Nikola Tesla Articles
Far Worse Than Hanging
Kemmler’s Death Proves an Awful Spectacle
The Electric Current Had to Be Turned on Twice Before the Deed Was Fully Accomplished
Auburn, N. Y., Aug. 6. - A sacrifice to the whims and theories of the coterie of cranks and politicians who induced the Legislature of this State to pass a law supplanting hanging by electrical execution was offered to-day in the person of William Kemmler, the Buffalo murderer. He died this morning under the most revolting circumstances, and with his death there was placed to the discredit of the State of New-York an execution that was a disgrace to civilization.
Probably no convicted murderer of modern times has been made to suffer as Kemmler suffered. Unfortunate enough to be the first man convicted after the passage of the new execution law, his life has been used as the bone of contention between the alleged humanitarians who supported the law, on one side, and the electric-light interests, who hated to see the commodity in which they deal reduced to such a use as that. For fifteen months they have been fighting as to whether he should be killed or not, and the question has been dragged through every court. He has been sentenced and resentenced to death, only to be dragged back from the abyss by some intricacy of the law.
The uncertainty in which he has so long lived would have driven any ordinary man insane. That suffering has culminated in a death so fearful that people throughout the country will read of it with horror and disgust.
The execution cannot merely be characterized as unsuccessful. It was so terrible that the word fails to convey the idea. It was, as those who advocated it desired that it should be, attended by men eminent in science and in medicine, and they almost unanimously say that this single experiment warrants the prompt repeal of the law. The opinion is further expressed that the public will demand its repeal, and that it is the first and last electrical execution that this State will ever witness. As might have been expected, such of the so-called humanitarians as witnessed Kemmler’s fearful death still insist that their hobby will be a success “under proper conditions.” The publication of the scenes that were enacted in the death room will probably prevent them from ever having another opportunity to prove their assertion.
Fortunately there was no difficulty in getting the full details of the affair, despite the fact that the advocates of the law attempted to do their work concealed from the eyes of the public.
Waiting for the Event
It is doubtful if any of those who were directly interested in the fate of Kemmler slept soundly last night. Not until late in the evening was the hour for the execution definitely known. When each of the men whom Warden Durston had bidden to be present retired he did so knowing that at 5 o’clock he was to be ready to enter the prison gates. Some of them did not seek their beds until late and all of them showed the effects of loss of sleep as they walked down State Street in the early morning.
This is the list of those who accepted the invitation of the Warden to witness Kemmler’s death: Dr. E. C. Spitzka, Dr. George F. Shrady, Dr. Carlos F. MacDonald, Deputy Coroner W. T. Jenkins, all of New-York; Dr. Louis Balch of the State Board of Health, Drs. W. J. Nellis, Joseph Fowler, C. M. Daniels, and A. P. Southwick of Buffalo; Oliver Jenkins, Sheriff of Erie County; District Attorney George P. Quimby of Buffalo, Dr. H. E. Allison, Superintendent of the Auburn Asylum for Insane Criminals; Dr. T. K. Smith, and the Rev. O. A. Houghton of Auburn, C. R. Huntley of Buffalo. Dr. Henry Argue of Elmira, Robert Dunlap of New-York, Dr. George E. Fell, Joseph C. Veiling, Deputy Sheriff of Erie County; Tracy C. Becker of Buffalo, George G. Bain of Washington, Frank W. Mack of the Associated Press, Michael Conway, State Agent for Discharged Convicts; the Rev. Horatio Yates, Chaplain of the Auburn Prison, and George W. Irish of Cazenovia.
The gentlemen went to the prison by twos and fours, and all of them were present at the appointed hour. District Attorney Quimby looked pale as he walked through the gate, and those who knew him best predicted that he would not stay to witness the execution. Mr, Quimby has prosecuted many murderers, but he never, yet has been able to see a man killed. This prediction was verified.
By 4 o’clock this morning people were astir on the streets, and an hour later the street in front of the prison contained not less than 500 people. At 6 o’clock it was almost impossible to force a passage through the throng. Every eye that could be pressed to the openings between the bars of the gate was directed toward the window which lighted Kemmler’s cell. While the crowd was still gathering, and some time after the witnesses had entered the prison, a party of night guards emerged from the gloomy old pile with their lunch baskets and marched in single file out through the gate, which swung open at their approach. The crowd hated to give way to permit them to pass, but was forced to fall back. Nevertheless, each of the guards was eagerly questioned, but no information relating to the one topic of the day was forthcoming from these men. They knew absolutely nothing about the doings in the death chamber. None of them had seen Kemmler since his arrival at the prison.
As the morning wore on and the time for the execution drew near, the trees and housetops in the vicinity began to be peopled. Young men climbed telegraph poles and gazed eagerly toward the vine-clad prison. Men and women on their way to their daily labor joined the crowd at the entrance. The platform of the railway station across the street was black with people, and the temporary office of the Western Union Telegraph Company, which had been established in the freight station directly opposite the prison, showed many expectant faces. Just before 7 o’clock it seemed as if all Auburn had congregated in the immediate neighborhood of the prison. Suddenly a bell was heard to ring, and messengers who had been stationed in advantageous places waved their handkerchiefs as a signal that the murderer had been killed. They were in error. The bell was simply a notice to the civilians employed in the prison shops, most of whom were in the crowd outside, to form in line and prepare to enter. The gate was opened for them and the crowd grudgingly allowed them to march through.
Kemmler Says He Is Ready
Then the weary wait for news from the inside began again. In the meantime Warden Durston had arisen and had gone to the cell of the condemned man. He carried with him the death warrant, and he read it to Kemmler as the latter sat on the side of his bunk. Kemmler’s sole remark when the Warden had finished reading was: “All right, I am ready.” The Warden then left the cell, and in the entrance hall above met the witnesses who had accepted his invitation. While most of the visitors loitered about the hall, Warden Durston went with J. C. Veiling, Kemmler’s old Buffalo keeper, to the murderer’s cell. Kemmler was apparently greatly pleased, to see Veiling, and insisted that he should remain to breakfast with him. To this proposition Veiling assented, and a good breakfast was soon set before them. While they were waiting for it the Rev. Drs. Houghton and Yates entered the cage. Kemmler greeted them in a pleasant manner, and they talked with him a few minutes on the subject of his coming death. Then the clergymen and Kemmler knelt upon the floor, the murderer in his shirt sleeves, and a prayer for the soul of the condemned man was offered up.
Breakfast followed, and throughout the meal Kemmler was in the best of spirits. After the meal Kemmler was asked if he had any objection to having his hair cut, and he said he had not. Veiling therefore produced a pair of shears and cut the hair from the murderers head. Kemmler sat smiling while the shears were being plied. Veiling was very nervous, and made a sorry job of the haircutting. When he had finished his work the crown of Kemmler’s head from which the hair had been cut had the appearance of a great scar.
Several times the murderer addressed veiling. “They say I am afraid to die,” he said, “but they will find that I ain’t. I want you to stay right by me, Joe, and see me through this thing and I will promise you that I won’t make any trouble.”
