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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 29, 1889
Date of birth: May 9, 1860
Victim profile: Tillie Ziegler (his common-law wife)
Method of murder: Beating with a hatchet
Location: Buffalo, New York, USA
Status: Executed by electrocution in New York on August 6, 1890

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William Kemmler (May 9, 1860 – August 6, 1890) of Buffalo, New York was the first person to be executed via electric chair. He had murdered Tillie Ziegler, his common-law wife, with a hatchet on March 29, 1889, and was sentenced to be executed on August 6, 1890, at 7:00 a.m. at New York's Auburn Prison.

His lawyers appealed, arguing that electrocution was cruel and unusual punishment. George Westinghouse, one of the backers of alternating current as the standard for the distribution of mains power, supported his appeal.

The appeal failed, partly due to the support of Thomas Edison for the state's position (Edison was a backer of direct current power supplies, and it is speculated he wanted to use the publicity surrounding the electric chair to convince people that AC was dangerous).

The practical details of the chair were finalised by the first State Electrician, Edwin Davis.

On the morning of his execution, August 6, 1890, Kemmler was awakened at 5:00 a.m. He dressed quickly and put on a suit, necktie and white shirt. After breakfast and some prayer, the top of his head was shaved.

At 6:38 a.m., Kemmler entered the execution room and was presented 17 witnesses by the warden. Kemmler looked at the chair and said: "Gentlemen, I wish you luck. I'm sure I'll get a good place, and I'm ready."

Witnesses remarked Kemmler was composed at his execution; he did not scream, cry or resist in any way. He sat down on the chair, but was ordered up by the warden, Charles Durston, so a hole could be cut in his suit, through which a second electrical lead could be attached. This was done and Kemmler sat down again.

He was strapped to the chair, his face was covered and the metal restraint put on his bare head, saying "Take it easy and do it properly, I'm in no hurry." Durston replied "Goodbye William" and ordered the switch thrown.

The generator was charged with the 1,000 volts, which was assumed to be adequate to induce quick unconsciousness and heart stoppage. The chair had already been thoroughly tested; a horse had been successfully electrocuted the day before.

Kemmler was electrocuted for 17 seconds. Witnesses reported the smell of burning flesh and several nauseated spectators fled the room. The power was turned off and Kemmler was declared dead.

However, witnesses noticed Kemmler was still breathing. The attending physicians, Dr. Edward Charles Spitzka and Dr. Charles F. Macdonald, came forward to examine Kemmler. After confirming Kemmler was still alive, Spitzka reportedly called out, "Have the current turned on again, quick — no delay."

In the second attempt, Kemmler was shocked with 2,000 volts. Blood vessels under the skin ruptured and bled and his body caught fire.

In all, the entire execution took approximately eight minutes. Westinghouse later commented: "They would have done better using an axe." A reporter who witnessed it also said it was "an awful spectacle, far worse than hanging."


  • La première exécution d'un condamné à mort par l'éléctricité in La Nature, n°901, 06 septembre 1890, pp.209-211

  • John L. CAROLL, Death Row. Hope for the future, Challenging Capital Punishment, London, 1988, pp.269-288

  • Jean-Claude BEAUNE, Les spectres mécaniques. essai sur les relations entre la mort et les techniques, Seyssel, Champ Vallon, 1988

  • Marc VANDEN BERGHE, De l'utopie de la "mort propre" à la chaise électrique : l'affaire Kemmler in La Revue Générale, Brussels, août/septembre 1996, pp.31-42

  • Craig BRANDON, The Electric Chair. An American Unnatural History, McFarland & Company, 1999

  • Moran, Richard (2002). Executioner's current: Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and the Invention of the Electric Chair. New York: Random House.



The First Execution by Electrocution in Electric Chair:

Kemmler's Death by Torture

Twice the Current Was Sent through the Murderers Quivering Frame

New York Herald 7aug1890

Doctors Pronounced Him Dead and Then to Their Horror Discovered Their Mistake

Terror Added to the Scene by the Burning Parts of the Body.

Not Satisfied That the New Method of Execution is a Success


[By Telegraph to the Herald]

AUBURN, N.Y., August 6, 1890.—The killing of Kemmler to-day marks, I fear, the beginning and the end of electrocution, and it wreathes in shame the ages of the great Empire State who, entrusted with the terrific responsibility of killing a man as a man was never killed before, brought to the task imperfect machinery and turned and execution into a horror.

William Kemmler is dead, indeed, but at what a price? He has paid a double penance for his crime and a penance for his childlike trust in man who by their carelessness have brought shame upon the great State whose servants they are.

The scene of Kemmler's execution was too horrible to picture. He died the death of Feeks, the linemen, who was slowly roasted to death in the sight of thousands.

Man accustomed to every form of suffering grew faint as the awful spectacle was unfolded before their eyes. Those who stood the sight were filled with awe as they saw the effects of this most potent of fluids which is only partly understood by those who have studied it most faithfully, as it slowly, to slowly, disintegrated the fibre and tissues of the body through which it passed.

The heaving of a chest which it had been promised would be stilled in an instant peace as soon as the circuit was completed, the foaming of the mouth, the bloody sweat, the writhing shoulders and all the other signs of life.


