Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Artist's rendition of William Kemmler execution.

The Cortland Democrat, Friday, July 10, 1891.

They All Go Bravely to the Chamber of Death—Slocum the First to Die— Graphic Description of the Scene in the Execution Chamber.
   SING SING, July 7.—James M. Slocum, Harry A. Smiler, Joseph Wood and Schibiek Jugiro were sent to their doom at the prison here this morning by means of electricity. The approximate time of the turning on of the current in each case was: Slocum, 4:40; Smiler, 5:10; Wood, 5:30 and Jugiro, 6:05.
   The prisoners had received some intimation beforehand that the executions were to take place this morning and they were prepared for them. They went to the execution chair bravely and met their fates without a struggle. They offered no resistance, but rather assisted the keepers when they were bound to the chair.
   The testing apparatus showed a satisfactory strength of current and the Electrician advised the Warden of this fact. The Warden went to one of the great iron doors at which stood one of the assistants whom he had appointed under warrant of law, and it was opened to permit him to pass through. He was gone only a couple of minutes. In that time he had notified Head Keeper Connaughton, who was in the condemned cell room, that the chair was ready for the first of the condemned men—Slocum.
   The death warrant was not read to the condemned men in the cell, as was done in the case of Kemmler. The Warden said he did not know anything in the law compelling him to read the death warrant. As a precautionary measure he would read it, but not at the time of the execution— some time before, if possible. It was his wish to prevent the other men from knowing that the first man had been taken from his cell, and so the exit from the cell was made quietly.
   The Warden and head keeper walked ahead, then the condemned man between the two priests, Father Creeden and Father Lynch and then the two guards. When the iron door had been closed behind the party, Slocum stood silent and stolid. He showed no depth of interest in the ceremony in which he was to be a participant. The Warden did not ask the prisoner if he had anything to say, and he did not volunteer anything. The prisoner walked quietly to the chair and sat down. Through all these preliminaries the witnesses stood at a respectful distance, their eyes fixed on the prisoner. The Warden had clad Slocum in a new suit of cheap black diagonal cloth, trousers of a dark pattern, a white shirt, turn down collar and black cravat. As
and leaned back, the Warden's assistants stepped forward and drew across his chest and under his arms heavy straps which were securely fastened to the back of the chair. Then about his wrists and over his arms they drew other straps which they buckled closely so that no straining under the influence of the current of electricity could throw the body into ugly contortions or move it from the position in which the two electrodes pressed against it and formed the circuit through which the current from the dynamos would be playing. His legs were quickly strapped to the legs of the chair.
   In all these preparations the witnesses showed great interest. Warden Durston particularly, as the first who superintended in electrocution, watched every movement of the Warden's assistants with interest.
   Dr. McDonald superintended the adjustment of all the straps. Warden Brown left all the arrangements in the hands of the scientists present. The last straps to be put in place were the ones across the face. They were belts rather than straps. One was drawn across the beard of the prisoner and partly over his mouth, but not so far as to prevent speech. The other was fastened over his eyes and pressed down over his nose. When the straps were all in place the figure "4" above his head was loosened and brought down so that the electrode fastened to the end of it at the base of a coil spring hung in front of his forehead. When the sponge in the electrode was adjusted, the "4" was clamped in place and the electrode was fastened in position by a strap passing about the head. Then the second electrode was put in place. It was very like the first—a convex brass band with a sponge stitched to the underside. The right leg of the prisoner's trousers had been split up the side so that the electrode could be bound to the calf of the leg. It was fastened in place. The wire representing the negative pole was attached to it at the back by a small thumb screw of brass. This wire ran down through the floor and into the executioners closet to the wall of which it was fastened. The wire from the figure "4" hung from a curved rod, extending over the top of the closet and hanging above the prisoner's head.
   The prisoner made no sound during these preparations, but went through them giving the Deputy Wardens such assistance as he could by placing his arms and legs in the desired positions as they were indicated.
   Dr. McDonald, who was in full charge of the scientific features of the electrocution, stood directly behind the chair as the preparations were completed. One of the attendant doctors took a can of salt water in his hand. It was a long necked can with a handle on the side, such as used by engineers for oiling. With it he wet the sponges at the two electrodes. The preparations consumed only two or three minutes. When everything was in play Doctor Daniel and Doctor Southwick looked over the straps. Warden Durston also gave a glance at them. Yesterday, when the apparatus was being tried, he inspected the details of the machinery very carefully and helped to adjust to the chair several witnesses who were bound in it for experimental purposes, as he had helped to bind Kemmler in the death chair at Auburn. But to-day he stood beside the chair as a mere spectator.
   While the doctors were looking over the straps, Warden Brown stood aside, a mere onlooker. The law required him to be present, but he regretted the necessity.
   As the doctors finished their quick inspection of the straps, they nodded to Dr. McDonald. It was he who, in concert with Dr. Spitzka, had agreed upon the time which the current should pass through Kemmler's body. He stood just behind the chair, a stop-watch in one hand, a handkerchief in the other. The handkerchief fell and fluttered to the ground. Three feet away from him stood Electrician Davis with his hand on the switch bar. The falling of the handkerchief was the signal for the shifting of the switcher which threw the whole strength of the electric current into the circuit passing through the execution chamber. The turning on of this current was the signal for the unknown executioner within the closet. He stood with his right hand on the switch bar waiting for the signal. Almost simultaneously with the turning of the current into the execution closet—hardly a second intervened.
