The electric chair was invented in 1888 as a more humane method of execution than hanging. Death was thought to occur instantaneously and without pain. Boy, were they wrong! The condemned usually writhed in agony as more than a few jolts were required over the course of often several minutes. It wasn't uncommon for the head to catch fire or for the skin to bleed as the prisoner was roasted. Currently, there are still people awaiting their death in the hot seat in the United States. However, these prisoners have been given a choice between this method and lethal injection, preferring to be electrocuted.
A Dead Man is Executed
In 1903 Fred Van Wormer, convicted of murdering his uncle, was marched to the chair in Sing Sing Prison. He was electrocuted and thought to be dead. But later, in the autopsy room, he started moving again. They decided to re-execute him. The executioner, who had gone home, was called to return. By the time they were ready, Van Wormer had already expired. As a technicality, they strapped his dead body back into the chair and electrocuted him one more time-just to be sure.
On May 3rd, 1946 Willie Francis was to be executed by electricity for the murder of his former employer. The chair, nicknamed, 'Gruesome Gertie,' was actually portable. It was placed in a panel van and carted from town to town to carry out sentences in the state of Louisiana.
Francis was strapped in and later told of how dying had tasted a lot like cold peanut butter and of seeing a multitude of colours. Witnesses reported that as he was being shocked, he began to shout: "Let me breathe," and, "I'm not dying!"
It turned out that the two people setting up the chair had been drunk, failing to ground it properly. Francis, only 16 when he allegedly committed the murder, was successfully executed the following year.
Was Electrocution More Humane than Hanging?
In 1935 the Canadian executioner named Arthur Ellis ended his career when he hanged Thomasina Sarao. He miscalculated her weight and, as her body fell through the trap door, her head ripped right off in the noose.
In 1906 William Williams was hanged in Minnesota. They got the length of the rope wrong so when the trap door opened he fell to the floor. They quickly grabbed the rope and pulled him up, strangling him to death.
In 1885 John Henry George Lee was waiting for the trap door to open to end his life. It didn't! It failed to open a total of three times. He was returned to his cell and, later, his sentence was reduced to life.
A Piece of American History
With support for capital punishment still strong in America, the states that do have it are moving toward lethal injection as an acceptable method. All electric chairs will soon end up as museum relics illustrating one more draconian method which was used to kill the condemned.