The last moment in the old cage came soon and Kemmler arose to follow the Warden into an adjoining room. He had previously bidden the faithful Daniel farewell. His eyes roved over the dingy quarters a moment and then he looked straight toward the door. “Come William,” said the Warden, and together they walked into the chamber of death. A solemn hush had fallen upon the witnesses as Warden Durston left the death chamber to bring in the doomed man. There was a very apparent nervousness among the men, used as most of them are to sights that would chill ordinary men’s blood. The uncertainty of what was to come filled them with awe. Somebody attempted to speak, but his voice was lost in its own faintness. A step was heard outside. All eyes turned toward the door leading into the chamber. Warden Durston appeared, and beside him was the man who stood on the verge of an awful death. Yet there was nothing in his appearance to suggest this. His face was composed and he walked in an easy manner as though he were entering a room to receive a party of friends.
After he had crossed the threshold there was for an instant the deadest silence. It was broken by Warden Durston.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “this is William Kemmler.” And Kemmler bowed.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “I wish you all good luck. I believe I am going to a good place, and I am ready to go. I want only to say that a great deal has been said about me that is untrue. I am bad enough. It is cruel to make me out worse.”
As he finished this little speech, he bowed again, and was about to sit down in a chair which had been placed beside the death chair. Warden Durston, seeing this, stepped forward, and Kemmler, noticing his action, saw that the time had come, and instead of sitting where he had intended, turned and easily dropped into the seat. Still he did it much as one might after a long walk fall into the welcome arms of an easy chair. He sat with the light from the window streaming full on his face, and immediately in front of him was the semicircle of witnesses. Warden Durston stepped to the chair, and at his request Kemmler arose. It was desired to see whether his clothing had been so cut away at the base of the spine as to allow of a clean contact between the electrode and the flesh. It was found that the outer garments had been cut, but the lower clothing had not been so. Durston took out a pocket knife and cut two small triangular pieces out of the shirt.
Then Kemmler easily settled back into the chair again. As he did so Durston started to get the rear piece in position. A murmur of surprise passed among the witnesses when Kemmler turned calmly to the Warden and in such tones as one might speak to a barber who was shaving him, said calmly: “Now take your time and do it all right, Warden. There is no rush. I don’t want to take any chances on this thing, you know.”
“All right, William,” answered Durston, and then began to adjust the headpiece. It looked horrible with its leather hands crossing the doomed man’s forehead and chin and partially concealing his features. When the job was finished Durston stepped back. Kemmler shook his head as one might when trying on a new hat, and then just as coolly as before said: “Warden, just make that a little tighter. We want everything all right, you know.”
The Warden did as requested and then started to fix the straps around the body, arms, and legs. There were eleven of them. As each was buckled Kemmler would put some strain on it so as to see if it was tight enough. All appeared to suit him, and in answer to a question by the Warden he answered: “All right.” Durston then stepped to the door. The last minute had come.
The Fatal Current Turned On
Standing on the threshold he turned and said quietly: “Is all ready?” Nobody spoke. Kemmler merely lifted his eyes and for a moment turned them enough to catch a glimpse of the bright, warm sunlight that was streaming through the window of the death chamber.
“Good-bye, William,” said Durston, and a click was heard. The “good-bye” was the signal to the men at the lever. The great experiment of electrical execution had been launched. New-York State had thrown off forever the barbarities, the inhumanities of hanging its criminals. But had it? Words will not keep pace with what followed. Simultaneously with the click of the lever the body of the man in the chair straightened. Every muscle of it seemed to be drawn to its highest tension. It seemed as though it might have been thrown across the chamber were it not for the straps which held it. There was no movement of the eyes. The body was as rigid as though cast in bronze, save for the index finger of the right hand, which closed up so tightly that the nail penetrated the flesh on the first joint, and the blood trickled out on the arm of the chair. Drs. Spitzka and Macdonald stood in front of the chair, closely watching the dead or dying man. Beside them was Dr. Daniels, holding a stop-watch.
After the first convulsion there was not the slightest movement of Kemmler’s body. An ashen pallor had overspread his features. What physicians know as the “death spots” appeared on his skin. Five seconds passed, ten seconds, fifteen seconds, sixteen, and seventeen. It was just 6:43 o’clock. Dr. Spitzka, shaking his head, said: “He is dead.” Warden Durston pressed the signal button, and at once the dynamo was stopped. The assembled witnesses who had sat as still as mutes up to this point gave breath to a sigh. The great strain was over. Then the eyes that had been momentarily turned from Kemmler’s body returned to it and gazed with horror on what they saw. The men rose from their chairs impulsively and groaned at the agony they felt. “Great God! he is alive!” some one said; “Turn on the current,” said another; “See, he breathes,” said a third; “For God’s sake kill him and have it over,” said a representative of one of the press associations, and then, unable to bear the strain, he fell on the floor in a dead faint. District Attorney Quimby groaned audibly and rushed from the room.
Drs. Spitzka and Macdonald stepped toward the chair. Warden Durston, who has started to loosen the electrode on the head, raised it slightly and then hastily screwed it back into place. Kemmler’s body had become limp and settled down in the chair. His chest was raising and falling and there was a heavy breathing that was perceptible to all. Kemmler was, of course, entirely unconscious. Drs. Spitzka and Macdonald kept their wits about them. Hastily they examined the man, not touching him, however. Turning to Warden Durston, who had just finished getting the head electrode back in place, Dr. Spitzka said: “Have the current turned on again, quick - no delay.” Durston sprang to the door, and in an instant had sounded the two bells, which informed the man at the lever that the current must be turned on.
The Current Turned on Again
Again came that click as before, and again the body of the unconscious wretch in the chair became as rigid as one of bronze. It was awful, and the witnesses were so horrified by the ghastly sight that they could not take their eyes off it. The dynamo did not seem to run smoothly. The current could be heard sharply snapping. Blood began to appear on the face of the wretch in the chair. It stood on the face like sweat.
The capillary or small blood vessels under the skin were being ruptured. But there was worse than that. An awful odor began to permeate the death chamber, and then, as though to cap the climax of this fearful sight, it was seen that the hair under and around the electrode on the head and the flesh under and around the electrode at the base of the spine was singeing. The stench was unbearable.
How long this second execution lasted - for it was a second execution, if there was any real life in the body when the current was turned on for the second time - is not really known by anybody. Those who held watches were too much horrified to follow them. Some said afterward that it lasted a minute. One said it lasted fully four minutes and a half. Opinions ranged all the way between these figures. Dr. Spitzka, who was as cool as any man could be under such circumstances, says it was not more than a minute. It was 6:51 o’clock when the signal went to the man at the lever to shut off the current. Kemmler had been in the chair just eight minutes from the time the current was first turned on. There is nobody among the witnesses present who can tell just how much of that time the current was passing through the body of Kemmler.
As soon as the current was off again Warden Durston rapidly unscrewed the electrodes and unbuckled the straps. Kemmler’s body again was limp. This time he was surely dead. There was no doubt of that. The body was left sitting upright in the chair, and the witnesses of the tragedy that had been enacted passed out into the stone corridors as miserable, as weak-kneed a lot of men as can be imagined. It had nauseated all but a few of them, and the sick ones had to be looked out for. They were all practically silent for some time. Their minds were too busy to enable them to talk. They all seemed to act as though they felt that they had taken part in a scene that would be told to the world as a public shame, as a legal crime.