Horrible as these were they were made infinitely more horrible by the premature removal of the electrodes and the subsequent replacing of them for not seconds but minutes, until the room was filled with the odor of burning flesh and strong man fainted and felt like logs upon the floor.

And all this done in the name of science.

It would be strange, indeed, if this execution had been anything else than what it was-a shameful thing. There has been no feature connected with the punishment of William Kemmler that was not shameful. The instruments were stolen from the first place. They were admittedly imperfect. But though the makers offered under pressure to build the State and machinery that could be relied upon, they were told that they were merely making a few hue and cry to save themselves.

The events of to-day proof either that the dynamos were faulty or that the interested company had bribed some one to make them seems so.

Yesterday, with 14 months behind him in which to complete his preparations, the Warden had the execution room moved and the newly repaired voltmetre put in a place where those conducting and execution could not see it or know whether it was registering 2,000 or 200 bolts.

In the doctors were told before it was known that the facts had better be suppressed that the machine was only registering from 700 to 1,200 bolts, when 1,800 were needed.


Nothing but a legislative inquiry will bring out the truth. And those who were present say that in the interests of humanity it is to be hoped that one will be had before another poor wretch is put on the official grill.

Kemmler went to the slaughter like a big boy, trusting and hopeful, leading ill will to none and with no apparent fear of what was coming. He chided his executioners for their nervousness and did everything in his power to help them make a good job of it.

Not a cloud blocked the morning sky as he sauntered into the chamber of death, adjusting his cravat as he went. Without the prison walls a vast crowd was collected in the Windows of the death chamber were closely watched.

The ivy on the great gray walls was filled with twittering sparrows, the St. Bernard barked in its kennel. The rifle and lariat armed guards mounted to their wanted places on the prison parapets, and the prisoners were turned out at seven just as usual.

It was not until little District Attorney Quimby, of Buffalo, came tottering down the steps, his face purpling and every fibre in his being trembling, and whispered, "It Is over," that people knew the end had come.

The doctors sitting in a semi-circle about the Rome saw a quiet fellow enter, accompanied by the Warden.


A monk's spot had been rabidly caught on the crowd of Kemmler's head in order to make a place for the sponge of the upper electro, and the death warrant had been read and the new brown trousers and vest and spotless shirt put on hand the minister had prayed and read the Scriptures, while Kemmler said "Amen" to everything.

When Kemmler sat down in that share that has so quickly earned the title of the chair of death the morning sun streamed in the window and kissed the floor. It touched with light the face, stupid perhaps, but placid. It was the faces around about that were the hue of ashes. It was the Warden of the prison who could scarcely find the handle to work with.

The story of the drama that followed his told below by an eye witness. Of the parts played by the various actors that some speak for themselves. Nine minutes, that seemed like an hour, cut by at last, and the deed was done.

It was not until an hour after that the body was cold enough to put under the shining scalpels of the post-mortem inquisitors. The doctors came out of the prison determined to be discreet and silent, but honest indignation soon overmastered them and it was not long before they were talking of the horrors they had seen.


The autopsy was made very carefully, and the doctors made it through. They could not have any legal disputes as to whether the man was dead nor as to the cause of death, so Dr. Jenkins took the chest and abdominal region and Dr. Daniels the brain and head and spinal cord, and with deft fingers dissected them while the others looked on.

They found a splendid specimen of physical manhood. They found to their surprise a brain that weighed forty-five ounces, the exact normal weight. When they came to remove the skull they found that in the small blood vessels between the brain and the skull all the blood was like charcoal. It was not burned to ashes, but all the fluid had been evaporated. The skull itself was badly burned.

But it was at the base of the spinal cord, where the electrode touched, that the burning was most terrible. The examination of the spinal cord showed negative results. The doctors could find no trace of the current which had passed through it.

Across the forehead and those where the straps had pressed were slight discolorations. The burned spot on the back was four inches in circumference. The blood retained its fluidity during the autopsy, showing very slight tendency to coagulation. The water in both sponges had evaporated. The doctors helped themselves generously to interesting parts of the dead man's body, and then the inquest, so far as it could be carried on without the use of microscope and the finer analysis, was finished.

Kemmler was ready for his bed in the prison cemetery and the quick consuming of his remains by quicklime which the law imposes.

The people of Auburn are very grateful to-night that at last Kemmler is dead.




[By telegraph to the Herald.]

AUBURN, N.Y., AUGUST 6, 1890.—I am a reporter of the Herald and, so far as I know, the only special newspaper representative who saw this most grievous failure. I will try to relate a plain and simple tale, giving all the details so far as I was able to see them. I need not say that I was stricken with horror at what I saw, but I did not forget my duty nor permit my eyes to stray from the ghastly drama that was enacted in that room of death.

The first arrivals within the prison yard where the chaplain of the prison and Rev. W. E. Houghton, Kemmler spiritual adviser. They came in at five o'clock. Before that time they had been some bringing at the Bell, but no one was admitted.

Dr. Houghton and the chaplain went to the Warden's office for a minute and then were escorted to the lower floor and along the familiar passage which they had tried so often together to Kemmler's cell. They found the condemned man awake and talking with his guards, McNaughton and Dunlon. McNaughton had remained after the end of his watch, midnight, that he might see the prisoner in the morning and did him farewell. He had refused to be present at the execution.

