Publication information

Black and White Budget
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “How Czolgosz Will Meet His Death”
Author(s): anonymous
Date of publication: 26 October 1901
Volume number: 6
Issue number: 107
Pagination: 138-39

“How Czolgosz Will Meet His Death.” Black and White Budget 26 Oct. 1901 v6n107: pp. 138-39.
full text
execution (by electrocution).
Named persons
Leon Czolgosz; William McKinley.
On page 138: By an Ex-Warder of a New York Prison.

The article includes two illustrations, both on page 138, captioned as follows: “Plan of an Electrocution Chamber in New York” and “The Chair in Which Czolgosz Will Die.”

How Czolgosz Will Meet His Death

     THE electrocution of Czolgosz for the murder of the late President William McKinley is arranged to take place in Auburn Prison, New York State, one day during the week commencing Monday, October 28th. This uncertainty as to the exact date and hour is intentional on the part of the authorities, for the electrocution law of New York State provides that in sentencing a murderer to death the Court shall merely name the week during which the execution shall take place. The idea of this is that it is quite unnecessary cruelty to set the exact moment for the execution, to the approach of which the wretched criminal must look forward with momentarily increasing horror and dread, thus making his last days of life a perfect torture to him.
     From the moment sentence of death by electrocution is pronounced the criminal is never left alone for a single moment. He is taken at once from the court to the prison in which the electrocution is to take place, and there lodged in one of the condemned cells, of which there are six in both Sing Sing and Auburn. The cells allotted to persons under sentence of death are totally different from any to be found in English prisons. They are located in a separate building quite apart from the rest of the prison, and immediately adjacent to the execution chamber. They are built in a row and are entirely open in front except for strong steel bars, which take the place of doors; the sides and backs are, however, constructed in the ordinary way. A few feet from the front of the cells is another range of steel bars which runs the whole length of the cells, thus forming a kind of corridor in which two warders are constantly on duty both day and night. Thus condemned prisoners are never for a moment free from observation, and any attempt at suicide—and there were several when electrocution was first adopted—can be instantly frustrated. Each cell is fitted with a roll-up iron front like a shop shutter, which can readily be lowered when it is desired to screen a prisoner from view, and this is always done when any prisoner is removed from his cell for exercise or execution, in order to prevent the occupants of the other cells from seeing him.
     The execution chamber is situated only a few steps from the cells, and is a lofty apartment measuring some thirty feet long by about twenty feet broad. It has rather a bare appearance, the only objects in it being a small, square kind of cupboard which projects some five or six feet from the wall at one end of the room, and in which the person who switches on the death-dealing current is concealed. It is entirely closed in and roofed, and has no entrance from the execution room, and thus the executioner is never seen either by the criminal or those witnessing the execution. There are a few plain deal chairs for the officials and reporters scattered about, and the death-chair itself; that is all. At the back of the wall against which the executioner’s box is built is the room in which the post-mortem examination is held, and from this room a door by which the executioner enters and leaves the building opens into the prison square.
     The interior of the executioner’s box is quite bare and unfurnished, and there is nothing to be seen in it except the wires conveying the current, and a large brass switch with an insulated handle, such as may be seen in any electric light station in the kingdom, by which the fatal shock is given. A small electric bell placed just above the switch, connecting with a push in the execution chamber, is used to convey the signal to apply the current. At one time this signal was given in the following manner:—The executioner used to hold with one finger a small curtain ring connected with a wire which ran through a hole in the wall, and at the other end of which was another ring held by one of the prison officials in the execution chamber, and a pull on this used to give the signal. This method was, however, changed after one of the warders had been nearly electrocuted whilst adjusting the straps on the prisoner by a premature movement on the part of the electrician.
     The death-chair itself is a plain oak chair built exceptionally heavy, and fitted with strong insulated straps to secure the prisoner, whilst its legs are firmly bolted to the floor. The wires conveying the current are in no way a part of it, but are led from the front of the executioner’s box up to the roof, from which they hang looking merely like ordinary electric light pendants without the globes. In the small brass fittings at the ends of them are sponges moistened with salt water. One of these electrodes—to give them their proper name—is attached to the cap or headpiece which the prisoner wears, and the other to the band which is fastened to his leg a few inches above the ankle. The electric current thus enters the body at the head and passes out at the leg. I should say that a small place is shaved at the side of the prisoner’s head where the sponge in the cap touches, for it is essential that there should be no obstacles whatever between the electrodes and the flesh. [138][139]
     Just before the prisoner is brought in the current is carefully tested by the electrician to make sure that there is a sufficient voltage. The current, by the way, is obtained from the dynamos used for supplying the prison with electric light.
     The warders, five in number, take up their positions by the side of the chair ready to adjust the straps and electrodes. Each one has his own particular strap to buckle, and it is almost incredible how rapidly they do it and how short a time passes between the time the prisoner enters the room and everything is ready. There is no delay, no waiting; everything is done so quickly and quietly that it seems almost instantaneous.
     The warder of the prison heads the procession from the condemned cell, and takes up his position to the left of the chair next to the electrician and doctor, the former ready to press the signalling bell-push in the wall, the latter with his stop-watch in his hand to count the duration of the current.
     The prisoner is brought in by two or three warders and the chaplain and is placed in the chair. The straps are secured and the electrodes fixed in a few seconds; the cap is drawn over his face; the warders slip back to their places; the chaplain murmurs a last word of comfort to the doomed man; the warder gives one hasty glance round to see that everything is correct, then raises the handkerchief in his hand; the electrician touches the bell-push in the wall behind him; the sound of it ringing and the great switch in the executioner’s box being forced into place can be faintly heard; the figure in the chair gives a convulsive shiver as the muscles expand and contract, and it strains against the confining straps. Nothing more; he is dead and the murder of M’Kinley is avenged.