Doctors Afraid to Use the Knife
The body of Kemmler was soon after laid upon a dissecting table that had been placed in front of the chair in which he had met such an awful death. A little over half an hour after the current had been finally turned off, the doctors who were to perform the autopsy went down and viewed the body. Dr. Spitzka found at that time the temperature, taken at the back of the neck, just below where the headpiece electrode had rested, was one degree higher than blood temperature. It is a rule of medical science that no body is dead which is capable of producing heat. In view of this fact, though he had no doubt that life was absolutely extinct, Dr. Spitzka protested that the body should lay for three hours before the scalpel was put to it, and his fellow-physicians agreed with him in this precaution. It may not have been necessary, but it at least will do away with the danger of even a suggestion that Kemmler died under the scalpel, and not from electric current.
The witnesses had been slowly leaving the building. District Attorney Quimby was the first to leave. His eyes were suffused with tears, and he looked like a man who had suffered the most intense agony.
Results of the Autopsy
An autopsy was held about three hours after death and was conducted by Drs. George F. Shrady, Carlos F. MacDonald, E. C. Spitzka, and William T. Jenkins of New-York City, and C. M. Daniels of Buffalo. They all agree that unconsciousness was instantly produced and death was apparently painless. Extensive charring of the body at the points of contact of the electrodes, also minute hemorrhages, were found in the serous membranes and in the ventricles of the brain. The blood was fluid and dark. In the longitudinal sinus corresponding with the region of contact the blood was carbonized. There was decided change in the consistency and color of the brain corresponding with point of contact. Destructive changes of the blood corpuscles were noted.
So marked was the rigor that the remains preserved when placed upon the table the attitude of sitting. Drs. MacDonald and Shrady examined the head. They found that there was a deep, circular imprint on the top of the head made by the sharp pressure of the electrode’s rim. The spot where a tuft of Kemmler’s hair had been cut off just before death was found to constitute not more than one third of the area of contact with the electrode, and close examination disclosed that the edge of the copper within the electrode had slightly burned the scalp just where the hair had been cut. Had not Kemmler’s desire to avoid disfigurement by the cutting of the hair prevailed the contact would have been more perfect. The chances of instantaneous death would have been greater, and possibly disfigurement, which he dreaded, would have been avoided.
Drs. Shrady and Macdonald sat upon a bench chatting as they looked at the body in its strange posture.
“Well, Doctor, there is marked rigor in that, position,” remarked Macdonald.
“Yes,” was Shrady’s response, “but we don’t know how much is due to electrotnis.”
“What does that mean?” asked a layman who listened.
“That means the conditions of death by electric force,” laughed both the doctors.
“I’d have taken the chance, I think,” remarked Dr. Shrady, as he scanned the remains, “of resuscitating that man with hypodermics, even an hour after the current was taken off at the first time, and before its reapplication,” and as he spoke he went to the table and placed a palm under the nape of Kemmler’s neck. After a moment he turned to Drs. Macdonald and Spitzka, who had come near. They all felt the base of the skull, the nervous centre. There was appreciable warmth, though the man had been declared dead 3 hours and 21 minutes before. Then Spitzka called for a thermometer. One was brought, pressed into the folds at the nape of Kemmler’s neck and secured there with a rubber band, passed over the head and on to the neck. At this point a convict with a bucket of water and sponges entered and undressed the body. Death evidences were found where the buckles of the straps had sunk into the flesh. The lividity was tending downward and death pallor was ensuing.
Kemmler’s head measure was found to be 21⅜ inches, or 54½ centimeters, being the horizontal circumference of the skull. The temperature at the back of the neck was found to have sunk in the interval of two tests twenty minutes apart from 99½° to 97½°, which was declared to be post-mortem temperature. Then at 9:57 A. M., three hours and six minutes after the current through Kemmler was stopped, the table was wheeled beneath the windows, through which the sunlight then was streaming and at the call for “inspection” all gathered around while Dr. Jenkins of New-York prepared to use the scalpel and the saw. Dr. Shrady sat near and in short hand took the running description of conditions developed, himself prompting and at times directing.
Examination of the electrodes on the fatal chair discloses that the sponge at the base of the spine was dried and scorched by heat generated, owing to imperfect contact or to insufficient wetting of the sponge during contact. The result was a terrible burning of the back clear through to the spine. The skin in contact had been burned to a black cinder and the flesh above had been cooked until yellow, while the inner tissues had been baked.
The sponge in the upper electrode had been singed, though not so much as the other, and the scalp only singed instead of incinerated.
Finally, there is said by all the physicians to be no doubt that consciousness was stricken instantly from his brain. The fact that he was not instantly killed is the result of improper contact or of insufficient voltage or pressure. Contact certainly was not perfect at the head, for two-thirds of the contact was upon the man’s thick, smoothly-brushed hair, the clipped spot being one-third the size of the electrode’s diameter. There has been no information that Kemmler’s back at point of contact had been saponified to cleanse away the fatty substances in the pores which offer high resistance.
Warden Durston says 1,700 volts or pressure of current was first applied to Kemmler. When questioned to-night as to whether the twenty incandescent lamps on the circuit, to indicate presence of current, were burning when the bolt was discharged into the murderer, he stated that they were. They should not have been. The moment before switching the current into Kemmler the test lamps should have been cut out. Each lamp consumes 50 volts, hence the 20 took 1,000 volts at once out of the current sent to Kemmler. That left 700 to cause death. The best authorities state that 15 per cent. of a current is stopped at the points of contact, and that 85 is thus expended in the body. Eighty-five per cent. of the 700 volts not consumed to-day by the test lamps is 595 volts of pressure. This is not enough to surely kill a man instantly with good contact, and that of to-day was not perfect. Only one of to-day’s witnesses got within the secret room where the apparatus was, and while there he was told by the person in charge and before Kemmler was put in the chair that the machinery “out there,” meaning at the dynamo room, “was not working right.” But within ten minutes Kemmler was shocked. Either the machinery recovered or a bolt was sent out with uncertainty as to all being right. The Warden says all was working right this morning, though last night at midnight his appliances were in such order that he was not certain whether the execution would take place to-day, even though he had summoned his guests to the prison at an early hour this morning.
The Official Report
Dr. Shrady this evening gave out the following as the official report of the autopsy so far, as information for public use:
Body fairly well nourished. Rigor mortis marked particularly in the muscles of the jaw, neck, and thorax, and gradually extending from above downward, involving the feet and legs last. The post-mortem hyperstasis marked over lower portion of body, and extending up as far as the anterior axillary line; also on the pendant surface of the upper and lower extremities. The upper extremities are partly flexed and rotated outward, the nails showing post-mortem lividity.
There was marked discoloration of the forehead about an inch in width, corresponding with the position of the strap, beginning at the hair line on the leftside and extending to the hair line on the right side. A corresponding discoloration from the pressure of the chin strap was also noted.
