Max Mason might get posthumous pardon — if it's possible

The Minnesota Board of Pardons will consider the case as the 100th anniversary of Duluth lynching nears.

Max Mason, who was an employee of the John Robinson Circus alongside Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie, is being considered Friday for a posthumous pardon. (2020 file / News Tribune)

With the 100th anniversary of the lynchings of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie nearing, the Minnesota Board of Pardons will consider the case of Max Mason — who was convicted of raping the West Duluth woman whose story fueled the mob.

Mason is on the agenda for the board’s spring meeting, which is Friday, with an asterisk: its members also need to decide whether they have the authority to offer a posthumous pardon.

Mason and fellow circus employee William Miller were among the only suspects who lived to be tried in court. Miller was acquitted; Mason was held at Stillwater State Prison for nearly five years.

Gov. Tim Walz speaks about the possible pardon of Max Mason


“The healing cannot be complete until one other wrong arising from the horrors of those events is recognized and righted; the posthumous pardon of the one man convicted of the alleged rape: Max Mason,” wrote Jordon Moses, who filed the memorandum when he was events chairperson of the Clayton Jackson McGhee Memorial committee.

While imprisoned, Mason was denied parole six times, according to court documents. He was released in 1925 on the condition that he go back to his home in Decatur, Alabama, and not return to Minnesota until 1941. He died just a few years after his release.

Among the people in favor of the pardon are St. Louis County judge Sally Tarnowski, St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin and Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken, who is listed as a family representative. Irene Tusken, the alleged victim, died in 1996 and was his great-aunt.

Irene Tusken and James T. Sullivan accused a handful workers from the traveling John Robinson Circus of raping Tusken while Sullivan was held at gunpoint on June 14, 1920, near the circus grounds at what is now Wheeler Field. This set off a night of rioting. Members of the mob eventually broke into the police station, dragged Clayton, Jackson and McGhie up the street, and hanged each of them in front of an audience.

A doctor who examined Tusken found no evidence of rape.

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