Below are excerpts from student commentaries for Michael Fay’s class following the AP U.S. History field trip to The Garden of Martyrs execution site. Read more about the trip.
It was also chilling to envision a mass crowd of people from the old court house to this spot, it made me view the execution at the time to be sort of a parade for the town, rather than an act of “justice.” Being Irish, and having Catholic roots, it made me realize how much injustice occurred at the time.
For both Daley with a family to look out for, and Halligan with such a full life ahead of him, the walk down the road and up the hill to the gallows must have felt like a lifetime. I agree with Ryan that it truly seems much more like a “parade” than an execution of the law. It is easy to understand why following the hanging the attitude shifted from one of curiosity, excitement, and revenge, to one, rightfully so, of solemnity and guilt.
What was fascinating and enthralling when I read the book became harrowing and nauseating at the site… We too often forget the atrocities and celebrate the rare successes. The monument is not only a monument to Daley and Halligan, but a monument to all the victims of prejudice.
Chak Fung Leung
As I ascended the small hill I began to question what were the last thoughts of the two prisoners. Did they think about their families or loved ones? Were they trying to comfort themselves from the fear of death? Some of these thoughts made me uncomfortable… This field trip gave me a better understanding of the situation of an execution.
History has been shown to repeat itself before, and I fear similar discrimination can happen. That is probably the worst part in going to the site of the hanging. Can we honestly say that as a country we are any different/ less discriminatory/ less racist? Sure, 200 years later everyone can vote and are given more protection under the law, but public opinion, especially in court trials plays into a lot of high-level cases. I had the opportunity to watch jury selection and the trial of a rapist who spent 20 years raping over 15 different women in 3 different boroughs in New York City. News crews and court reporters filled the benches inside the courtroom as they waited in anticipation for the wrong set of words or out-of-context statement to make the local headlines and personally convict a man they were not sure was guilty or not. Our legal system is unlike any other in the world, we can be fair and unbiased, and at the same time determine whether someone is guilty or not guilty before the trial even starts. The story of Daley and Halligan is one of many in our history. The memorial site is not there for us to feel guilty, rather it is there to remind us that mistakes will happen everyday. Its what you do after you make them defines whether this country survives and is an emblem for democracy and freedom around the world.
I live here in Easthampton, and my brothers went to the campus school, so we quite frequently passed that same site day after day and thought nothing much about it. In fact, we would almost always look towards “Hospital Hill” and dream again of when we could go sledding come the winter. I realized how selfish our thoughts can be and how easily we can get caught up in ourselves on a daily basis compared to those two humble men who stood up their in the gallows, blaming no one for where they stood, and took a punishment that they did not deserve. In a way, the field trip made me imagine what it would be like for myself, having to stand up there in front of all Northampton and many other people who came specifically for this hanging from other towns, and only have my last dying words to say and do everything I ever wanted to in just a few short minutes… I found myself feeling guilty, as if I was the one who sentenced them there; as if I was the one who put those bags over their heads; as if I was the one pressured to lie at the witness stand. I wanted to help these two men, but it is too late. I know now that whenever I pass this hill, I will no longer just look at Hospital Hill, but always aim a prayer in Daley and Halligan’s direction; I will stand up for any injustice done to others; and I will never let anyone discriminate another human being in front of myself, because I refuse to turn a blind eye.
It’s easy to talk about a subject like slavery and point to the confederate states as an example of prejudice; it’s more difficult to acknowledge the fate that befell Daley and Halligan right here in Western Massachusetts. The fact that such terrible prejudice had such an impact right here really puts one’s perspective in place; events such as those described in The Garden of Martyrs are more than just words to be read in books, they are very real and have very real impacts on the world.
Jennifer Carellas (Jen)
I felt like I was intruding in a way. If the lives of Dominic Daley and James Halligan ended on the spot where I stood, I felt that I had no right to stand there. At the same time I felt honored that I had the opportunity to stand there… The view was stunning and personally if I were to be executed in that spot, it would have been a great last view of the world… One can only imagine speaking the words of Dominic Daley and James Halligan to the massive crowd that had come to watch them die on that small hill. It almost gives their death a poetic quality.
Taehyeong Lee (Ty)
Listening to the story in the bus was quite touching, but climbing the hill that those two innocent guys walked up was almost mind-blowing. That somehow reminded me of fight for democracy in South Korea which happened just about forty years ago when my parents were college students demonstrating against government. The military used tanks to seize the city and shot the people just like the Boston Massacre. I think the sad part of history must be contemplated by everybody who shares the history so that nobody makes the same mistake again.
I found connections between this book and To Kill a Mockingbird. They are not very similar in plot, but they give people a chance to think about how society treats minorities…Seeing the steep slope, which leads to a huge area of flat land where the people sat and watched, was overwhelming. I stood there, looking at the surroundings, feeling like I went back in time. The grass and trees regrow every year, but Daley and Halligan have been in an eternal silence ever since.