There was an oval depression of the scalp upon the vertex, beginning at the anterior hair line and measuring 4 inches in its long and 3½ inches in its short diameter. Anterior to the posterior portion of the depression, and in the immediate line there was a burn 1½ inches in length and half an inch in width, superficial in character, slightly scorching the hair, and crescentic in shape. On the small of the back, corresponding to the level of the fourth sacral vertebra below, and 4½ inches in vertical diameter and 4½ inches in transverse diameter, was a burn presenting the four concentric zones, of which the outermost had a pale area, corresponding to that of the rubber cup of the electrode, and one-quarter of an inch in diameter.
Then follows a partial and complete vesication, partial below and complete above, about an inch in diameter above and one-third of an inch below.
Then follows a transition zone which is in its upper third a complete eschar, black in appearance and in its lower part showed desiccation ana was of a greenish brown color. An internal zone showed a number of vesicles, chiefly peripheral, and below the centre a black eschar, half of an inch in its vertical and five-eighths of an inch in its transverse diameter.
Above is a tongue-shaped, pale area, with a latera projection to the left of the median line, extending about two inches, and an upper projection in the dorsal furrow, which is more sharply pointed, and which on its periphery there was a reddish quarter, with here and there vesication. In addition the back showed a number of depressions produced by the folds of the shirt and suspenders as are commonly found in dead bodies lying on the back.
On incising the skin over the sternum the blood which escaped was unusually dark and fluid, and remained so on exposure. There was no vermicular action of the intestine on exposure to the air or on irritation. The diaphragm extended from the fifth intercostal on the left and the fourth on the right.
The blood from the cut surface of the liver was of a crimson-like color. Abdominal organs were normal in position and appearance. The muscles of the thorat were of the usual color.
Tardieu spots were noticed on the posterior border of the lower lobe of the left lung. Over half of the lung floated when placed in water, showing a marked emphysematous condition. The bronchi were normal in appearance and contained mucus and air bubbles. The right lung was adherent throughout to the diaphragm. In the middle lobe of this lung there were numerous well-marked tardieu spots.
The spleen was normal in size and appearance. The left kidney weighed 3½ ounces and the right kidney 3 ounces. Both were intensely congested. The stomach contained a pint of undigested food. The gall bladder was distended with bile. The heart weighed five and three-quarter ounces, valves were healthy. Bladder contracted.
The scalp, on being removed, showed the vertex of the skull to be in a desiccated condition corresponding with the contact of the electrode, as previously noted, but of larger area, being 4 inches by 4 inches, the zone of the scalp being only 2½ by 3 inches, the long diameter being antero-posterior.
On removal of the skull cap the dura was normal in texture, somewhat dull in color, particularly over the area corresponding with the zone of contact. In the pre-rolandic region, the meningeal vessels, measuring a long convexity anteroposteriorly of 4 inches on the left and 3 inches on the right were filled with carbonized blood.
On the internal aspect of calvarium, the meningeal vessels in the dura the contents and coats appeared to be black and carbonised. The carbonized vessels were so brittle that their ends were torn off with the calvarium and presented a broken, crumby appearance. This carbonization was limited in an abrupt manner. The other meningeal vessels contained blood of a crimson-like hue corresponding to the outer burn previously described. In its narrowest portion was seen, a little posteriorly in the median line, a dark discoloration sending out a right lateral prolongation, three quarters of an inch in the direction of the longitudinal sinus, and in width seven-eighths of an inch.
Over the left hemisphere, one-third of an inch to the left of the median line, there was a deep carbonized spot, corresponding with the carbonized portion of the calvarium. This charred spot corresponds to the dura of dull color areas previously described. The pia and gyri themselves were of a pale buff color; the rest had the ordinary rosy injection of the ordinary cortex.
While observing this anæmic area, it was noticed that its blood vessels began to fill. The pia and arachnoid on the convexity were perfectly normal. An interesting fact was observed on handling the pons and medulla, in that they were found to be warm. By a thermometer inserted in the fourth ventricle, the temperature was noted at 97° Farenheit. This corresponds with an area of temperature on the back of the neck, which was noted at 99° Farenheit two hours after death and 97½° Farenheit three hours post mortem.
The smaller vessels of the pia were letatic. Capillary hemorrhages were noted in the floor of the fourth ventricle and the same condition in the third ventricle and the anterior portion of the lateral ventricle. The perivascular spaces appeared to be distended with serum and blood.
The brain cortex in area of contact was sensibly hardened to one-sixth of its depth, where there was a broken line of vascularity. The vessels over the corpus striatum showed enlargements in different parts of their ramifications. The pons was slightly softened.
The burned integument of the back on being removed showed the spinal muscles underneath to be cooked like “overdone beef” throughout their entire thickness. The spinal cord was removed entire, but showed no gross appearances of pathological condition. Portions of its structure, as well as those of brain tissue were preserved by members of the staff for purposes of hardening and microscopical examination.
The blood taken immediately after death showed under the microscope a markedly granular condition, almost suggesting an electrolytic dissolution of the red corpuscles.
What Does This Mean?
It is reported and on good authority that the second man to leave the prison was one of the electricians who had been handling the apparatus. It is said that he went immediately to the telegraph office and sent the following dispatch to the electric-light company which has been carrying on all the opposition to electrical executions, because it was its dynamos that were being used:
“Execution was an awful botch. Kemmler was literally roasted to death.”
The story is very significant in view of the defects in the dynamo and apparatus, which were in themselves entirely or largely responsible for the horrors of the execution.
The Machinery Was Defective
Electrician E. F. Davis of New-York had charge of the machinery which killed Kemmler. He was especially in charge of the switchboard, but he did not loose the fatal current. C. R. Barnes of Rochester presided in the dynamo room, and Electrician Huntley of Buffalo simply played the part of spectator.
The machinery which sent Kemmler to his death was defective in a great many respects. The dynamo room is in the northwest corner of the prison, nearly 1,000 feet distant from the death chamber. The dynamo is of the Westinghouse pattern, and the electrician says that it is capable, when running at a high speed, of developing 1,500 volts. The dynamo is operated by an engine in the basement underneath, and two large wires connect it with the fatal chair. They enter the south side of the south wing of the prison through a window in the original death chamber. This chamber to-day contained the switchboard. Two small insulated wires connect the engine room and the death chamber. They were used to-day by the Warden in signaling to the engineer.
The switchboard is about 5 feet long and 3½ feet wide. Upon this board are a volt meter, a resistance box, a lamp board with thirty-six lamps, an ammeter, used to measure the quantity of electricity; a regulating switch that governs the lamp board, and the switch itself. One of the big wires enters the switchboard and goes directly to the chair; the other passes through the ammeter and is intercepted by the switch. The direct wire and two branches govern the volt meter. One of these branches runs to the resistance box and the other to the volt meter, and the latter and the resistance box are connected by wire. To measure the voltage the circuit was completed through the resistance box, which checked a fixed amount of the electric current, and the volt meter measured the remainder of the current. Two electrodes were attached to the death chair, both kept in place by springs. Each electrode ended in a hollow rubber hemisphere containing a sponge in which was embedded the end of the wire. One of these electrodes was fitted to the head of the criminal and the other touched the base of his spinal cord. There was a back cushion to the chair for the head of the murderer to rest upon. Two straps for each limb, two body straps, and a strap to go around the nose and chin constituted the other grisly furnishings of the chair.
