June 13, 2013
PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
“Wickham Murders Exhibit to Open July 13”
SOUTHOLD, NY. The Southold Historical Society is pleased announce the opening of a new exhibition on the history of the infamous Wickham Murders, which occurred in 1854. The exhibit, entitled “The Wickham Murders,” will be held at the Mayne Gallery of the Ann Currie-Bell House, located at 55200 Main Road in Southold, NY. The exhibit will open to the public on Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 1pm.
The exhibit is based upon a new book, published this spring, entitled "Murder on Long Island: A Nineteenth Century Tale of Tragedy & Revenge," that was written by society Director Geoffrey K. Fleming and the society Collections Manager, Amy Kasuga Folk.
In the mid-nineteenth century, James Wickham was a wealthy farmer with a large estate in Cutchogue, Long Island. His extensive property included a mansion and eighty acres of farmland that were maintained by a staff of servants. In 1854, Wickham got into an argument with one of his workers, Nicholas Behan, after Behan harassed another employee who refused to marry him. Several days after Behan’s dismissal, he crept back into the house in the dead of night. With an axe, he butchered Wickham and his wife, Frances, and fled to a nearby swamp. Behan was captured, tried, convicted and, on December 15, 1854 became one of the last people to be hanged in Suffolk County.
The exhibit will include reproductions of maps, drawings, and photographs related to the people who were involved in the murder and the following trial. In addition, the original murder weapon – a post axe – will be the featured object in the exhibition. It will be the very first time the weapon will be on public display within Southold Town, where Cutchogue is located and where the murder took place. Other objects on display will be the original lock from the Suffolk County Jail where Nicholas Behan was held, and the bible on which all the witnesses at the trial swore to tell the truth.
Another special item that visitors will be able to view is a small model of the old counter-weight gallows that Suffolk County used during the 19th century to carry out death sentences. Unlike gallows that rely on gravity to execute the victim, a counter-weight gallows uses a weight to lift the victim into the air and to suffocate them. “This is a more unusual type of system than we are used to in America,” stated Geoffrey K. Fleming, Director of the Society, “with so many of us having grown up on western films, we are more familiar with the gravity type approach,” he continued.
Joseph S. Wickham, a descendant of James Wickham's brother, William, noted in the foreword he wrote for the book that the story of the Wickham murders is much more than just "… a lurid tale of sudden death. It is also an inspiring story of a grievously shocked community that united to track down a killer. It is a story about a family fortune teetering on the fickle fingers of fate. It is a story about justice triumphing over a heinous crime. Most importantly, it is a story about a humane couple named James and Frances Wickham, who made a courageous decision to protect a young woman from a bully and ended up paying the ultimate price."
This exhibit will be on display at the Mayne Gallery of the Ann Currie-Bell House, located at 55200 Main Road in Southold, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 1-4pm through October 12, 2013.
For more information on this exhibit or other Society programs, please contact the Southold Historical Society at 631-765-5500.