Seventy-five years ago today, San Jose witnessed the last public lynching in the United States.
On the evening of November 26, 1933, in front of the Old Courthouse, Thomas Thurmond was hanged from the limb of a venerable mulberry tree and John Holmes was hanged from an elm. San Joseans lynched these men because they had confessed to kidnapping and murdering a very popular 22 year old named Brooke Hart. "Brookie" was the son and heir to the Hart Department Store, located in downtown San Jose. (The Hart's advertisement can still be seen on the side of their warehouse west off the Guadalupe Freeway, while driving south near the Julian / Saint John exit.) To batter down the main door of the jail behind the Old Courthouse, the mob used a steel beam from the next-door Post Office which was under construction. Judges and County Supervisors watched from the courthouse windows. The men were stripped, beaten, set on fire, and hanged in Saint James Park, while 3000 cheered on the mob violence. The story was covered nationally, and it set off a debate about justice in America. Most were outraged by the vigilantism, including President Franklin Roosevelt, and President Herbert Hoover who had just retired to Stanford. Many professors at Stanford opined the hanging was swift justice. The term "bleeding hearts" was coined by a reporter to describe people who felt sorry for the alleged kidnappers Thurmond and Holmes. Governor "Sunny Jim" Rolph said he would pardon anyone associated with lynching the two men. Rolph received much negative press for his support of the vigilantes, and died soon thereafter at a farmhouse near what is today First Street and Montague Expressway.