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Source: Mirror
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “How Czolgosz Will Die”
Author(s): Kenealy, Alexander
Date of publication: 24 October 1901
Volume number: 11
Issue number: 37
Pagination: 8

Kenealy, Alexander. “How Czolgosz Will Die.” Mirror 24 Oct. 1901 v11n37: p. 8.
full text
execution (by electrocution).
Named persons
Leon Czolgosz; William Kemmler.


How Czolgosz Will Die

CZOLGOSZ will be executed, in all probability, next Monday morning. The first person to be electrocuted was a man named Kemmler. The New York newspapers, in defiance of the law, published full accounts of the death scene, some of them 20,000 words long, with graphic pictures of the criminal in the death chair. The accounts, written by men who had not seen the execution, but had received their facts from witnesses, were so horrible that the Legislature, convinced that truth could not be so revolting as fiction, at once passed a law admitting reporters to those mournful events.
     I have attended two electrocutions in Sing Sing Prison. Both culprits were physicians who had poisoned their wives.
     The condemned men are kept in a separate building called the “death-house.” From the time of the sentence until the moment they are led out to death, they may be visited only by counsel and members of their family. In the death-house are a series of cages very much like those in which animals are kept in a “Zoo.” When one of the murderers is to be led out to die curtains are drawn down in front of the other cages, so that the prisoners may not see the ghastly procession. The door leading from the death-cells to the execution-chamber is never opened except for “business.”
     The spectators of the execution are conducted into the chamber and arranged on stools before the condemned man is brought in. The chamber is a light, airy, spacious, asphalted hall, that reminds one of a machine-room of a modern factory. There is nothing gruesome or death-like.
     The death chair itself is a wooden affair, with broad arms. There are straps for the neck, arms and legs. Above the chair hangs a metal rod for the current, and at the feet there is a movable electrode. The current passes through the body of the criminal from the head to the leg.
     Before the time set for the killing, a dynamo at the other end of the building has been got ready for starting-up. The crowd outside eagerly watches for the puffing steam in the engine-room.
     The electrician arranges his apparatus. There is a bank of electric lamps, which he rests upon the arms of the death chair. He signals to the dynamo room and the incandescent bulbs glow up, showing that everything is in perfect order.
     The warden of the prison makes a short address, asking the spectators to remain seated and maintain silence. There is a knock on the low door opening into the cells. It opens and the principal keeper, a cheerful, genial giant, comes in, aglow with healthy excitement, and almost smiling.
     Behind him, shuffling and bent, as all the men were that I ever saw taken to execution, comes the prisoner. One of the legs of his trousers has been slit up as far as the knee, so that there may be a bare surface for the application of the current.
     The murderer is led to the chair. He sits down automatically. Three guards busy themselves with him, one strapping each leg, a third putting over his head a sort of combined helmet and mask, to which the electric wire is attached.
     The operation takes less than a minute. The electrician sees that all is ready, and gives a signal for the guards to step back. Then he gives another signal, and a convict concealed in a sort of sentry-box turns on the current.
     The body jumps as the current strikes it. Were it not strapped in the chair it might fly up, but the leather thongs hold it, and against these it creaks and strains. The face does not move. It has not even twitched as the man died. His fingers are in an odd position. They could have moved if pain were felt, but they do not.
     After the current has been on for many seconds it is turned off. As the muscles relax the air comes from the lungs, and the sound is as if the dead man groaned. The prison physician, to make doubly sure, orders a second and then a third shock, though he announces that the man undoubtedly died at the first impact.
     As the strange thing sits there, motionless, it suggests to the excited imagination a weird sort of king on an odd kind of throne, with a fantastic crown. There is a silence and stillness that give a dignity to the dead.
     But soon all is bustle in the room. The doctors have unbuttoned the coat of the corpse, and one after another they press their ears against its heart, which was stilled by the first wave of the volts.
     From behind a screen two men in convicts’ stripes carry an autopsy table and another table crowded with saws and scalpels, for the law says that a post-mortem shall be held immediately after the execution. This clause was put in at a time when the effect of the current was not so well known as it is now. It was intended not only that facts should be learned as to electric death, but that the death itself should be made certai n [sic] by the surgeon’s knives, if a spark of life should remain.
     In the death cells the other condemned men have heard the noise and bustle of the execution, and are wondering whose turn it will be next.



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