The dynamo was so far distant from the switchboard that a code of signals had to be established. These were: Two taps of the bell, start dynamo; two additional taps, increase the pressure; one tap, stop. The occupants of the dynamo and engine rooms were considerably puzzled to-day over the signals they received. First, the bell rang twice and the dynamo was set in operation. Five times this signal was repeated. Then came one bell, and the dynamo was stopped. Two minutes later the bell rang twice, and this signal was repeated three times in rapid succession. The dynamo ran at full speed each time. These rapid signals were the result of the blunders made in the death chamber. In this connection it should be said that neither the engineer nor the man ih charge of the dynamo could signal the operators in the death chamber, so that if the dynamo or engine had broken down the fact could not have been known in the chamber until a messenger took the information.
It will be noticed that the capacity of this dynamo is given as 1,500 volts, but it was not run up to this point at any time during the execution. No record of the showing of the volt meter can be obtained. Yet the witnesses are almost unanimous in their statement that they were told before leaving the prison that the voltage had ranged from 700 to 1,300 volts. Electrician Huntley said that the dynamo was run to-day at its full capacity, but he would not state just what the voltage was. This low voltage was apparently the prime feature of the bungling throughout the execution. While advocates of electrical execution have always claimed that 1,200 volts would cause instantaneous death, most of them have agreed that it would be much better to use 1,800 volts, and this opinion has been generally expressed by such of the medical men of the State as have favored, or at least been willing to advocate, a trial of the law.
This fact is but one of the many things that the officials who conducted this execution will have to answer for - why a dynamo was used that, according to the opinion of an electrician, was running at its full capacity and at the same time was sending out a voltage that was wabbling anywhere from 700 to 1,300. Its lowest current was 500 volts lower than the most enthusiastic and sanguine advocates of electrical execution have claimed was sufficient to kill instantaneously and its highest voltage was 500 volts lower than more level-headed people who did not object to a trial of the system have thought to be sufficient to use.
Dr. Southwick Is Easily Pleased
The doctors, experts, and scientists who witnessed the execution were so wrought up when they got back to the Osborne House that it was impossible to get any coherent statement out of them. They were a sorry-looking lot of men, and perhaps the most miserable of all was the contingent of Buffalo physicians who have stood by Dr. Southwick of that city - Dr. Southwick, “the father of the electrical execution law.” Viewed in the light of the story of Kemniler’s execution, as it is told by the eye witnesses, the following statement, made by Dr. Southwick, who had passed through the same experience that they had, is somewhat unique. Said he:
“This is the grandest success of the age. After the execution to-day I turned to Warden Durston, congratulated him, and said that I was one of the happiest men in the State of New-York. It is true that there were some little things about the execution that did not exactly please me. The current should have been on at least thirty seconds. I am convinced that if the current had been kept on long enough everything would have been all right. The breathing between the two shocks we gave him was simply an abdominal movement. Then Kemmler was a man who offered much more than ordinary resistance to the current of electricity. These things are not defects in the system, but mishaps that naturally attend on experimental execution of this character. The reason for the burning around the electrodes was that the wet sponges did not fill the cups. They should have been larger. I tell you this is a grand thing, and is destined to become the system of legal death throughout the world.”
Dr. Spitzka Says It Was a Failure
“First, the guillotine; second, the gallows, and, last of all, electrical execution.” That is the way that Dr. Spitzka expressed his preference for methods of capital punishment just after witnessing the execution to-day. Never before,” he said, “have I felt as I do now. What I have seen has impressed me deeply, not exactly with what you would call horror, but rather with wonder and doubt. I have seen hangings that were immeasurably more brutal than this execution, but I have never seen anything so awful. What I have seen has suggested so much that I have not yet satisfied every question that has arisen in my own mind; but I do say that, after witnessing all, I would scale the methods of capital punishment for humanity, simplicity, reliablity, as, first, the guillotine; second, the gallows, and, last, electrical execution.”
“Then you regard the execution as a failure?”
“No. The execution was a success, for the man is dead; but the method is a failure, in that it has not demonstrated that it is what it promised to be. To rid an execution of features of barbarity, of cruelty, is the professed object of this system. The experiment has not fulfilled this profession. Furthermore, it has shown that by this system, under other conditions than those existing today, conditions that might exist, executions there might be that would be absolutely frightful. There were conditions to-day for which no credit is due to the system, or to those advocating it, that are to answer for the fact that this execution was not more ghastly than it was. The principal of these favorable conditions; and one that the public will readily appreciate, was the extreme nerve and docility of Kemmler. He was as obedient as a child and apparently as self-possessed as though about to sit in a barber’s chair instead of in a chair of death.
“He entered the room in the easiest manner, fixing his tie as he came in. His face was expressionless, the features being in repose. The only time he showed any emotion was when the Warden talked to him. It was the same even while the straps were being buckled. He placed his hands on the arms of the chair, palms down, and the fingers did not twitch while the straps were being put in position. This docility and calmness, you can readily appreciate, rendered the execution, as easy to accomplish as it could possibly have been. Now, suppose it were otherwise. Suppose the prisoner was ‘ugly,’ as they often are when being taken to the gallows. Think of the difficulty there would be in placing such a man into the death chair. His struggles would make brute force necessary. Suppose again that the condemned man gave way entirely, as men often do, and had not strength enough to command himself. He would have to be practically carried to the chair and strapped in. In either of those cases the situation would be horrible in the extreme. This goes to show that this method will at least not do one of the things which was put forward strongly in its favor by its advocates; it will not take from capital punishment the barbarous preliminary features of an execution that have been urged by the so-called humanitarians as reasons for the abolishment of hanging and of the guillotine.
“The great objectionable feature of the execution is this: The very nature of the power that causes death, necessitates a most brutal display of signs of life, of post-mortem examination, even when death is sure. This man showed certain signs of animation and made certain gurgling sounds after the current was first turned off. It was for this reason and in order to make death doubly sure that it was turned on again.”
“But Kemmler at the time the current was first turned off was dead?”
“In my opinion such was undoubtedly the fact. I said so at the time. There are those who doubt it. Yet I believe that five seconds after the current was turned on Kemmler was a dead man. By that I mean that he was in a condition where resuscitation would have been impossible. In fifteen seconds he was dead. Whatever occurred after that was simply muscular movement, such as would very naturally occur in a body that had been subjected to a current of electricity of such force. He breathed, but in this there is nothing unnatural. If, at the instant the current entered his body his lungs were filled with air and the chest consequently expanded, at the time the current was turned off, it was natural for the lungs to empty themselves and for the chest to become depressed, thus giving the appearance of breathing. I do not believe, however, that this apparent breathing can be looked upon as a sufficient warrant for the statement that life still existed. Yet it was right and proper that the current should have been turned on a second time.
