Source: Medical News
Source type: journal
Document type: letter to the editor
Document title: “The Execution of Czolgosz”
Author(s): MacDonald, Carlos F.
Date of publication: 9 November 1901
Volume number: 79
Issue number: 19
|MacDonald, Carlos F. “The Execution of Czolgosz.” Medical News 9 Nov. 1901 v79n19: pp. 752-53.|
|Leon Czolgosz (execution); Leon Czolgosz (last words); Leon Czolgosz (autopsy); Leon Czolgosz (mental health).|
|Floyd S. Crego; Leon Czolgosz; Joseph Fowler; John Gerin; Arthur W. Hurd; Carlos F. MacDonald; William McKinley; James W. Putnam; Edward A. Spitzka.|
The Execution of Czolgosz
To the Editor of the MEDICAL NEWS:
Agreeably to your request the following brief account of the execution and autopsy
of Czolgosz, the assassin of President McKinley, is respectfully submitted:
The execution by electricity of Leon F. Czolgosz, which took place in the State Prison at Auburn, New York, on the morning of October 29, 1901, terminated the earthly existence of the most monstrous magnicide of the age. Every precaution was taken by the Warden of the Prison, under whose immediate supervision and direction the execution was conducted, to minimize the opportunity for notoriety, as well as to insure the taking-off of the prisoner should be effected in an orderly and dignified manner.
The official witnesses, consisting of prominent New York State officials, several physicians, representatives of the respective press associations and two official physicians—Dr. John Gerin, Prison Physician, and myself—having been assembled in the execution room and received the usual admonition from the Warden as to the maintenance of order and quiet during the execution, the prisoner was conducted to the room by a guard on either side a few minutes after 7 a. m. As he entered the room his head was erect and his manner self-possessed and defiant. Immediately after being placed in the fatal chair the binding straps were quickly adjusted to his arms, legs and body, the head and leg electrodes were placed in situ and connected with the wire which was to transmit the lethal current through his body. The criminal offered no resistance whatever, but during the preparations addresses himself to the witnesses in the following significant language: “I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people—the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime. I am sorry I could not see my father.” At this juncture, everything being in readiness, the Warden gave the signal to the official electrician in charge of the switch, who immediately turned the lever which closed the circuit and shot the deadly current through the criminal’s body. The instant the contact was made the body was thrown into a state of extreme rigidity, every fiber of the entire muscular system being in a marked condition of tonic spasm. At the same time consciousness, sensation and motion were apparently absolutely abolished.
Czolgosz was pronounced dead by the attending physicians and several of the other physicians present in four minutes from the time he entered the execution room, one minute of which period was occupied in the preliminary preparations, one minute and five seconds in the electrical contacts and the remainder of the time in examinations by the physicians to determine the fact of death.
Two electrical contacts were made, occupying in all one minute and five seconds. In the first contact the electro-motive pressure was maintained at 1,800 volts for 7 seconds, then reduced to 300 volts for 23 seconds, increased to 1,800 volts for 4 seconds, and again reduced to 300 volts for 26 seconds, when it was broken. The second contact was maintained at 1,800 volts for 5 seconds. That conscious life was absolutely destroyed the instant the first contact was made was conceded by all of the witnesses.
Immediately after the execution, the lay witnesses having departed, and autopsy was made by Mr. Edward A. Spitzka of New York, under the  direction and supervision of the official physicians and in the presence of several of the visiting physicians who were invited to attend. The autopsy occupied more than three hours and embraced a careful examination of all the bodily organs, including the brain, all of which were found to be in a perfectly normal state—a conclusion which was concurred in by all the physicians present.
In compliance with the expressed wish of the relatives of the criminal, the Superintendent of State Prisons, who was present, and the Warden, declined positively to allow any portion of the body to be removed from the Prison. Consequently, and regrettably, it was impossible to retain honorable possession of any portion of the brain for future examination and study. Accurate drawings, however, and detailed anatomical descriptions of the brain were made by Mr. Spitzka for subsequent study and report. A careful, naked-eye examination of the brain in all of its parts was also made and full notes taken thereof. The organ and its appendages appeared to be absolutely healthy and free from any abnormality whatever, thus corroborating the opinion of the mental experts who had examined the criminal during life, namely, that he was perfectly sane.
Respecting the question of Czolgosz’s mental condition, it appears that all of the mental experts at his trial, on either side, namely, Drs. Putnam, Fowler and Crego for the people, and Arthur W. Hurd and myself for the defence, after repeated examinations, concurred in the opinion that he was sane. A final examination of the criminal, with reference to his mental condition, was made by Dr. Gerin and myself at the Auburn Prison on the evening before his execution with entirely negative result. In fact, none of these examinations disclosed, in the opinion of any of the experts, the slightest evidence of mental disease or mental degeneracy. On the contrary, he was regarded as exceptionally intelligent for one in his walk of life. Furthermore, this conclusion was fully corroborated by his manner, appearance and declarations in the execution room as well as by the postmortem findings. Moreover, Czolgosz’s bearing, conduct and declarations from the time he murdered the President down to that of his execution have been entirely consistent with the teachings and the creed of Anarchism and stamp him as an Anarchist of the deepest dye.
CF. M D , M.D.
85 Madison avenue, New York.