Mary’s last hanging was all darkness and beauty as she softly swayed from the third floor balcony of the orphanage dormitory. The carefully tied noose was flawless, and it fit perfectly around her slender neck. She quietly peeked from underneath a simple linen hood, hoping that the children watching on the stairs below might appreciate her every twist and turn.
The orphans couldn’t get enough. A few of the older children remembered her past hangings, but the little ones had only heard the stories. They could all recite the rhyme about her first “collaring” down at the old dairy barn 15 years earlier, and they sang it over and over again as she swung: “Hanging Mary stole some rope/climbed upon a box of soap/Tied a knot down at the dairy/slipped and fell, poor Hanging Mary…”
No one knew much about Mary’s past. It was rumored that her father had died tragically in WWI, and her young, beautiful mother had gone insane with grief over his loss. She had been a painfully shy child, and never spoke to anyone at the orphanage. You could say that her accidental hanging had truly enlivened her. She became quite fond of the attention, and quickly developed a talent for what she called “the rope ballet.”
Everyone at the orphanage had their personal favorite. Many of the older matrons fondly remembered the years after the first hanging. It was a challenging time for her, trying to adjust to her newly ambiguous life – her hangings were short, but they were full of power and passion. She experimented with a wide variety of knots, but could never really decide on the one she liked the best. Still, she always delighted in the sensation of the rough hemp as it slowly tightened against her cool, pale skin.
Her most inspired performance from that era became an instant classic. It occurred in the summer of 1936 during the harsh North American Heat Wave. The fields were scorched, food was scarce, and the children were ravenous. She chose to hang from the top of the empty grain silo, which gave her excellent height and exposure, and also brought attention to the orphanage’s severe plight. Afterwards, the canned donations sent to the kitchen tripled and the pantry filled to overflowing. It was a huge success.
Her middle period was marked by broader stylistic experimentation. The knot-work became more varied and complex, and she began to pay closer attention to the weather conditions as a backdrop. Her finest moment came after a monster cyclone struck the woods adjoining the orphanage in March of 1939, creating an unholy mess. The sky turned a fantastic shade of burnt orange/red, a perfect contrast to the sturdy white oak she had selected for her gallows pole.
She chose her death collar carefully. It was a knock off on the fisherman’s knot, but instead of going over and under, she went through and around. She found that it gave her the friction she desired, but wasn’t too tight.
She had promised a revolutionary new hang that would be wholly authentic, inspired by the chaotic times. It involved a subtle move she had been working on for months – a tuck of the left elbow followed by a slight twisting of her neck inside the noose. When the town came out to help clean up the debris, her performance rendered them spellbound. At first she seemed to boldly defy gravity, floating effortlessly. And then the sky turned a cool magenta…and she fell motionless. It was magnificent.
More than ten years passed after her legendary cyclone hanging. The 1940’s were a time of great challenge at the orphanage with everything in short supply during World War II. There were endless days of farm work for the children, followed by cold showers and thin gruel. Although things improved after the war, Mary knew that the time had come for her to move on. But she wanted to give the little ones a proper farewell.
She planned it down to the last, small detail. It would be a private affair, strictly for the orphanage children, by invitation only. She would use the Little Girls’ Dormitory for her stage, and wear a simple dress of white linen. Most importantly, she chose the slip knot for her collar, with its powerful curve and dark touch – they said she hung so beautifully it took your breath away. When it was finally over, Mary blinked through her tears as the children sang their favorite rhyme. It was the perfect ending, and her last goodbye.