The spring gala of the Wayne County Historical Society planned for May 26 will center around a historic hanging in the county’s Old Stone Jail. It will feature a dinner-theater event recalling the historical trial of James McCabe, the last man to be hanged in Wayne County.
On New Year’s Day in 1886, the murdered victim, Michael Reilly, 38, was found dead a short distance from his home in Preston Township, near the present day Route 247. The murderer, James McCabe, also 38, lived near Reilly and had a reputation as a drunkard.
“Law and Order 1886, Murder on Bangall Road” is the title of the interactive dinner-theater drama, combining historic facts, a feast and tours of the historic 1859 Old Stone Jail.
“The evening celebration will begin under an elegant tent placed behind the historic Dimmick Building on the corner of 9th and Church streets,” said Sally Talaga, historical society executive director. “Bob Zabady of Ellen Memorial Health Care Center will prepare a bounteous dinner consisting of prime rib, salmon, shrimp scampi and honey-baked ham with appropriate side dishes.”
Following dinner, Sandy Gabrielson will direct a cast from the Ritz Company Players in an original drama, which he has written based on the 1885 murder, the crime that led to the hanging of McCabe.
“After dinner, the group will move to the courtroom in the county courthouse where the original trial took place, for the reenactment of the trial,” Talaga said. “The audience will be encouraged to participate in the reenactment by playing the role of jurors.”
When the story of the trial is over, the audience will be invited to tour the Old Stone Jail, where McCabe was held before and after his notorious escape.
“McCabe’s escape was a remarkable feat,” Gabrielson said. Apparently, after his escape, McCabe worked in Carbondale where he was apprehended a second time and returned to the fortress-like jail.
Since the cells had no heat, a prisoner would have to endure the considerable cold of winter. “It was not known how long McCabe was held before his trial and execution,” Gabrielson said. After McCabe’s hanging, the law regarding hangings changed, and the power to execute criminals was granted to the state, Gabrielson said.
Only 130 seats are available for dinner, and reservations must be made by May 5. Dinner and theater combined is $75 per person, with theater only at $25 for adults and $10 for students. For $20 donation, supporters will be listed as non-attending patrons. The event is the society’s principal fund raiser.