Executions Part 1: Riding the Lightning

For Halloween this year, I thought it would be cool to do a series of articles that deal with the macabre. Thank you for checking out our first in a series of articles about the worst ways to die via government sanction execution.
Since the beginning of organized law and government, there has been capitol punishment. The first known written series of laws, the Hammurabi Code of Babylon created a few thousand years before the birth of Christ, had the eye for an eye mentality, if someone committed murder, the state would put them to death as well. This practice crossed the Atlantic and has been an American mainstay since the Colonial era. The interesting aspect of American executions is the variety of ways in which the country has attempted these executions, ranging from hanging, pressing, firing squad, to today’s lethal injection, there has long been a desire to make the act as quick and semi-painless as possible. One of the most misguided attempts at this is by far the electric chair. Thought up by a dentist before the dawn of the 20th century, it was believed that the electric chair would alleviate the issues of hanging, namely the head popping off or the people slowly strangling to death. Popularized in the early ’00s of the 20th century, the electric chair was thought to be the most humane way to kill convicted murderers. Unfortunately for those who rode the lightning, that could not be further from the truth. Multiple instances of botched electrocutions can be seen throughout the eight decades; it was the most common form of state-sponsored death sentences. The most common problem is human error, for electrocution to work perfectly, the chair must be in good working order, and the condemned person must be properly prepared. Many times, the guards would either forget or purposely leave the sponge of water off of the head of the inmate, the water in the sponge is meant to conduct electricity to the brain and quickly fry the person in the chair. When the condemned is not properly prepared, it would lead to the person to be, quite literally, cooked alive. Ruth Snyder, a husband killer from New York, was tried and convicted along with her boyfriend of killing her husband. She was quickly sentenced to death and sent to death row at Sing Sing. Electrocuting female inmates were extremely rare in the American Criminal Justice system, so this execution became the hottest ticket in town. An enterprising young reporter for the New York tabloids snuck a camera into the death chamber and took pictures of the event. Unfortunately for Snyder, her execution was botched, and she smoked and cooked from the inside out. You can see, in stark detail, the smoke and the cooking taking place in this haunting photograph.

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About TheOddPast by Matthew A. Perry

Writer, teacher, broadcaster, and podcaster from West Virginia. I write about and discuss the wacky and weird side of history on my website www.theoddpast.com and my podcast "The Odd Past Podcast" available everywhere