In response, the crowed jeered: “We don’t want to hear him; string him up;
kill him; burn him.” James was hanged from an arch at 8:00 pm. However,
when the rope broke, James was riddled with bullets. The body was then
dragged by a rope for a mile to the scene of the crime and burned in the
presence of at least 10,000 people. Many women were in the crowd, some of
whom helped to hang and drag the body. His remains were then cut up for
souvenirs before burning the rest. His half burned head was then attached
atop a pole in Candee Park at the intersection of Washington Avenue and
Elm Street. The next morning, nothing was left of his body other than
With their blood-thirst boiling, part of the mob then went in search of
James’ named accomplice – Alexander. However, they evidently didn’t find
him, if such a man ever existed.
In the meantime, the other part of the mob fled to the county jail, where
they hammered at the cell of a man named Henry Salzner, for more than an
hour. Salzner, a local photographer, had been charged with murdering his
wife with an axe in August. The prisoner plead for mercy, while protesting
his innocence, but it was to no avail. The bars finally gave way, and the
prisoner was dragged to a telegraph pole at Washington Avenue and 21st
Street. He was lynched at 11:15 p.m. and once dead, filled with bullets.
Salzner’s body was left in the street and claimed by his father
the next day.
The mob remained in a frenzy and order was restored only after Governor Charles Deneen ordered eleven companies of the National Guard to proceed
to Cairo. By morning, all was quiet, the mob had
dispersed, and only a few persons, on the lookout for Alexander, were
lurking about the streets. However, hundreds of men continued to search
the river front, breaking into freight cars in the hope of finding
During the mob chaos, the Mayor and the Chief of Police were being guarded
in their homes, as the infuriated mob threatened them.
The very next year, in 1910, a sheriff's
deputy was killed by another mob attempting to lynch a black man accused
of snatching a white woman's purse. Again, the National Guard was called
in and martial law implemented until order could be restored.
Though the racial tension continued, the town continued to thrive. In
1910, the historic Gem Theatre opened its doors to much acclaim. Seating
685 people, it was a cultural hot spot in the town. Unfortunately, a fire
completely gutted the theatre in 1934, but it was rebuilt two years later
including a new, elegant marquee. The Gem continued to operate for nearly
another half century, before it was closed in 1978. Unfortunately, though
the vintage theatre still stands, it is long vacant and has fallen into
The original Gem Theatre before the fire that gutted it in 1934.
The Gem Theatre sits abandoned and silent today, Kathy
Weiser, April, 2010.
This image available for photo prints &