Kemmler had an inkling of the approximate time set for the execution last night, yet he slept through the night as he had through all the nights just preceding it, as calmly and as peacefully as a healthy man might sleep who had no sword of Damocles hanging over his head.


Dr. Houghton and the chaplain found him awake when they went in and arraying himself in the new suit of clothing which the Warden had furnished him. There were a pair of trousers of mixed yellow pattern and woolen material, a light sack coat of dark gray and a vest of the same pattern.

Under these he wore his striped drawers and a white linen shirt and brown mixed socks. His shoes were neatly polished, around his neck was a low standing collar such as he had learned to affect since he became an inmate of the prison and become accustomed to civilized attire, about that was a narrow linen tie with little white squares within black checks. This was tied in a neat bow. In fact Kemmler's appearance was quite spruce and natty.

The coat hid from immediate view a peculiarity in the trousers—a semi-oval opening cut in the back from the waistband half way down the seat for the purpose of giving free access to the electrode in the back of the chair when he should be placed in it.

Dr. Houghton and the chaplain remained with the condemned man until the time he was called to meet his death. They prayed with him and talked to him particularly of the promises of the Savior.

Kemmler listened attentively to all they said and reiterated in his plain way his faith in the Bible lessons which he had been talked. He seemed inclined to take a rather light view of the situation, and he laughed and joked about little things-such things as he could comprehend, and they were very little and very few. He was by far the most unconcerned member of the party.

In the meantime the witnesses or gathering in the Warden's office upstairs. Dr. Fell was one of the first to arise and he busied himself with the preparation in the inner room of some microscope slides, with which he proposed to make tests of the blood, skin, &c., after death and before the autopsy.


Dr. Daniels came in a little later with a bundle of surgical instruments under his arm. He had been up until two o'clock in a consultation of physicians over the programme for the autopsy, in which no agreement had been reached. Some of the physicians had held out that Dr. Jenkins, of New York, in view of his long experience with subjects who died of electric shocks, ought to do the work of the surgeon, while Dr. Southwick, who feels a personal responsibility for the electric method of punishment, and some others were anxious that Dr. Daniels, of Buffalo, should wield the surgeon's knife.

The matter was undetermined when the conference broke up in fact, it was not determined when the physicians assembled at the prison this morning, and there was not a final determination until the execution had taken place and the autopsy was about to be held, when the claims of Dr. Jenkins or recognize.

Dr. Southwick came in with Dr. Daniels, and one after another the other witnesses followed until almost the full number had gathered. Still some of the most important of the experts were not insight, and Warden Durston, appearing on the scene, became anxious about them. At twenty-three minutes past six became down the hall and asked we're Dr. Spitzka was. The reply was that the doctor had not arrived. The correspondent of one of the press associations was then asked for, and he, too, was not to be found.

"These people ought to remember," said the Warden, "that we have got a great big place and 1000 men to handle here, and we must act promptly and the on-time. I'll not wait much longer."

Almost as he spoke the press representative was seen coming in the gate, and a few minutes later Dr. Spitzka came hurrying up to walk a bag of instruments in his hand.

"It's not my fault," said the doctor. "I was waiting for the others, and they are still at breakfast."


"Time's up," said the Warden a minute later, and turning around without further ceremony he started toward the back hallway of the prison, the witnesses following him. The door to a flight of narrow stairs running next to the inner wall was opened by a turnkey and a little procession passed in. There was no identification of any of them further fan for presentations at the gate of the little card which read:

CHARLES F. DURSTON, Agent and Warden

There was no order of precedence. They went down the stairs helter-skelter without much conversation, but with very little restraint. At the bottom of the stairs the Warden threw open a little door and ushered the party, to their great astonishment, directly into the execution room. Then they learned for the first time that the location of the electric chair had been changed. It was changed probably for two reasons-that Kemmler might not see the lever thrown to turn the current into his body, and that the witnesses might be in ignorance of the identity of the man who controlled the lever. Mr. Durston says to-day that the identity of that man will never be known.

So the electric chair was taken out of the room where the voltmetre and the lever and the incandescent lights and the other paraphernalia of the apparatus replaced" in a room which was free of any of the other furniture of the experiment.

This was the corner room below the clerk's office, in the first band of the wall beyond the main entrance to the prison.

It was illuminated by two windows about five feet from the floor. One of these faced the street and the other, just across the corner of the wall from it, faced down the yard. The first was hung with a green curtain to keep out prying glances. Each of them was screened, but in spite of the smallness of the Rome and away in which it was enclosed, at no time was the heat in it oppressive, either during the execution or during the autopsy.

At the right of the main door of the room, the 1 through which the witnesses entered, was the electric chair. The faced the windows, but it could not be seen easily in their dim light, so three of the gas jets and the two fixtures that hung from the ceiling were lighted, and they cast a dim yellow light over the scene.


