A 40 Year Retrospection
Part 2: By Dorothy Charles Banks
Special to The Villager
|Old Sparky is the common named given to electric chairs in several states. Texas's electric chair is presently housed in Prison Museum in Huntsville, Texas. The last electrocution took place in Texas July 30, 1964.|
"The first person sentenced to be executed by the electric chair was William Kemmer, a convicted murderer. An appeal was made to the New York Court of Appeals on the grounds that use of electricity as a means of execution constituted a cruel and unusual punishment and was thus contrary to the constitution of the United States and the state of New York. On December 30, 1889, the writ of habeas corpus sworn out on Kemmler's behalf was denied by the court, with Judge Dwight writing in a lengthy ruling:
"We have no doubt that if the Legislature of this State should undertake to prescribe for any offense against its laws the punishment of burning at the stake, breaking at the wheel , etc., it would be the duty of the courts to pronounce upon such attempt the condemnation of the Constitution. The question now to be answered is whether the legislative act here assailed is subject to the same condemnation. Certainly it is not so on its face, for, although the mode of death described is conceded to be unusual, there is no common knowledge or consent that it is cruel; it is a question of fact whether an electric current of sufficient intensity and skillfully applied will produce death without unnecessary suffering."
"Kemmler was executed in New York's Auburn Prison on August 6, 1890; the "state electrician" was Edwin F. Davis. The first 17-second passage of current through Kemmler caused unconsciousness, but failed to stop his heart and breathing. The attending physicians, Edward Charles Spitzka and Charles F. Macdonald, came forward to examine Kemmler. After confirming Kemmler was still alive, Spitzka reportedly called out, "Have the current turned on again, quick, no delay." The generator needed time to re-charge, however. In the second attempt, Kemmler was shocked with 2,000 volts. Blood vessels under the skin ruptured and bled, and the areas around the electrodes singed. The entire execution took about eight minutes. George Westinghouse later commented that "they would have done better using an axe," and a witnessing reporter claimed that it was "an awful spectacle, far worse than hanging."
"The first woman to be executed in the electric chair was Martha M. Pease , executed at Sing Sing Prison on March 20, 1899." (Wikipedia)