“The whole thing was an experiment, and neither I nor the other doctors could be as positive, from the mere observation of the exact condition of affairs, as to run the risk of depending on them entirely. It was better to have the current turned on again and thus make death doubly sure. I must say that the Warden acted well this time, despite his rattle-brained conduct heretofore, which has not been at all satisfactory to me any more than to the other doctors and scientists who have been in the case. To-day he was cool find apparently anxious to have the whole thing over. This was another of the favorable conditions, and in connection with Kemmler’s fortitude is responsible for the fact that the execution was not more awful.
Was It a Prepared Botch?
“The dynamo and apparatus was to my mind far from what it should have been. It did not furnish sufficient power, and it did not furnish a steady current. A business man wishing to use a dynamo for light or motor purposes would not find the slightest difficulty in obtaining one that would furnish not only sufficient power, but an almost steady current throughout the day. Here, however, the meter showed that the voltage was wabbling around everywhere from 700 to 1,300 volts. I am not an electrician, but that is what they tell me about the current. This certainly should not have been so. Had a dynamo been purchased from the maker for a purpose that was agreeable to electric interests it would not have been so.
“Yes, there might have been corrupt reasons for this. The interests of the company who manufacture the dynamos would certainly be advanced by the defects in the machinery. They failed to kill electrical execution in the courts, but the last resort was not there. Their ends would be served quite as efficiently if this execution was a botch, as it largely was, and would consequently meet with public disapproval and condemnation, such as would demand the repeal of the law. This is merely a suggestion. There are no facts to warrant it, except that it is logical and that the machinery was defective.
“A peculiar thing brought out at the autopsy was that the man’s temperature taken just at the back of the neck was one degree higher than blood heat. That was a half an hour after death. That shows that death is only a partial thing after all and that it does not invade the whole body at once. But so far as conscious existence was concerned William Kemmler was dead in the one hundredth part of a second after the current was turned on.
“Another peculiar thing that was brought out by this experiment was in relation to the death hue. About five seconds after the current was turned on I noticed the death pallor on Kemmler’s face, and noted particularly that it was of the same peculiar shade as follows a stroke of apoplexy or a sunstroke. Yet the reflex or lower faculties of life still existed to a slight extent.
“The autopsy should bring out a great deal of interesting matter. What has been done to-day is of course rather superficial. That is, I mean to say, that it brought to light only that which was visible to the eye. The parts most directly affected, however, will be subjected to microscopical examination such as specimens taken from the body of a man killed by electricity have never been subjected to before. I shall take the brain and expect to learn much from it. Other specialists will take the parts of the body of which they have made a special study, and the result of the entire work should be the gathering of an immense amount of knowledge regarding the effect of the electricity on the human body.”
“Then, doctor, all in all, you regard this experiment as a failure; electrical execution you believe will not become a prevailing system?”
“I should say not. I believe this will be the first and last execution of the kind. I am quite certain that the report circulated regarding this execution will not be inclined to induce people of other States to adopt a law such as we have adopted. Whether it will be repealed in this State, remains to be seen, but to my mind in this case the system has absolutely failed to meet the promises which its advocates claimed for it and which caused the passage of the law. As I said before, the execution was not a failure, for the man is dead, but to-day’s performance has satisfied me that the electrical system of execution can in no way be regarded as a step in civilization. The guillotine is better than the gallows, the gallows is better than electrical execution.”
Dr. Jenkins’s Description
There can be no doubt that the result was unsatisfactory to Deputy Coroner Jenkins of New-York. He was one of the first to leave the prison for the Osborne House, and when THE TIMES’S correspondent talked with him he was visibly unnerved by his recent experience.
“It was probably ten seconds,” he said. “before I noticed the death pallor on Kemmler’s face. I saw his shoulders draw up and I knew that the current was on. A man who has been hanged will make the same motion. I noticed that the index finger of his right hand was tightly closed and blood trickled from it. When the electricity was applied it was generally supposed that he was dead. The moment the strap was removed from his mouth; however, foam gathered on his lips and he was seen to breathe, then the current was turned on again and it remained until he was dead beyond the possibility of a doubt.”
“How did it compare with a hanging?”
“I would rather see ten hangings than one such execution as this. In fact I never care to witness such a scene again. It was fearful. No humane man could witness it without the keenest agony. I am not an electrician, but I have a considerable insight into electrical matters. Electricity applied as it was to-day will never serve as an executioner, and yet it is my honest belief that things might have been a thousand times worse than they were, though it seems almost impossible that they could be. To-day the apparatus was defective to a standpoint that approached carelessness. Even had it been perfect, we cannot say now any better than we could a week or a year ago that it would do its work as it should be done. I don’t think that Kemmler was dead when the current was applied for the second time, but he was unconscious.”
“Do you think that electrical executions will continue?”
“That is not for me to say. We shall be able to tell pretty quick when the facts concerning Kemmler’s death are read by the public.”
Blames Dr. Spitzka
The following statement of Dr. C. M. Daniels of Buffalo is interesting: “The execution would have been a success had it not been for Dr. Spitzka. Through some unfortunate circumstance he came nearly spoiling the whole affair. He ordered the current turned off too quick.”
“Do you think that Kemmler was alive when the current was turned off the first time?”
“I am satisfied that he was. I am equally well satisfied that Kemmler was unconscious then. He could not have had the least sensation of pain, notwithstanding his convulsion.”
Dr. Daniels thinks the experiment has not been a particularly fortunate one. He was charitable enough to admit the result would be likely to prejudice the public against electrical executions. The people would be so stupid that they would not be able to understand the situation.
“The trouble is,” he said, “that the people will not hold the apparatus responsible. After the execution we learned that the volt meter registered something less than 1,300 volts. It was expected that the current would be 500 volts stronger than that, yet 1,300 volts is sufficient, provided that the current is left on long enough. Had the current been continued thirty seconds I am convinced that there would have been no such scene as took place in the execution chamber. The apparatus should always be placed in charge of expert electricians.”
Some Varying Opinions
There was no witness who so bitterly denounced the system of electrical execution as did Sheriff O. A. Jenkins of Buffalo. He was so badly affected that he had to take to his room. He said that he was incontrovertably of the opinion that electrical executions would never do. Even the possibility of a reoccurrence of such a scene as he had witnessed made hanging infinitely more humane. He admitted that he knew nothing about electrical matters but said that he did not see how any man who had seen Kemmler’s death could express any other opinion than that which he had expressed.
C. R. Huntly of Buffalo is the electrician who, when Warden Durston was at sword’s points with Electrician Barnes, was going to do the work that Mr. Barnes had been engaged to do in the dynamo room. Durston’s reconciliation with Barnes left Huntly in the position of a passive spectator. Mr. Huntly said that he had looked forward to this experiment with the keenest interest. He had believed that electricity would prove an efficacious executioner, but after witnessing Kemmler’s awful end his opinion was changed. It was true that there had been defects in the machinery and apparatus, but leaving such defects out of the question, with perfect machinery and apparatus he thought that an electrical execution was likely to be marred by one or more or all of the features that characterized Kemmler’s death.
