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Last Woman Hanged

Tuesday I attended a lecture sponsored by the Herkimer County Historical Society. Does that sound cultured and intellectual? It may have been. It was also a great deal of fun.

James M. Greiner, author of Last Woman Hanged: Roxalana Druse, was talking about the famous case. I have many times noticed the historic marker outside the 1834 Jail and wanted to learn more about the local murderess. Last December, Greiner was at the Historical Society signing his book, but I missed it, which was too bad, because I had previously told my entire family NOT to buy me Christmas presents, because I was buying myself the book (they got me presents anyways, but that’s a whole other blog post).

Tuesday’s talk took place at the Herkimer County Courthouse, at Herkimer’s Historic Four Corners, a favorite walking place of mine and Tabby’s. I walked over, because Steven planned to drive straight from work (always fun to have a rendezvous). The event drew a large crowd. I could have gotten there much earlier and saved us seats closer to the front. Then again, with such a large crowd, some people may have taken exception to my saving a really good seat for somebody who may not arrive on time. Our seats in the back turned out to be fine, however; we had no problems hearing.

Greiner’s book is all about the facts of the case. Apparently everybody who grew up around here “knows” that Roxalana Druse fed her husband’s dead body to the pigs and was hanged on the hook in back of the jail, neither of which, it turns out, was the case. I have to confess, I didn’t know (or “know”) any of that. You see how much I missed out on, growing up in Rome.

We heard a lot about the true case and about the research Greiner undertook to find out about it. He is an excellent speaker, very organized and articulate, and obviously passionately interested in his subject. He says he follows the rule “Write what you love.” I wrote that one down.

He had previously published two books on the Civil War and wanted to do something different. He said he called up the Historical Society and said, “I want to do a murder.” (I wrote that one down, too.) He said the historical society lady’s response was to the effect of, “Not Gillette, he’s been done to death!” I must confess that made me feel a little vulgar, because I can’t get enough of the Gillette case. I don’t think any disparagement was meant, only that Greiner wanted to explore uncharted territory. As pointed out on the back of Greiner’s book, the Gillette case has overshadowed the Druse case. This book helps to even up the score.

I was able to purchase the book Tuesday. Several people attending had already read it and told me it was an excellent read, impossible to put down. After the talk, I went to the front of the room to get the author to sign it.

“Oh, I signed all of them.” He showed me where he did.

“Oh, I’m silly.” I did feel silly, especially as I was debating in my head whether to say Cindy or Cynthia when he asked me who to make it out to. That’s what author’s at book signings in movies always do.

I was really happy I was able to attend the talk and to buy the book. I look forward to reading it. Copies are available at the Herkimer County Historical Society, 406 N. Main St., Herkimer, NY. For more information call 315-866-6413.

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