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Title: The Most Gruesome Government Report Ever Written Evaluates 34 Ways to Execute a Man
Source: Popular Mechanics
URL Source: http://www.popularmechanics.com/tec ... n-report-methods-of-execution/
Published: Mar 16, 2017
Author: William Gurstelle
Post Date: 2017-03-19 15:59:48 by cranky
Keywords: None
Views: 50
Comments: 1

In 1887, New York State appointed three men to evaluate every possible way to execute a man—which they did in disturbing detail.

Government reports rarely make for stimulating reading. That's because most government reports aren't about throwing people off a cliff or clubbing them to death.

In 1887, the state of New York published what became popularly known as the Gerry Commission Report. This is one piece of bureaucratic prose that is neither dull nor boring. In fact, it may be among the most macabre and gruesome in the annals of American writing.

And it was important. The ramifications of this execution encyclopedia—officially titled "The Commission to Investigate and Report the Most Humane and Practical Method of Carrying into Effect the Sentence of Death in Capital Cases"—echo still in the courts and prisons of America.

34 Ways to Die

Three men wrote the Gerry report. There was Elbridge Gerry of New York, grandson of another Elbridge Gerry who signed the Declaration of Independence and became the fifth vice president of the United States. There was Matthew Hale, grandson of Nathan Hale, the Revolutionary War patriot who famously regretted he had but one life to give for his country. And there was Alfred Southwick, a Buffalo dentist who was the grandson of nobody particularly famous. In 1887, the New York State Legislature appointed this trio to a committee charged with examining all the ways New York State could put condemned felons to death and recommending the best way to do so.

From colonial times, hanging had been the official form of lawful execution in New York State, but by the 1880s, there was a growing sentiment among New Yorkers that it was barbaric practice. Indeed, there were far too many newspaper stories of hangings gone bad: broken ropes requiring hurried do-overs, incorrectly measured drops resulting in decapitation, and men slowly strangling to death instead of instantly breaking their necks. Such goings-on might be acceptable on the western frontier, but New York prided itself on being the most cosmopolitan and sophisticated state in the Union. There must be a more forward-thinking way to execute a person, it presumed.

Marching orders in hand, the three men catalogued every conceivable method in which the state could dispatch a person from this mortal realm. Then they comprehensively examined the merits of each. The resulting Gerry Commission report is full of lively writing and lurid anecdotes.

In all, the commission evaluated 34 different methods of execution, listing them in alphabetical order. Some methods were described in a single paragraph, while others—which presumably the authors found more interesting—took several pages to illustrate.

They are:

1. Auto da fe (burning to death for heresy)

2. Beating with clubs

3. Beheading

4. Blowing from a cannon

5. Boiling ("Usually in hot water but sometimes in melted sulfur, lead or the like.")

6. Breaking on the wheel

7. Burning

8. Burying alive

9. Crucifixion

10. Decimation (a military punishment for mutineers)

11. Dichotomy (cutting a person in half)

12. Dismemberment (like dichotomy but even messier)

13. Drowning

14. Exposure to wild beasts

15. Flaying

16. Flogging

17. Garrote (strangling with a cord)

18.Guillotine

19.Hanging

20. Hari Kari

21. Impalement

22. Iron Maiden (A machine in the image of the Virgin Mary equipped with spring loaded knives)

23. Peine forte et dure (placing heavy weights to stop breathing)

24. Poisoning

25. Pounding in a mortar (like it sounds)

26. Precipitation (throwing from a cliff)

27. Pressing to death

28. Rack

29. Running the gauntlet (being made to walk between two lines of men, each of whom has a club.)

30. Shooting

31. Stabbing

32. Stoning

33. Strangling

34. Suffocation

The commission did not pull punches in their descriptions of capital punishment. In their analysis of beheading, they provide numerous examples from England, France, China, and Japan.

"(In Japan) the prisoner's arms were pinioned behind his back. He raised a weak quavering voice to its highest pitch and screamed out, 'My friends!' Immediately an unearthly chorus of wails answered the poor wretch from his friends outside the walls. This was followed by 'Syonara!' All was ready; the word was given. Without raising his weapon more than a foot above the neck of the condemned, the executioner brought down his heavy blade with an audible thud."

