Was the Only Man Lynched in New England Framed?
It began as a bid by history buffs in northern Maine to shed new light on a grisly bit of local lore -- the 1873 hanging of a Canadian fugitive by an American mob, the only known lynching in the history of New England.
But the proposed Jim Cullen Look-Alike Contest, to be held at last week's heritage fair in the border-region town of Presque Isle, was scrapped amid charges the event would glorify an infamous New Brunswick brute alleged to have killed two lawmen before suffering a posse's wrath.
Now, the frustrated organizer of the ill-fated contest says the controversy has overshadowed important new findings that suggest Cullen -- cast in Maine folklore as a bloodthirsty wild man from Canada who richly deserved his death -- may have been innocent.
"I'm not entrenched in the view that he was guilty," says Dena Winslow, historian and author of a newly published book, They Lynched Jim Cullen: New England's Only Lynching.
"Tradition in the Cullen family is that he was framed. And I think he might have been. There's no indication there was anything evil about him at all."
Ms. Winslow says the saga of "Big Jim Cullen" is a classic case of myth and legend obscuring the facts of history, and that the scuttled awareness-raising contest is just the latest in a long series of misunderstandings.
She says her research shows how the "demonization" of the doomed Canadian woodsman meant that "he got a lot more evil" over time, becoming a sinister Paul Bunyan whose supposed crimes were embellished generation after generation, despite the very real miscarriage of justice that led to his death.
Ms. Winslow's sleuthing has revealed a host of long-buried truths and produced a compelling alternate theory of what happened in April 1873.
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