One day in 1936, George Parke, a retired printer in Farmhaven, Miss., sat down to write a piece of all-but-forgotten history. In 1,628 words, he told a closely detailed story of the New Orleans Mafia lynching of 1891. A mob, led by a band of riflemen, broke into jail and murdered eleven Italians, some of whom had been tried and acquitted in the death of New Orleans' police chief. The lynching had become an international incident: U.S. and Italian relations were broken off. When Parke finished his story, he sent it off...

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