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The Robert Paul Prager Lynching April 5, 1918
This is the dark secret kept quiet in this town. Long ago there was an innocent man hung.
It is important to note that this sad event took place within less than a block of my house, and within full view of the occupants of this house, who also happen to be of German decent.
Robert P. Prager, 45 years old, a coalminer, charged with making disloyal utterances against the United States and President Wilson, was hanged to a tree on Mauer Heights by a mob of 300 men an boys after he had twice escaped mob violence, at 12:15 o'clock this morning. Prager was taken from the Jail by the mob, which battered down the doors. The prisoner was found hidden under a pile of rubbish in the basement of the Jail, where he had been placed by the police when they had learned that the mob was on the way to the Jail. The police were overpowered, there being only four on the night force, and the prisoner was carried down the street, the mob cheering and waving flags. The police were not allowed to follow the mob by a guard which had been placed over them. When led to the tree upon which he was hanged Prager was asked if he had anything to say. "Yes," he replied in broken English. "I would like to pray. He then fell to his knees, clasped his hands to his breast and prayed for three minutes in German. Without another word the noose was placed about his neck and the body pulled 10 feet into the air by a hundred or more hands which grasped the rope. Before praying, Prager wrote a letter to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Henry Prager, Preston, Germany. It follows: "Dear Parents - I must this day, the 5th of April, 1918, die. "Please pray for me, my dear parents. This is my last letter. "Your dear son. "ROBERT PAUL PRAGER." Prager was an enemy alien and registered in East St. Louis.
Prager Attended Socialist Meeting Short Time Before He was Lynched
After the mob had returned, several residents who had heard of the hanging went to the scene. Two unidentified person were found guarding the body. They would let no one approach and warned whoever came close that they would meet the same fate if they attempted to cut down the body. The mob took their prisoner from the jail about 10 o'clock last night. Prager earlier in the evening had attended a Socialist, where it is alleged he made a speech in which he uttered remarks which were termed disloyal. After word had been passed around, a mob collected there and started a search for the miner. Prager had been informed about that the mob was after him and he escaped. They told of the remarks of Prager and finally a mob of 300 was assembled. Prager was found on the street in front of his home. He was marched to the main street, where his shoes were removed and a large American flag was wrapped about his body. Prager was made to kiss the flag many times and march up and down the street waving two small flags which he carried in his hands. For fear that violence would result from the mob, the police took Prager from them and placed him in jail.
Mayor Induces Mob to Go Home, but It Reassembles Later
Mayor J. H. Siegel pleaded with the mob and asked them to go to their homes. He had previously closed all the saloons. "We do not want a stigma marking the town," said Mayor Siegel, "and I implore you to go to your homes and discontinue this demonstration." The mob disbanded and the mayor, thinking that everything had quieted down, went to his home. But a short time later the mob again formed and stormed the jail, taking the prisoner from the police. This is the first killing for disloyalty in the United States, although many persons have been mobbed and tarred and feathered. Prager begged for mercy. He said that he was a loyal citizen, and in a signed statement, which he had previously made to the police, he said that his heart and soul were for the United States. He admitted being a native of Germany. He said that he had applied for naturalization papers and that his second papers were waiting for him. Prager had been looking for work. He was a coal miner. He found he could not obtain employment because the union had rejected his application. On March 22, four men, including a Polish Catholic priest, were tarred and feathered at a mining town eighty miles from away. Previous to that time two other men were tarred and feathered in the same mining district. For the past three months many loyalty demonstrations have occurred in an effort to drive disloyal persons away.
JURY FINDS PRAGER DEFENDANTS NOT GUILTY AND OTHERS ARE FREE
Eleven residents walked from the court house Saturday afternoon, exonerated for the death of Robert P. Prager, German alien enemy, who was lynched in that city during the early morning hours of April 5. On the second ballot and with deliberations of only a few minutes the jury reached its verdict. On the first vote the jurors stood 11 to 1 for acquittal, The discussions, it is understood, lasted but a few minutes and then the second vote was taken. It found the defendants not guilty. The defendants who were acquitted were: Joseph Riegel, coal miner and shoe cobbler. Richard Dukes, Jr., coal miner . Cecil Larremore, coal miner. James DeMatties, coal miner. Frank Flannery, coal miner. Charles Cranmer, clerk. John Hallsworth, coal miner. Calvin Gilmore, plumber's helper. Wesley Beaver, saloon porter. Enid Elmore, coal miner. William Brockmeier, coal miner. The court room was filled with spectators when the defendants were taken back to the court room Saturday afternoon to hear their fate. A few minutes later the court was ready to receive the jury and the twelve men filed into the court room and took their places in the jury box. There was wild applauding and cheers from 'most everyone present. Relatives, friends and acquaintances rushed toward the bar to shake hands with the defendants. In a few minutes the crowd was quieted and the jury was discharged by Judge Bernreuter. Afterwards the defendants shook hands with the members of the jury. There was a peculiar coincidence at the trial Saturday. The Jackie Band was in town for a patriotic demonstration. When a shower of rain came up the musicians were sent to the court house where it had been arranged to give a program. At 2:40 o'clock judge Bernreuter ordered a recess after the completion of arguments and before reading the instructions. Then word was sent that the band might play until court re-convened. The first number of all concerts is the Star Spangled Banner and it was played Saturday. The strains from the Jackie Band caused tears to flow down the cheeks of Riegel. He was still crying when he returned to the court room. As the jury came in with its verdict the band was at the head of a procession of draft boys and in passing the court house played "Over There." The acquittal of most of the prisoners was no great surprise to most of those who heard the evidence.
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