It gets more morbid. Under the heading of burning they relate:

"An extraordinary method of this punishment was known as 'the illuminated body' and invented by Sefi II, Shah of Persia. The victim was stretched on a slab and fastened to it. Innumerable little holes were bored all over his body. These were filled with oil, and all lighted together. The poor victim perished in the most unspeakable agony."

Some methods are so bizarre that they seem almost risible, at least at a far remove of time and distance. The commission studied the method of execution they called "blowing from a cannon" based on its contemporary use in the East Indian army, whose soldiers were called "Sepoys." Apparently, there were two ways for doing this. The report states that "the insurgent Sepoy, lashed to the cannon's mouth, within two second of pulling the trigger, was blown in 10,000 atoms." Alternatively, the "living body of the offender is thrust into the cannon, forming, as one might say, part of the charge."

One of the oddest punishments explored was number 25, pounding in a mortar. In Proverbs 27:22, the Bible reads, "Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him." This biblical passage evidently prompted a religious Gerry Commission member to consider "pounding in mortar" as a possible method of serving the death sentence. Presumably, this procedure would involve the condemned being placed in a large mortar or similar vessel and then pounded with an enormous pestle. This is much like what happens when one prepares a mint julep, except a condemned prisoner is substituted for the mint leaves.

Fruitless

With a little imagination, one can envision the bizarre tenor of the debates swirling around the conference table of the Gerry Commission. On one side of the table might have been the dismemberment and flaying advocates, sniping derisively at the guillotine and strangling crowd about their relative daintiness, and the 'blowing from a cannon' promoters crowing about the sure-fire nature of their choice, as well as the state's ability to raise funds by charging admission.

While some of these methods (such as boiling, crucifixion, and throwing from a cliff) might have offered an impressive deterrent effect, few of them fit the commission's objectives of speediness, humaneness, and efficiency. As the winnowing process proceeded, the cruel, the unworkable, and the just plain weird methods were eliminated from consideration.

In the end, here is what remained: nothing. Every method was considered cruel and unusual. As the commissioners reported:

"Your Commission have examined with care the accounts which exist of the various curious modes of capital punishment. . . that have been used. The result (is that none of these) can be considered as embodying suggestions of improvement over that now in use in this State."

The felons on New York's death row likely sighed in relief, knowing that at least the whole mortar-and-pestle thing was off the table. The state was back to square one, the hanging-by-the-neck-until-dead method. But it too is a flawed method of execution. In fact, nearly a quarter of the pages of the Gerry Commission report are devoted to lurid descriptions of botched hangings.

Danger, High Voltage

The commission had one last idea to examine, and when they did, they were impressed with its potential. It was based on the commission members' observations that people and animals often die quickly after making accidental contact with high-voltage lines. In 1888, the Gerry Commission would officially recommend electrocution as quick, humane, and efficient way to kill someone, which led to the creation of the electric chair. By 1890, New York was ready to attempt the first intentional electrocution of a human, an axe murderer named William Kemmler.

Kemmler's execution was a brutal affair. Although the condemned man wound up dead as planned, one could hardly call it a "success." After repeated applications of current, Kemmler was essentially cooked from the inside out. George Westinghouse stated, "They'd have done better with an axe."

But over time, the chair got better. Electrodes were redesigned to improve electrical contact with the condemned person's body. The voltage was increased and the time interval of the fatal pulse was extended to make sure the prisoner was really dead. Since 1900, it has been the most commonly used method of carrying out the death penalty, taking more lives than all other methods (hanging, gas chamber, and lethal injection) combined. And while lethal injection is now considered more humane and more commonly used, the electric chair is still on the books. Electrocution remains an optional form of execution in several southern states including Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia.

There is no elegant way to end a life. But as the Gerry Commission report makes clear, some are less messy than others.

[Sadly, the fully report is not online—we had to get it from a library. To find out more, check out two books: The Executioner's Current by Richard Moran from 2002, and The New and Complete Newgate Calendar; or Villainy Displayed in all its Branches by William Jackson from 1795 (online at archive.org)] (6 images)

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#1. To: cranky (#0)

Interesting list. Here's three more:

Tie the victim up :

1. Force them to listen to speeches by Hillary Clinton

2. Force them to listen to speeches by Obutthole

3. Tape their eyes open, force them to look at HC, naked

Si vis pacem, para bellum

Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.

There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language... and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."Theodore Roosevelt-1907.

I am concerned for the security of our great nation; not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within." -- General Douglas MacArthur

Stoner  posted on  2017-03-21   11:13:39 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


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