The chair has never been properly described—that is, it has been changed so often that no description of the published heretofore was in any great degree accurate. It was fashioned like a square, high backed, easy chair. The seed was of perforated wood. The arms were about two inches broad. Across the back of the chair, between 8.few inches from the top and appoint about midway between the top and bottom were three wooden braces, to the upper to of which was fastened a cushion of hard rubber, three inches thick of the top and shaved off toward the bottom to about one-half that thickness. Midway between these and the seat of the chair, have a point where the arms joined the back, was another brace-a broad board. In front of it was stretched a heavy cotton band, to which was attached one of the electrodes of the dynamo. This electrodes consisted of the top of rubber, within which was another cup of metal, to which was attached a sponge. This apparatus was attached firmly to a wooden button, behind which was a spiral spring resting against a broad board. Running up from the top of the chair was a "figure four" framework of heavy wood, through the point of which passed the wire to the second electrode. This wire was twisted into a heavy spiral immediately below the frame, and attached to this spiral was a cup similar to that at the base of the chair.

Two wooden clamps held this frame in place or when released permitted to be moved up for down. The wire which was attached to it ran into a button on the ceiling, once it was carried to the doorway and through the door frame into the next Rome. The wire to the other electrode brand to the floor, protected by a piece of wooden molding, and along the wall to the doorway, where it passed into the next room.


The straps on the chair were arranged so as to go around Kemmler's chest into diagonal directions, across his legs and around each of his limbs. They were broad leather straps, capable of resisting any ordinary pressure and certainly beyond the strength of any struggling mans.

Along one side of the room ran a long bench. On the other end of the Rome replaced shares to accommodate all of the witnesses. Not all of them were present, and one of them who came, District Attorney George Quimby, of Buffalo, left the Rome before the affair had been carried to its conclusion, in spite of the Warden's determination that no one should leave the building or even the execution chamber until Kemmler was dead and the certificate of death had been signed.

District Attorney Quimby is not a very robust man, and the scenes in the death chamber were too much for his nerves. He told the warden he must go out before the affair was half over, and when he got into the upper hallway he fainted.

He was the only member of the party who gave way completely, although several of the witnesses were prostrated for a brief spell and the chamber during the execution.

When the door had been locked upon the party the Warden asked them to seat themselves, and then he quickly set about his preparations. There was a low murmur of conversation while Mr. Durston looked at the straps and walked for a minute into the next room to see that the electricians were in place. While this interval was passing Dr. Jenkins, of New York, Dr. Balch and Dr. Shrady came hurriedly in. They had delayed over their breakfast at the hotel, and as they took their seats Dr. Balch entered into an animated conversation with Dr. Spitzka about their tardiness and about Dr. Spitzka's failure to wait for them.


The conversation was broken by the Warden, who walked over to where Dr. Spitzka and Dr. McDonald sat side by side and said:—

"How long it shall I have the current on? You she'll say whether it shall be fifteen seconds or three or five."

"Fifteen seconds," Doctor's bits to promptly replied.

"That's a long time," said the Warden.

"Will you say, Doctor?" Said Dr. Spitz can, turning to his colleague. "You have had more to do with these things that I have."

"Well, I have left the matter entirely to you, "so the Warden. "How much time to you say?"

"Well, say ten seconds at least," replied Dr. McDonald.

"All right," was the Warden's laconic answer, and he turned sharply around and went into the next room.

During his absence Dr. Spitzka said:—"Has any gentleman here a stopwatch?" Sheriff Conway, of Troy, tendered one, but at that moment Dr. McDonald produced one from his waistcoat pocket and Dr. Spitzka declined to sheriff's offer, with thanks.

There was a home of conversation about the room. The party had hardly got quite settle down. No one was looking for the near approach for a climax. But Warden Durston is a man of deeds, not of words. He had left the Rome after his consultation with the two doctors to go direct to the cell where Kemmler was confined.

He said, "Good morning, Bill," as he went in, and a prisoner replied pleasantly, "Good morning."


Without further preliminaries the Warden took from his pocket the death warrant.

Kemmler stood quietly through the reading, his spiritual adviser is standing on either side of him. When it was over the Warden said, "Come."

Kemmler turned and said "Goodby" to his keeper, McNaughton, and whose other keeper, Donlon. Then he shook hands with the chaplain and Dr. Haughton, saying "Goodby" to each in an animated, cheerful tone.

He might have been going out for a quiet walk for all his voice showed. Coming back up for cord or he stepped in behind the Warden and the little procession started out. It walked in upon the assemblage in the execution room in the most unconventional way. The door opened and in walked the Warden, behind him Kemmler, without a falter in his walk or a bit of hesitancy in his demeanor. His face was quite characterless, it's only expression in that which it took from a full heavy black beard cut around and parted in the middle. His manner was calmer than that of the Warden, which is always a nervous and bustling.

The two ministers were quiet and apparently unmoved. Both of them had witnessed execution before, and Dr. Houghton had been the witness of several autopsies.

Kemmler stopped as the Warden stopped and glanced rather curiously about the room. His beard gave to his face a quizzical half amused expression, which was ghastly under the conditions. Only his eyes were restless. They wandered about a little, but they returned regularly to the calm face of the Warden, in whom he had put his strength for the final test. It was a confidence in the Warden's assurances rather than a firm faith in his hereafter that buoyed him up and carried him through his experience in the execution room. Whenever he showed a disposition to move about in the chair the Warden would encourage him with assurances that it was all right, and they seemed quite enough for him.


"Gave me a chair, will you," said the Warden, as he stepped in front of the semi-circle of witnesses. A chair was handed him from the circle and he placed it merely beside the execution chair and Kemmler sat down and it he leaned forward a little as he did, his elbows partly resting on his knees to present clock at this time marked thirty-four minutes past six.

