim insanity due to a kick in the head he received from a mule as a child. The law didn't buy it. He was hanged on December 21, 1906. He was hanged twice; apparently the first attempt was unsuccessful, so they had to bring him back up on the gallows, retie the noose and try again. One the second try, he died. He was twenty years old.

The murders were featured in the New York Times. You can read the original article, published on October 15, 1906, here.

On a side note, not at all related to mourning photography but still the dead, there is another old NY Times article I found from August 2, 1902 about a gravedigger's strike that happened in Chicago. Funeral processions already in progress were turned away from the cemetery gates as a result of the strike. You can read the article here.

24 comments:

pbsebastian said...

Great story. Also, like you pointed out, there defiantly more photos of the dead then just mourning. evidence, political, fear mongering. The list could go on and on and on....

I wonder if there is a song about the Parson family. It would make a great murder ballad.

Also, the story of the gravedigger's strike would make a wonderfully absurd union ballad.

angelstart said...

I just came across this while doing research on a local legend I heard as a child growing up in Raymondville, Missouri. My grandfather who was 17 in 1906, personally witnessed Joseph 'Jody' Hamilton's execution.

I had no idea mourning photos were still done in 1906. Thank you for posting this bittersweet photo and the story.

Anonymous said...

Im actually writing a paper on jodie hamilton. Im from Houston mo, and I had no clue that this story made its way to the new york times. I am some how actually linked to this story because my great great great grandfather lent jodie a team of horses and a buggy. Later on he found out that it was used to take the bodies down to big piney.

Anonymous said...

I,m the great,grandson of Sheriff Aaron Wood. The man that hung Jodie Hamilton. My name is Robert Wood Jr.Ihave the rope which he was hung with

MoOzark said...

I am currently writing a book about the Parsons family murder. I would like to contact Robert Wood, Jr. for any information about Sheriff Aaron Wood; and Anonymous about the great-grandfather lent Jodie the team of horses. If anyone has any family stories about this, I would love to hear from you. Contact me at: "rjgunter [at] atlanticbb.net" (replace the [at] with '@').

DotLady said...

I've been talking with my grandmother, and there is a very good possibility...or bad however you look at it, that I am related tho this Jodie Hamilton. I'd like to know more on him if at all possible. I'm leaving my email in case someone wants to give me more info.

julie said...

I was just looking up my dads name on the internet he was sheriff of Sterling city Texas for over 32 years and then I find that there was a man with the same name standing on the hanging podium, Just thought i would share that because it is a little unnerving.

Julie B. said...

My Grandfathers family album had that picture in it's original state plus another pic of Jodie Hamilton standing in front of a jail cell. I have done the same research getting the newspaper copies from the historical society. I felt like my family was somehow connected having these photos. They lived right there. Please e-mail me if you can add anything. ldyjul@yahoo.com

Juie B. said...

Oh, and also there is a song. My Mom used to sing it to us when we were little. I can still hear her singing but can't remember the words but the words were published in the newspapers back then and it was (I believe) his apology to the town.

Anonymous said...

So, this was pretty interesting to find because Jodie Hamilton is the great uncle of a close friend of my family. His dad still has three photos of the hanging and the photo of the family...

Anonymous said...

I am actually related to the people in this photograph. The man, Carney Parson, is my Grandmothers great uncle. According to her, the murders were a result of an argument over a saddle. My Grandmother has an original copy of this photo and I have seen it several times growing up, but its not till recently that I realized it was such a widely viewed tragedy.

Destini Payne said...

Hello and thank you for all the info. Bare with me because I am completely new to the whole idea of "Victorian Era:Hidden mothers & post-Morten pictures" I have been on my computer researching going on 6 hours now since I came across it earlier today. Whats worse, I found it because I was thinking of having a "Victorian Themed" Wedding.... Talk about throw that idea away. Anyway my question to you is who took the picture of the deceased family and why? That is really got me wondering and now I must know. Also, for someone like me, finding your website has helped me to sort through the facts and lies that infect the internet; so thank you very much. Your work is appreciated. At least you have documents that back your story up and even family of the the people in the story commenting on your blog. Thank you for just telling it straight (as if more need be added) because other blogs I have found have added so many lies to the story that even I knew they were telling a lie. Two thumbs way up.

RDWood III said...

