Placerville’s dummy is part of our legacy

By December 12, 2011

It’s encouraging to see tourists once again snapping photos of the dummy currently dangling in front of the former Hangman’s Tree Bar on Main Street in Placerville. Just prior to the Christmas parade, one couple was spotted peeking through the chain link fence trying to read the inscription on the historical plaque attached to the front of the now derelict building.

Someone moved the fence back, closer to the building, allowing pedestrians access to the sidewalk along Main Street. Since when did the city decide it was safe enough to navigate this close to the buildings located at 301 and 305 Main St.? Obviously the staircase leading to the second floor still works because some unknown person climbed it recently to drop the “Hangtown Dummy” outside the second story window. Did painting a new sign out front magically restore the integrity of the structure?

Now that the sidewalk is presumed safe why not remove the barriers on the street to allow people access to the three parking spaces left vacant for more than a year? Is the city more concerned about protecting vehicles from potential falling debris than pedestrians? If the building is deemed safe enough to walk near then why not remove the fence completely surrounding it?

And please, while you’re at it, take down the plywood art (I think that’s what it is) attached to the fence. Not to be disrespectful to the fourth-graders responsible for this “artistic” public display but it really doesn’t serve the intended purpose of hiding what’s behind the fence.

The saga of the Hangman’s Tree Bar and the Herrick Building continues. The owner doesn’t have enough cash to restore the building and he refuses to pay for a $100,000 environmental impact study (or is it a bribe?) before demolition becomes another option. Who could blame him for doing nothing? Maybe he could get some advice on moving this process forward from another property owner currently serving on the City Council. Then again … we’d like to see the renovation work accomplished legally.

For more than two years Placerville has been held hostage to a bad situation. The building’s owner and the city have been playing hot potato while downtown Placerville lives with this eyesore.

Poking at the fringe of the debate are those in the community who believe the buildings are worth saving. Threats of legal action have tied the city in knots. Preserving buildings erected with no real historical legacy is hard to understand. It’s not the building that matters but the site the building sits on that’s important — thus the reason for the effigy dangling from the noose.

The building’s owner hopes the dummy raises more awareness to his historical property where Placerville’s former namesake originated. So what if the dummy hangs from a wooden post and not the oak tree some believe still lies under the floorboards of the bar.

To some the sight of a dummy swinging at the end of a rope is distasteful. Let’s get real, folks. It’s a white guy wearing old cowboy boots. More than anything, it’s becoming the topic of conversation everywhere. It’s sure to draw curiosity seekers to downtown.

Old Hangtown is famous for meting out frontier justice. Those were rough, tough days of hard labor, gold mining and harvesting lumber. We hanged people here. But we can’t claim bragging rights for the last public hanging in California. That honor goes to the city of Napa in 1891. And the town is still drunk on wine because of their remorse.

Closer to home 92 men were hanged behind the stone walls of Folsom State Prison. Today, the state’s oldest prison is just one more popular tourist destination in the city of Folsom. Johnny Cash’s legendary prison concert didn’t hurt the city’s image either.

So let’s take advantage of our unique history and use it to lure visitors to our quaint city. We have the Gold Bug Mine. We have an old Belltower. And now we have a dummy hanging from a noose.

Now if we could just get rid of the fence and address the condition of the building it swings from.

Richard Esposito is publisher of Village Life. He can be reached at [email protected].

Richard Esposito

Discussion | 1 comment

  • RobDecember 13, 2011 - 8:40 am

    Folsom State Prison (1880) is not the oldest, San Quentin is by 28 years (1852).



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