"Now, gentleman," said Warden Durston, looking about the room, "this is William Kemmler. I have just read the death warrant to him and told him that he has got to die and if he has anything to say you'll say it."

The little prisoner had looked up once or twice during his speech. He was thoroughly composed and evidently prepared for this will act in the drama. When the Warden stopped he began in a monotonous, thin voice to recite what he had evidently committed to memory in preparation for the event. Doubtless he knew that his words will go down in history and he had his lesson well learn. He addressed his audience and a commonplace way and without hesitation.


What he said was not particularly significant except as it calls some doubts on the security of his religious convictions rather than in a blind faith in what he terms "luck." These are his words:—

"Well, gentleman, I wish everyone good luck in this world, and I think I am going to a good place, and the papers have been sang a lot of stuff that isn't so. That's all I have to say."

And so with a parting shot at what he was good enough to refer to not long ago as "those d---d reporters," William Kemmler took his leave of earth. The quiet demeanor of the man as he entered had made a strong impression on those in the room. His self-possession after his oratorical effort simply amazed them. He got up out of his chair as though he were anxious to try the experiment, not as though he courted death, but as though he was thoroughly prepared for it. Turning his back to the Warden and his profile to the spectators, he drew off his coat, which he handed to Mr. Durston. Then he began to unbutton his waistcoat, but the Warden told him not to do that and so he calmly buttoned it up again. Afterward he unfastened the two lower buttons and they remained unfastened to the end the Warden took the coat and laid it on the table have the side of the room. Then he turned back and examined the opening in Kemmler's trousers. The shirt was in the way and Warden Durston pulled it through and cut it off.

Kemmler calmly adjusted his necktie and as calmly sat down in the electric chair.


The moment he was in the chair and had settled back so that his head rested against the rubber cushion the raise his arms and held them bowed so that they would not interfere with the work of the Warden and his assistant George Vieling.

"Don't worry about this matter, be perfectly cool," the Warden had said has Kemmler was removing his coat, and Kemmler was undoubtedly the coolest man in the room.

Warden Durston caught hold of the straps on the right and Deputy Vieling of those on the left and they began quickly to adjust them. There was no delay. Kemmler constantly encouraged the workers at the straps with "Take your time; don't be in a hurry; do it well; be sure everything is all right." He did not speak with any nervous apprehension.

Warden Durston leaned over, drawing the buckle of the straps about the arm. "It won't hurt you, Bill," he said, "I'll be with you all the time."

A minute later Kemmler said, "There's plenty of time." He said it as calmly as the conductor of a streetcar might have encouraged a passenger not to hurry. The straps were drawn diagonally across the chest from right to left and then from left to right. The arms were strapped down and the straps around the body were drawn into place. The Warden stooped and drew the condemned man's feet apart, so that his legs were near the legs of the chair. One of the attendants stepped forward, but the Warden said, "George will do that," and Vieling reached down and buckled the legs straps. The Warden in the meantime put his right hand on Kemmler's head and true it back against the rubber cushion. There was no resistance. The eyes, which had followed the Warden would almost doglike persistency, or now looking straight forward over the heads of the witnesses to the wall beyond.


"Well, I wish everybody good luck," he said in a mechanical sort of way. It was a part of the lesson he had learned before leaving his cell. He cleared his throat after this effort, and for a moment he seemed to breathe hard.

At this time the Warden took in his hand to harness that was to fit over the face. The broad straps covered the forehead, part of the nose and a greater part of the beard. The mouth was left free, however, and as the Warden drew the buckle Kemmler said:—"Durston, see that things are right."

Things were right so far as the Warden could make them and all that was left to do was to adjust the head electrode.

Vieling unfastened the wooden thumbscrews and began to move the "figure four" down. His hand trembled a little as he did it, and the cup did not fit down upon the head in a secure way as Kemmler thought.

"Oh, you better press that down further, I guess," he said. "Press that down." The Warden followed his instructions and press that down more securely.

Then Kemmler broke out in another spasmodic remark:—"well, I wanted to the best I can," he said. "I can do any better than that."

As he spoke Dr. Fell, with a long can in his hand, was wetting sponges at the two electrodes. A little group of doctors stood about the chair. Kemmler was pinioned so close that he could hardly have moved a muscle except those of his mouth.

The Warden took a last look at the straps. "This is all right," he said.

"All right," said Dr. Spitzka, and then bent over and said, "God bless you, Kemmler."

"Thank you," said the little man, quietly.

"Ready?" Said the Warden.

"Ready," answered the doctors.

"Goodbye," said the Warden to Kemmler. There was no response.


The Warden stepped to the door leading into the next room. It was then forty-three and one-half minutes past six o'clock by the prison clock. "Everything is ready," said the Warden to some one hidden from view in the next room.

The answer came like a flash in the sudden convulsion that went over the frame of the chair. If it seemed rigid before under the influence of the straps, there was doubly so now has it strained against them.

The seconds ticked off. Dr. McDonald, who was holding the stopwatch, said "Stop."

Two voices near him echoed, "Stop."

The Warden stepped to the door of the next room and repeated the word "Stop."

