San Jose, California: 26 November 1933. Unbound. Each b/w semi-matte 6” x 4.5” photograph shows a different white man hanging from a tree. One man (John M. Holmes) is naked and the other (Thomas H. Thurmond) is naked but for a shirt and jacket. These are probably silver-gelatin images, as both have faded slightly and show the beginning of some silvering. They are lightly soiled and worn. Very good. Item #009304
In 1933, Brooke Hart was the 22-year-old heir to San Jose’s landmark department store owned by his prominent, highly regarded, and well-liked local family. On the night of November 9th, his family received the first of several phone calls from a man informing them that he had kidnapped Brooke and demanding $40,000 for his safe return. After several sets of traced ransom delivery instructions were exchanged, Thurmond was arrested at a pay phone. He confessed and identified Holmes as his partner. As it turned out, the men murdered Brook immediately after his kidnapping. He was taken at gunpoint to the San Mateo Bridge where one of the kidnappers bashed him twice on the head with a brick. His arms were bound with wire and a concrete block was tied to his feet before throwing him into the river where he slowly drowned. Immediately after the killers’ capture, the sheriff’s office began receiving lynch threats, and a San Jose newspaper called for “mob violence” against the two “human devils”. When newspapers reported that Thurmond intended to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, and Holmes’s lawyer suggested he might repudiate his confession, the populace became even more inflamed, and 20 prominent friends of the Hart family declared they intended to ensure the prisoners received an “immediate and drastic punishment.” Following the pair’s indictment, threats against the men increased, however, California Governor James Rolph announced to reporters that he would take no action to prevent a lynching, and he informed Holmes’s lawyer that if any lynchers were somehow convicted, he would pardon them. After Brooke’s decomposed body was found in the river on 26 November, radio stations began calling for a lynching to be conducted that evening, and a mob estimated to be as large as 15,000 men, women, and children assembled in St. James Park. An assault on the jail began at 11 pm., and the kidnappers were dragged to the park, stripped, beaten, and hung from two different trees. Jackie Coogan (a former child movie star and later TV’s Uncle Festus) was a college friend of Brooke’s and is said to have held one of the ropes used in the lynching. Despite thousands of witnesses, no formal charges were brought against anyone. These lynchings are generally accepted as the last to occur in California, although some claim—without any details or confirmation—that another occurred in Callahan in 1947. Very scarce. As of 2019, although digital copies and postcards of similar images exist, no other photographs of these lynchings are for sale in the trade, and there are no records reflecting any auction sales at the Rare Book Hub. Photographs of white lynchings are much less common than those of African-Americans; OCLC shows that only seven white lynching photographs are held by institutions.