Dr. George F. Fell is another of the Buffalo physicians who were present. He said there was no doubt that the death was instantaneous. The breathing and gasping that Kemmler did after he had been carrying the current through his body for seventeen seconds was purely muscular movement. He thought the execution was much more human than hanging, and then showed the value of his opinion by admitting that he had never seen a hanging. He had heard and read of them, though. Death, he thought, was caused by action of the heart tissue. It was a sort of a paralysis of the heart.
Dr. Fell is the man who has acquired fame as the inventor of a resuscitator, with which he wanted to try to resuscitate Kemmler. He was refused permission to try it, however.
Dr. Carlos F. Macdonald was not very decided one way or the other in expressing his opinion. Said he: “I don’t think that the execution was as successful as it should have been, because the dynamo was too far away from the death chamber. When the execution was going on I could not find the official amount or voltage from the Warden. While this experiment has not been a success, it has demonstrated to my mind the fact that this method of execution is superior to hanging. Regarding the certainty or rapidity of death, it was not as fully satisfactory as anticipated, but I think that is readily accounted for by the fact that it was the first execution under this system. Then those in charge were too nervous. It is impossible for us to say whether the man was dead when the current was first turned off, but he certainly suffered no pain after that time. Death in my judgment was absolutely painless.
“The engines and dynamos should be especially constructed and the voltage should be fully 3,000. The whole apparatus should be in the death chamber where no long distance signaling should be required. Then the man in charge could see what was going on. All the executions should be one place. There should be a place of execution built in some central point in the State and it should be in charge of a State executioner. I would take from the prison Wardens this work. I intend, if I can, to have the bill amended to meet these views next year.”
Warden Durston said that the execution was to him perfectly satisfactory. He had never seen a hanging, but from what people who had seen one had told him he thought the way he had killed Kemmler was infinitely superior to it.
“How much was the voltage to-day?” he was asked.
“I won’t tell you,” was his reply, and he gave the same reply to a question as to when what the doctors had left of Kemmler’s body would be buried.
Dr. Shrady Enters Protest
Dr. Shrady of New-York has come out against the use of electricity as a means of killing criminals. To-night he has prepared this editorial article for the next issue of the Medical Record, of which he is editor:
“The long lengthened agony of suspense regarding the efficiency of electricity as a means of executing criminals has finally terminated in the legal killing of William Kemmler. As was reasonably anticipated, death was instantaneous, and, as far as can be judged, the unfortunate subject of the experiment died without pain. The spectacle presented was, however, by no means edifying to such as hoped for improvements of old methods. Although science has triumphed, the question of the humanity of the act is still an open one. But shall we call it a triumph when the object attained was the killing of a fellow-being? Heretofore the proudest claim of science has been to save, or at least prolong, human life and insure for its possessor the greatest enjoyment of its many bounties.
“In this instance it has been plainly diverted from its course under a paradoxical plea of high humanity, and yet men of science have lent their best efforts in this direction to humor the whims of a few cranks and ‘world betterers’ who imagined they could make legal murder a fine art and infuse into it an element of sentimentality which might rob it of its atrocity. While we allow that electricity has been a success as far as the killing is concerned, we must also admit that we have gained little if anything over the ordinary method of execution by hanging. The preliminaries of electro-thanasia are far from pleasant to contemplate. Alongside of those for hanging they are pretentiously horrible. There is something more than weird in the preparation of the machine, the deliberate fixation of the victim, the adjustment of the electrode, the thousand deaths in contemplating one which more than offset the quick though damnable taking off. The horrors, though hidden, are nevertheless felt. There is something else to be thought of than the mere quickness of death. While the latter may have been triumphantly done the agony of the criminal during the preparation must be terrible as compared with that by hanging.
“The experiences in the Kemmler case, in spite of all the precautions taken, have shown many difficulties in the way of a general adoption of the method of killing by electricity. It is far from simple in its application. It requires elaborate and careful preparation. It multiplies machinery which, without expert manipulation, is liable to fail in its working and bring about disastrous results. It may be a source of danger to the executioners and spectators. It increases the expense of executions, but worse than all, in the necessary preparation of the victim there is crowded upon him in a few seconds an amount of horror and suspense which holds no comparison with any other forms of rapid demolition save those of being thrust into the muzzle of a loaded cannon or being tied to a dynamite bomb.”
Dr. Shrady says in conclusion that the death chair will yet be the pulpit from which the doctrine of the abolition of capital punishment will be preached.
Dr. Lewis Balch, Secretary of the State Board of Health, said: “With many others I was asked by the commission to give my views as to the best of the modes of execution - electricity, hanging, or guillotine. Personally I was in favor of hanging, but having seen the absolute certainty, rapidity, and painlessness with which death can be caused by electricity, my opinions have been changed to favor that mode of legal execution. I do not consider that the failure of the first shock to cause instantaneous death is any proof that this method of execution is futile, for from the first shock the prisoner was virtually dead, suffered no pain, and had no return to consciousness. I think there should be one electrician appointed who would attend all executions and have charge of all electrical apparatus, under the supervision of the officers delegated by law to carry the sentence into effect.”
He denied the statement sent broadcast that smoke came out of the victim’s mouth or from the back. The smoke was from the scorching of a sponge at the lower electrode at the small of the back and the scorching of a garment. There was a little singing of the hair. Continuing, Dr. Balch said:
“When the current was put on the only visible effect was the tightening of the muscles and the raising of the lip and nose. There was no symptom of pain by facial expression or muscular action. I believe that sensation was absolutely paralysed by the first application. The first current was kept on seventeen seconds, the body remaining in a state of contraction during this period. When the current was stopped the body relaxed, apparently lifeless. Death seemed to have taken place, if one could judge from the general appearance of the face and hands, and limp condition of the body, but it proved that the current was not maintained long enough in contact to cause complete death. A few seconds after the connection had been broken signs of life were discovered. Consciousness did not return, but the heart and lungs resumed their functions to a minor extent. The breathing became labored and blowing ih character, while some frothy mucus drooled from the mouth. The second application was continued three and a half minutes, and when cut off the man was dead.”
Dr. Balch considers, however, that if this way of administering the death penalty is to remain the law, there should be a building specially prepared for such purpose, to contain all the apparatus and the room in which the execution takes place. He also believes there should be two dynamos in case of accident to one. This would save the chance of failure of voltage from any irregularity in the engine originally used for power in the prison.
Interest in This City
What Interested Persons Say of the Great Experiment
There were plenty of people in this city yesterday who were ready, to say, “I told you so” when the earliest reports were received from Auburn of the Kemmler execution. It is almost needless to say that these reports were read with a great deal of interset by the entire community. They were especially interesting to electrical experts and to others who have been directly and indirectly concerned in the long controversy that took place in regard to the disposition of Kemmler by electricity. The electricians, however, did not expect to be able on the day of the execution to express themselves in regard to the efficiency of the means of inflicting the death penalty in this case. Consequently, all inquiries among electricians for the purpose of getting an opinion from them upon this point were fruitless.