As the syllable past his lips the forehead of the man in the chair crude dark and color, while his nose, or so much of it as was exposed, appeared a dark red.

There was very little apparent relaxation of the body, however. The fly lighted on the nose and walked about unconcernedly. The witnesses drew nearer to the chair.

"He's dead," said Spitzka, authoritatively.

"Oh, yes, he's dead," said McDonald.

"You'll notice," said Spitzka, "the post-mortem appearance of the nose immediately. There is that remarkable change that cannot be mistaken for anything else, that remarkable appearance of the nose."

The other doctors nodded ascent. They looked at the body critically for a minute and then Spitzka said, oh, undo that now. The body can be taken to the hospital."

"Well, I can't let you gentlemen out of here until I have your certificates," said the Warden.


It was while this businesslike conversation was going on that Dr. Balch made a discovery.

"McDonald," he cried, "McDonald, look at that rupture," he pointed at the abrasion of the skin on Kemmler's right thumb. In the contraction of the muscles the figurehead scraped against it and removed the skin, and from that little wounded blood was flowing-and almost certain indication of life.

A low cry of horror went through the assemblage.

"Turned on the current," excitedly cried Dr. Spitzka. "This man is not dead."

The crowd fell back from the chair, as though they were in danger. The Warden sprang into the closed door and pounded on it with his hand.

"Start the current!" he cried. As he spoke of fluid began to drop from Kemmler's mouth and to run down his beard; a groaning sound came from his lips, repeated and growing louder each time.

It seemed and age before the card was again turned on. In fact it was just seventy-three seconds from the end of the first contact when the first sound was heard to issue from Kemmler's lips, and it was not more than a half minutes before the card was again turned on.


But every second to that time the horrible sound from those groaning lips was becoming more distinct, as training of the chest against the leather harness stronger and more evident.

The man was coming to life. The spectators grew faint and sick. Man who had stood over dead and dying man and had cut man to pieces without an emotion group pale and turned their heads away.

One witness was forced to lie down while one of the doctors fanned him.

But he and came at last. There was another convulsion of the body, and began it became rigid with the rigidity of iron.

"That man wasn't dead," cried Spitzka excitedly. As he spoke the body twitched again. The electrician had given the current gain new alternation and now 2,000 volts or playing in short, successive shocks down Kemmler spine. The sound ceased with the first convulsion, but the fluid continued to trip from the mouth and down the beard, making the body a sickening spectacle.

"Keep it on now until he's killed," said one of the doctors.

The body twitched again, and began was rigid.

"Keep it on! Keep it on!" Cried Warden Durston through the door.

Silence reigned for a moment. A bell without began to told solemnly. It's ceased, and began door silence.


Then from the chair came a sizzling sound, as of meet cooking on hand. Following it immediately a billow of smoke came from the body and filled the air of the room with the odor of burning hair.

There was a cry from all the members of the little group, and Warden Durston cried through the door leading to the next room to turned the current off.

It stopped and began to body retained almost all of its rigor. That rigor it retained, to, when the harness was removed and it was lifted to the table where the autopsy took place.

Dr. fell had been quick with his cannon of salted water when the second current was turned on. He had wedded the electrodes again and wedded them thoroughly. He breathed a sigh of relief when the current was turned off.

"Well, there's one thing about this," he said. "The man never suffered a bit of pain," and strange to say, doctors do not disagree on this point, as all of those who witnessed the execution joined Dr. fell later in this expression of opinion.

"The man was killed instantly, I think." Said Dr. Spitzka. "Those were only muscular contractions, and a fellow never suffered any pain. That's one sure thing about it."

"Now a wears George," said Warden Durston and Georgia appearing from the crowd at the other end of the room he and the Warden began to release the body. The head electrode was removed and the face harness taken off. The doctors stood about an examined the phenomena visible in the skin and in the rigidity of the body.

In the meantime Dr. Krieger and Dr. Conway had brought from the other end of the room a long table on which the body was to be laid for the post-mortem examination.

"Now, William, will you take off the straps?" Said the Warden, has one of his assistants came in from the next room, and beginning with the right arm the limbs were released and then the body.

The inanimate form did not collapse. It did not move, but sat upright, the face, but for its ghastly color, looking much as it had in life.

Dr. Fell stepped forward and with a surgical instrument made a small incision in the forehead, from which he drew some blood for microscopic tests.

An examination of the head showed that there was a rain marked in the hair, but those who examined it said that there was no burn there.

Later, though, at the autopsy it was developed that there was a bad burn of the hair end of the scalp, and that the sponge in the electrode was also burned.

The hemorrhage from the wounded in the head, with the salt water from the sponge, had slowed down and stained the white shirt on the bosom and the sleeves.

"I can't see much," said Dr. Fell, from the table where he was examining the bit of blood he had taken from the forehead. "If I had a light I might do something. This is the best light I can get under the circumstances."


While Dr. Fell was making his examination of the blood and Dr. Spitzka was lifting the eyelid half open, to examine the eyes, the Warden had taken his seat at the table and was affixing his signature to the certificate of death.

Then he called the attention of the witnesses to it and one after another they, too, signed it. Then the names were red off aloud to be certain that all or their end of the last seen in the first contact of the Kemmler drama was over.