Hello, My name is Robert Wood III. I am the great great great grandson of Aaron Wood. I have in my possession the actual rope used in this story, as well as newspaper, pics, and the double barrel shotgun that Aaron carried. If any other photos or stories I would love to hear them. Thank you and feel free to email any additional info.

Anonymous said...

Did you know that Jodie Hamilton had 2 uncles that committed a crime just like this . In ohio I think it was they killed a family and tried to cover it up and burned the house down after the murders. But they was caught because one of the children escaped the burning home . That they thought she was dead. Anyways when they were in jail awaiting trial they escaped , one was caught and hanged and the other one was never seen again.

Harold W. Hamilton said...

Anonymous can you please give me more information about Jodie's two uncles....I am Jodie's great-nephew and I have never came across that information in my travels through the family tree. My email is hwhamiltonboy@msn.com. Thanks. Harold Hamilton

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know more about Jodie's uncles. Were they paternal uncles? What time period were the murders committed? Here's some additional information, in case anyone is interested. I wondered what happened to, "Mae Thompson," Jodie's fiancée. If you remember, Jodie confessed that he intended to murder her too, because, he said, he would, "...rather have her dead than to know, (that he had killed the Parsons family), and stop loving him." Her name was actually Leona May Thompson, daughter of Rebecca Ann Thompson and Edd Thompson. One newspaper account gives her age as 16, but she was born on July 3, 1883, so she was 23 at the time of the murders. May fainted in her father's arms, according to witnesses, when the rope failed to hang Jodie the first time. May recovered and married Harry E. Campbell, (19 March 1887-21 September 1950), on December 15, 1907, at Gentry, Missouri. She and Harry lived in Parkville, Missouri, Platte County, where she worked as a house worker. She died of cervical cancer on July 28, 1949, at Trinity Lutheran Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri, having suffered with the disease three years before succumbing to it. Her husband Harry was killed in a car accident in Oklahoma while traveling en route to a vacation in Arizona just over a year after burying May. His brother was driving the car and he and his wife were also killed. May and Harry are buried side by side at the Union Star Cemetary, Union Star, DeKalb County, Missouri. Jodie was buried in an unmarked grave next to his mother. When his casket was found to be too long for the hole in the ground, cemetery workers used a pick ax to knock part of the casket end off, thereby allowing them to jump on the casket and ultimately fit Jodie's remains into his grave.

Anonymous said...

P.s.- I also did some research concerning the post which was above mine. In that comment the writer stated that Jodie had 2 uncles who committed murder in Ohio, with one hanged and one escaping. I researched the name Hamilton, and the name Taylor, which was Jodie's mother's maiden name. No one by either of those names was hanged in Ohio during the appropriate time period.

Mel Leach said...

Does anyone know the name of the judge who sentenced Jodie to hang?

Harold Wood said...

I am Harold Wood the grandson of Aaron Wood of Texas County Missouri that hung Jodie Hamilton. Jodie Hamilton killed the Parson family in the Big Piney Massacre. You can contact me by email through Krystal.jones@chickasaw.net

MichelleG said...

I just found out about the Hamilton hanging yesterday. I did my DNA through ancestry, and a relative found me, and said we are related. I haven't figured out how, as I just started to piece it together and found this. I'm guessing a distant cousin, but I'm still working on it. Found this very interesting. Thank you.
~Michelle in KC

Baby girl 77 said...

William and George Taylor were the uncles of Jody Hamilton it's The Gas light Murders and it happened in Missouri as well. They killed The Meeks Family.Nellie Meeks was the only surviving child and it happened May 10,1894. This also happend outside and outside their horses and buggy. Nellie Meeks was 6 yrs old,and she played dead.They killed her father, mother, her 4 year old sister Hattie and her 18 month old sister Mary. Her mother Delora was pregnant and the fetus came out because of her death. Nellie was raised by her Maternal grandmother. Nellie married and gave birth to a daughter she named Hattie (after her little sister ) and Nellie died from complications of giving birth to Hattie in 1910.

Anonymous said...

I'm not at all linked to this story but fascinated by the response from people who are. Thank you all for sharing. I look at those darling little boys and am deeply saddened. Please if possible continue this story. And thanks again.

Julie Buzay said...

Wow,this history is so amazing to hear about. Just makes me want to learn more and more!!

Anonymous said...

here is a link with the Taylor Meek story http://rootsweb.ancestry.com/~molinn/meeks.html