The trial of the century

September 23, 2023

From left, Mark Otto, Nick Krieger, Judge Nellis, Sheriff Cole, Mayor Barnett, Rick Plummer.

The trial of the century

Story and photos by Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

PERE MARQUETTE TOWNSHIP — Visitors to Historic White Pine Village were treated to a special event today, the “Trial of the Century.” In celebration of Ludington’s sesquicentennial, the mock trial re-created a case that originated in Mason County in 1900 and made its way to the Michigan Supreme Court. 

The case of Hengstler vs. Flint & Pere Marquette Railroad Co. involved Mr. Hengstler accusing the railroad of causing the death of several of his cows while in transport. On Jan. 28, 1900, Hengslter shipped a carload of cows from Ludington to Charter Grove, Ill. Hengslter, the plaintiff, went along as caretaker. The train left Ludington on the morning of Jan. 27 and reached flint at 4 a.m. on Jan. 28. When the train arrived in Flint, the cows were in good condition. They were unloaded and watered in Flint and then reloaded. The remainder of the journey took 60 hours due to unexpected delays. The cows were not unloaded, watered or fed from the time they left Flint until they reached Charter Grove. The cows were injured on the journey in consequence to the delays. 

A total of 19 cows died as a result at a value of $15 each (about $465 in 2023 value). 

The railroad claimed that the delays were not the fault of the railroad and that the contract with the plaintiff held him responsible for the care and feeding of the animals while in transit. 

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of the railroad, stating that the plaintiff signed a contract and was responsible for the care of the animals. 

During Saturday’s event, members of the public were selected to make the decision. The mock jury ruled that both parties were responsible. 

The actors of the day included Mason County Chief Judge Jeffrey Nellis, performing as 19th Judicial Circuit Judge James B. McMahon, attorney Mark Otto as Mr. Stevens, attorney from the law firm of M.B. Danaher representing the railroad, attorney Nick Krieger as Mr. Fitch, attorney from the law firm Fitch and Reek representing the plaintiff. Dr. Rick Plummer, who wrote the performance, played the part of the bailiff. Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole performed the part of Mason County Sheriff Henry Cole (his great-great-grandfather who served as sheriff from 1899 to 1903) and Ludington Mayor Mark Barnett, who played the part of an escaped inmate. 

The trial took place outside of the original Mason County Courthouse, the Burr and Hannah Caswell residence (oldest house in Mason County, builtin in 1847). Two performances were held. 

From left, Sheriff Cole, Mayor Barnett, and Rick Plummer.




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