The following is the certificate as it was filed in the office of the County Clerk to-day by Warden Durston:—


The people of the state of New York against William Kemmler, otherwise called John Hart. State of New York, County of Cayuga ss:—eye, Charles F. Durston, agent and waden of Auburn State Prison, at Auburn, Cayuga county, do hereby certify, pursuant to the State of New York, that in obedience to, and in conformity with, the judgment and sentence of the above named Court and the warrants of said Court, a copy of which is hereto annexed. I, said agent and warden, at the said State Prison at the City of Auburn, on the 6th day of August, 1890, did attend upon the execution of the judgment and sentence, and that the said William Kemmler, otherwise called John Hart, the convict therein mentioned, was then and there, to-wit, at the place and time last aforesaid, executed in conformity to the said judgment and sentence of said Court and in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure of the State of New York. I do further certifies that the persons whose names are here hereafter signed where the persons invited by me as such agent and warden to be present at said execution, and that said persons were all the persons present and witnessing the execution of said judgment and sentence upon the said William Kemmler, other wise called John Hart.

Dated at Auburn, Cayuga county, State of New York, this 6th day of August, 1890.

Agent and Warden.

The undersigned, being the persons and all the persons present and witnessing the execution of the judgment and sentence set forth in the foregoing certificate, do hereby, pursuant to the statute and have the City of Auburn, County of Cayuga and State of New York aforesaid, on the 6th day of August, 1890, subscribe to foregoing certificate.

Louis Balch, W. T. Nellis, J. M. Jenkins, W. T. Jenkins, Joseph Fowler, Henry A. Argue, C. W. Daniels, A. P. Southwick, O. A. Houghton, C. R. Huntley, H. E. Allison, T. K. Smith, E. C. Spitzka, Carlos F. McDonald, George C. Fell, Oliver A. Jenkins, Joseph C. Velling, Horatio Yates, Tracy C. Becker, Michael Conway, George Grantham Bain, Frank W. Mack, George F. Shrady, George W. Irish, Robert Dunlop.

This does away with a Coroner's jury.

After the certificate was signed a little group of doctors gathered at one end of the long table and its began to discuss the autopsy, while the sightless eyes of the figure in the chair glared at them. "A quarter past eight will be the time," the Warden finally announced, and the door was opened to permit the exit of the witnesses of the first he electricide in history.





AUBURN, N. Y., August 6, 1890.—The doctors disagree, of course. It is Buffalo against New York and Spitzka against the Donald. The Buffalo physicians all expressed themselves favorably accept Dr. Daniels, who does not cork up his opinions vary lightly, despite the fact that he is a Buffalonian, while the New Yorkers, Dr. McDonald accepted, are inclined to look upon this killing as the knell of the electric method. Dr. Jenkins alone is noncommittal, but then you know our Coroners have learned the art of keeping their opinions to themselves. As for the valiant soldier, Dr. Shrady, the valiant way that he came out and spoke sledge hammer truths about the whole affair was worth going miles to hear.

Just after the execution Dr. Spitzka was mildly inclined to indignation, but later in the day, when he had dined and exchange views and thought the whole matter over, he, too, became as vigorous as any of the medical critics.

Drs. Spitzka and McDonald were the physicians in charge of the execution, and as such signed the burial certificate. In a scientific sentence Dr. Spitzka may be considered execution or in chief. Many of the doctors are not satisfied with the way Dr. Spitzka ran things. They claimed he only permitted 1,303 volts when he should have had 1,800, and that many of the horrors of the execution could have been presented if he had used a current as strong as was intended.

Dr. Spitzka was seen after the execution and frankly expressed himself against this mode of capital punishment.


"For me," said he, "first the guillotine, second the gallows, and last of all electrical execution. Never before," said the Dr., "have I felt just as I do now. What I have seen as impressed me deeply, not exactly what you would call horror, but rather with wonder in doubt. I have seen hangings far more brutal and this execution, but I have never seen anything so awe inspiring. What I have seen satisfies me that the scale of capital punishment is first the guillotine, second the gallows, and for in the rear the electrical execution.

"I do not regard the execution a failure, but it did not appear to be what it had promised to be. The object of the system was to written capital punishment of its features of barbarity and cruelty. It did not do this. It is shown by the system that under conditions that those that existed to-day (conditions which might easily accessed) the execution could be made absolutely frightful. It is no credit to those having this in charge that Kemmler's death was not infinitely more ghastly then it appeared to be; if Kemmler had not been so DOS file in full of nerve as he was; obedient as a child, and apparently has self possessed as if he was going to sit any barbarous chair instead of the chair of death, might not have happened. He came into the room almost jauntily, fixing his necktie as he entered.


"The only time he showed any emotion was when the Warden talked to him. There was no charmer when he sat down in the chair of death and even at that awful moment when the Was being placed on his head is a eyes raised easily on the man who is doing the work and he displayed no more concerned then if the latter were trimming his hair.

"' Warden' said he, when the Was fixed on his head, which he shook just as one would when fitting a hat. ' Wharton, that Had better be a little tighter; it's not even tight enough.'

"And so he acted through all the preliminaries helping his slayers to the fullest extent of visibility.

