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North Dakota Mayor Backs Down on Hanging from Gallows Idea

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on March 29, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Give Mayor Doug Ellison enough rope, and he'll hang himself -- as part of a historic re-enactment for tourists visiting the town of Medora, N.D.

That was Ellison's plan, anyway, until townsfolk started talking. Now the mayor is backing down from his "hang me from the gallows" idea, which he hoped would be a compelling tie-in to his small town's Wild West history.

"I thought it would just be entertaining like a Western movie," Ellison, 49, told the Associated Press. But opponents thought he'd lost his head.

Medora Mayor Doug Ellison submitted a formal request to Medora’s planning commission last week to build gallows and stage mock executions, the AP reports. Mayor Ellison also volunteered to be the actor who’d be publicly “hanged” at the climax of a 30-minute theatrical production.

“I would have played the bad guy, the outlaw, and people would have seen I was condemned for my own actions,” Ellison explained to the AP. “The moral would have been that crime does not pay.”

But planning commissioners tabled the mayor’s proposal, citing community backlash. The mayor’s morbid passion play could potentially encourage suicide, some said.

While that may be a legitimate concern, there’s likely no legal issue involved with staging a fake public hanging. A potential legal claim would face problems in proving causation: A jury may not believe that a historic re-enactment, done in good taste, would foreseeably result in a suicide.

Regardless, Mayor Ellison says his gallows idea is dead, much to his disappointment. “I don’t want it to reflect badly on the town, so hopefully things will die down, and we’ll just have to interpret our history another way,” Ellison told the AP.

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