   In an instant the body in the chair stiffened against the straps perfectly rigid. Every muscle was firmly set as though some awful effort to escape from the bands that held it tight, made them like springs of tempered steel. The straps strained with the peculiar sound of stretching leather. The edges pressed deep into the yielding flesh of the face and gripped the clothing tightly. The expression of the face was lost under the broad bands drawn across the eyes, nose and chin, but the skin exposed to view turned a purple red as they started forward. The spectators drew about the chair, standing on the rubber mats for safety and the physicians compared notes on
   Doctor McDonald fixed his eyes on the stop-watch in his hand and watched it tick off minute fractions of seconds. When it marked 20 seconds he nodded to Electrician Davis, who stood with his hand still on the switch waiting for the signal. It had been decided that to wait for the executioner in the closet to respond to a signal to stop would mean a loss of time which would make the duration of the current uncertain and destroy some of the scientific value of the experiment. So the electrical apparatus had been so constructed that when the current was turned on the chair circuit it would be thrown out of both the chair and the executioners closet by the operation of Electrician Davis' lever. So when Dr. McDonald nodded, the electrician threw the switch bar across the board and
through the apparatus of death. The effect on the body of Slocum was almost instantaneous. From a position of great muscular activity, suddenly subsided in hollow-chested collapse. Instead of straining against the straps it hung against them limp and unsteady.
   Would the dead man appear to revive as Kemmler had done? Would his chest heave and his lips give forth the sound of breathing? The experts at Auburn had said that the current turned on Kemmler was too weak, that it had been turned off too soon. Through this body a steady current of 1,600 volts—twice the strength of the average current that passed through Kemmler's body—had been running. It had been on for 20 seconds—five seconds longer than the current in the Kemmler case. Would the man move or would he give the sickening suggestions of returning life that had horrified the spectators at Auburn? The seconds passed slowly— how many of them is not known—but in less than a minute there
hanging in the death harness a rush of air which whistled between the half-clenched teeth and ended in a half sigh, half moan. Only once did the lungs seem to contract. Quickly as Dr. McDonald could raise his hand to give the signal, the Electrician threw the switch, the electric current rushed through the death circuit, and the body in the chair stiffened again against the straps. The time of the contact was not made public. Dr. McDonald has the record of it. The stop-watch did not regulate the length of the contact this time.
that brought the Kemmler execution to a close and made a sudden end of Slocum's experience in the death chair, the skin and flesh of the leg and almost immediately afterward the skin of the head began to smoke. Doctor McDonald again signaled the electrician to turn the switch. The current was withdrawn and instantly the body collapsed again. This time there was no response from the muscles. The figure hung silent and motionless in the straps. There was no doubt that
   The electrician had signalled the engine, the dynamo had stopped and the whirring sound that had sounded so clearly to the waiting ears of the watchers without through the silent morning air died away.
   The Warden's assistants stepped forward and loosened the electrodes. One by one the straps which confined the body to the chair were unbuckled. Unlike those of Kemmler, Slocum's remains were so limp that they would have slipped from the chair as the last strap was unfastened had not the attendants held them in place. Kemmler's ghastly remains sat upright in the chair when the straps were removed and glared at the wall of the execution chamber. Slocum's remains were carried to the adjoining apartment where they were laid on a long table for the autopsy.
   While the body was being removed the witnesses discussed earnestly the similarity which this execution bore to the Kemmler case, similarity which seemed to relieve the first electrocution of the odium of bungling failure from which it had suffered in the minds of many. Very little time was spent in making preparations for the next execution.
   Smiler's death was also painless. When his body had been taken from the instrument of death and removed to the dissecting chamber, Wood, the negro, was led out. At exactly 5:38 the full current was turned on and in the wink of an eye the negro was a corpse. Preparations were then made for killing the Jap, who was the last of the four to be executed. He had been held to the last in the expectation of a struggle. Jugiro struggled against his fate, as was expected, but was overpowered and shared the fate of the three others.
   The persons who were in the prison as witnesses,were: Dr. Carlos F. McDonald, Chairman of the State Lunacy Commission; Prof. Louis Laudy, Deputy Attorney-General Hogan, Dr. Alphonse D. Rockwell of New York, Dr. S. V. Ward of Albany, Dr. Southwick of Buffalo, Dr. F. Townsend of Albany, Dr. Charles H. Daniels of Buffalo, Dr. Hiram Barber, Prison Physician; Dr. E. F. Davis, Warden Charles E. Durston of Auburn. Warden Brown of Sing Sing; Rev. Fathers John B. Creeden and Lynch, Rev. C. W. Edgarton, Chaplain of Sing Sing Prison and Secretary Brown of the State Lunacy Commission.
   The autopsy on the bodies was commenced early in the morning and lasted until well along in the afternoon. Those who conducted the operations were Drs. McDonald, Rockwell, Southwick, Daniels and Professor Laudy.
   The body of Jugiro was the first to be placed under the dissecting knife. Some of the physicians assert that no burns or marks were discovered on the bodies, while others tell exactly an opposite story.

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