In effect, they all said that the data upon which to form conclusions had not yet been furnished them, and that it would be sheer folly and an invitation to the members of their profession to indulge in ridicule if upon such data any professional man should venture an opinion. Some of them were still inclined to the view that electrical executions could be made successful, but without exception they agreed that the conditions must be favorable in every instance, and, of course, the reports of what occurred at Auburn left them entirely in the dark as to the actual conditions that were present at the time of the execution.
The editors of the electrical periodicals were quite as averse as were the experts to any expression of opinion upon this case. Mr. Neill, assistant editor of the Electrical World, said that his paper had never been convinced that executions could be carried out successfully with electricity. He said that careful investigation had been made by the paper of every case of death in which electricity appeared to be the agent, and that this investigation had failed to convince those who made it that death had occurred instantaneously in any of the reported cases. While not disposed to attach great importance to the hurried accounts that appeared in the extra editions of the afternoon papers, Mr. Neill said that if those accounts were true, and if it was necessary to apply the current the second time in this case, he should not be surprised.
At the office of the Westinghouse Company the electricians who dropped in there during the day and the members of the company were all convinced that the public would now come to their view, as advanced long ago, that electricity was not a certain agent in capital cases. It might kill in some instances on the instant, but it was not reliable as a death-dealing agent from a humane point of view, for there was no reliance to be placed upon it that could be measured by absolute rule as applied to all persons. Paul D. Cravath, counsel for the Westinghouse Company, entertained views similar to those expressed at the office of the company. He said that, judging from the reports which had been published, he must believe that the execution had not been successful. This Was to have been expected by those who had taken pains to look carefully into the subject. Too many elements of uncertainty Were involved to insure the purpose of the law in this matter.
A hangman was reasonably certain of making sure of his work, because the conditions to be met by him in his business were apparent and readily to be comprehended either from a scientific or mechanical standpoint. In the use of electricity, those who employed it were obliged to rely upon a dynamo generating a force that they could not fully understand or control. From this dynamo proceeded two wires, which were supposed to carry a death-dealing current of electricity. The means of testing the strength of this current were not always reliable, because they consisted of very delicate machinery, which was easily put out of order. Therefore, it was impossible for the operators of a dynamo to know precisely what effect the electric current thus generated and transmitted might produce upon an object coming in contact with it.
So far as he was able to judge from the published reports, it seemed not unlikely to him that the probable humid condition of Kemmler’s body served to divert the force of the current from the vertebræ and to spread it over his entire body. In any event, Kemmler seemed to have been put to great torture, and surely that was not the purpose of the law which provided for this means of execution. Mr. Cravath said that while it might be useless to add denials to those already made, the Westinghouse people had no interest in the proceedings to do away with this form of execution, and that they would do absolutely nothing toward that end. He seemed inclined to believe that the public mind would now revolt at this form of putting criminals to death, and that it would appear in a stronger light than ever before that while electricity was a dangerous agent and might prove fatal in certain cases, it was not to be relied upon for the sort of work required in criminal execution. The established fact that resistance differs so widely in men ought to be an argument conclusive against the use of electricity in capital cases, for while one man might be killed at once under a pressure of 200 or 300 volts, another might survive the application of a current of great intensity. He believed that these things would now appeal to the public, and without any movement on the part of the electrical company to prevent this form of execution in the future the mistaken law would not remain on the statute books. Mr. Cravath said that there was no prospect that he would appear as attorney for any interest adverse to the use of electricity in executions if proceedings for that purpose should be undertaken. He had no intimation that any one at present contemplated such proceedings.
District Attorney Fellows is indulging just now in one of those frequent vacations of his, and in his absence ex-Judge Bedford has charge of the District Attorney’s office. Asked yesterday about the execution of Kemmler and of its probable effects, Mr. Bedford talked quite freely.
“If this execution,” he said, “was properly conducted, and if the reports received from Auburn are correct reports, there is no question that unnecessary and revolting cruelty was inflicted upon the unfortunate Kemmler. The law never intended that a criminal should be tortured before being put to death; it was simply intended that he should be killed, and that he should be killed as quickly and with as little pain as was humanly possible. This man, it appears, was made to suffer most horribly, and the first great experiment in this matter could hardly be termed a success.
“I am led to think by these facts that the present law should not stand. I believe that it should be abolished - always keeping in mind the presumption that subsequent executions would be as dreadful as this one has been - and I further believe that the Legislature will repeal the act at its next session and substitute some other means of destroying life legally. I do not by any means believe that this failure will result or tend to result in the abolishment of capital punishment.”
“What do you think of the clause in the law which prohibits the publication of the details of the execution of the criminals of this State?” Judge Bedford was asked.
“Well,” he replied, “I do not believe in any attempt to ‘muzzle the press,’ and I think that the sooner a test is made of the constitutionality of the law in that respect the better it will be for everybody concerned. It seems to me that it would be a very good plan for somebody to make a complaint - let some newspaper proprietor make a complaint against himself - and have this vexed question settled promptly, once and for all. Of course, this office could not proceed against any paper for publishing reports of Kemmler’s execution, as, of course, all papers will publish reports to-morrow, without some such complaint being made.”
“I have merely glanced over an account of Kemmler’s death,” said Thomas A. Edison at his home in Llewellyn Park, New-Jersey, last night, “and it was not pleasant reading.” Mr. Edison did not care to discuss the circumstances concerning it until he had read more carefully of the methods pursued and had heard directly from the witnesses and electrical experts. The scorching of flesh and singeing of the hair he considered unnecessary and the result of bungling.
“One mistake, in my opinion,” he continued, “was in leaving everything to the doctors. With their great knowledge of nerves and nerve centres they said the cap should be placed on the top of the head and the shock given so as to affect the spinal column, the points that they decided upon were claimed to be the most sensitive, and that death would result easier and quicker by passing the current through them. Now, thirty or forty men have been killed by an electric current through their hands. Many of them died instantly. That manner was good enough, but the doctors thought differently, and so they arranged the apparatus that nerve centres would be affected.
“In the first place, the hair on Kemmler’s head was non-conductive. Then the top of the head I do not believe a good place to give a shock. It is the water in the body that conducts the electricity. In the top of the head there is little water, and the current of electricity strikes the hard skull. In the hand there is a great deal of water, and the flesh is soft; hence it is the best possible place to receive the shock. As I testified at the first discussion of the electric method for carrying out a death penalty, the better way is to place the hands in jars of water in which there is a little potash to eliminate all grease from the hands, and let the current be turned on there.”
“How do you account for the muscular and apparently respiratory action after the current had been once turned on?” was asked.
“Oh. I have no doubt he was dead,” replied Mr. Edison. “I think the doctors will probably agree to that. You know there is often muscular movement after death by hanging. Kemmler was undoubtedly killed at the first unless some big mistake was made. Of course, we must wait till we get the statements of the doctors in regard to the reason of the current being turned on a second time.
“Undoubtedly all those present were greatly excited. I should have been excited myself at such a time. In that excitement there may have been some bungling. I think, when the next man is placed in the chair to suffer the death penalty, that death will be accomplished instantly and without the scene at Auburn today.”