"Suppose it were otherwise. Suppose an unwilling person were the victim. Think of the struggles necessary and the brute force to get him into the chair, or if he were completely unnerved, as so many are, and had to be carried in length and strapped in the chair-in either of these cases it would be horrible in the extreme.

"The great objectionable feature of the execution is that the power which caused death makes necessary and most brutal display of the signs of life, what we call post mortem motion, when death is sure.

"Kemmler showed signs of animation and certain gurgling sounds after the current was first turned off. It was for these reasons and to make death doubly sure that it was turned on again.


"Was Kemmler dead at the time the current was first turned off? Yes, I am sure he was. There are those who doubt it, but I believe that 5 seconds after the current was turned on Kemmler was a dead man. What I mean by that is that he was in a condition where resurrection would have been impossible.

"In fifteen seconds he was dead. What ever occurred after that was simply muscular movement. He breeds, but in this there is no unnatural symptom. If at the instant the current entered his body his lungs were filled with a air and the chest expanded, it was natural when the current was turned off for the lungs to empty themselves and the chest to become depressed, thus giving the appearance of breathing. I do not think apparent reading meant that life still existed, yet it was proper and right to turn on the card a second time. The whole thing was an experiment. We could not be positive from mere observation of the exact condition of affairs, nor could we afford to run any risks.

"The Warden acted well to-day, much better than before. His conduct hereto for has been far from satisfactory to the scientists the case, but to-day he was cool and apparently anxious to have everything over. Credit to whom credit is due.

"To my mind the dynamo and apparatus was far from what it should have been. It furnished neither sufficient power nor a steady current. No businessman would be willing to have so unsatisfactory a current furnish him a light and motor power. The voltage during the execution was wobbling around from thirteen hundred volts down to as low as seven hundred. I am not an electrician, but that is what they tell me.


"This certainly should not have been so. If a dynamo had been purchased from the maker for a purpose that was agreeable to the electric interests, I do not believe it would have been so. There may have been corrupt reasons for this. The company which manufactured the dynamos used would certainly be benefited by the botch of this execution.

"A curious feature about the autopsy was that Kemmler's temperature, taken just as the back of the neck and our after death, showed one degree higher then blood heat. This shows that death is only a partial thing after all and does not affect the whole body at once, but so far as consciousness was concerned William Kemmler was dead in 100th part of a second. About five seconds after the current was turned on I noticed the death pallor on Kemmler's face, similar to that of apoplexy or sunstroke."

Dr. Spitzka said boldly that he thought that electrical execution would never become popular among the people of the other States. When they read the reports concerning the horrible affair they will not be likely to adopt a similar law. Whether it will be repealed in this State remains to be seen; but to my mind it has absolutely failed to meet the claims made by its advocates and who caused the passage of law. The execution was not a failure for the man was dead, but it cannot him anyway be regarded as he step in civilization.


Dr. McDonald stands by the execution. He said:—"while this is not so great a success as I had hoped it would be, it is demonstrated to my mind that this method is infinitely preferable to hanging. It was not so successful as was anticipated in regard to instantaneous death. That is to be accounted for partly by the nervousness of those in charge. It is impossible to say whether the man was dead or not at the first contact. He did not suffer pain, though his death, in my judgment, was absolutely painless. The engine and dynamo did not to their duty. The engine and dynamo for such a delicate, terrible mission as this should be especially constructed in order to secure a certainty. I believe that there should be some central place in the State where executions should take place and be in the hands of man specially fitted to perform them in a perfect manner. It is an outrage and a terrible hardship to place this duty on the shoulders of the Wardens of our State prisons, and I shall try my best of the next session of the Legislature to have lost so amended as to do away with the present defects."


Dr. Southwick, who is the "Daddy" of electrocution, is satisfied. He said:—"it is one of the grandest successes of the age. If they had consulted me I should have said thirty seconds. Kemmler was a man of very powerful resistance and perhaps the current was lighter than it might have been. The reason for body was burned in the back was that the sponges of the electro was small and got try, and the bear cup touched him."


Dr. Fell said:—"death was instantaneous; there was no doubt of that. Whatever action after the relaxation-after the current-there was purely mechanical. The same muscular action is found in boys who have been drowned when attempts are made to resuscitate them, and the chickens with their heads cut off."





AUBURN, N.Y., AUGUST 6, 1890.-"the execution of Kemmler would have been a success had it not been for Spitzka," said Dr. C. W. Daniels, of Buffalo, who was one other physicians to make the autopsy and who watched the proceedings in the death chamber very closely. "Through some unfortunate combination of circumstances he came near ruining the whole affair. Still, I think it was a success for all that.

"When they had everything ready Warden Durston stepped to the door were Kemmler had entered and said ' All ready.' Then he waved his hand. We heard a click and the same instant Kemmler's body became rigid. The current was turned on for only 10 seconds, according to my stopwatch. Then Dr. Spitzka pronounced Kemmler dead. Directly the current was turned off the muscles relaxed and the doomed man began to choke and gasping for breath. Then the current was turned on again after a little delay. This time the current was kept up for four minutes and a half. The force of the current had been increased.

"I saw that Kemmler's shoulders were drawn up. One of the Electro's began to burned his flesh; then the current was turned off?"

"So you think that Kemmler was dead when the current was turned off," I asked the doctor.

"I am satisfied that he was not. I am fully satisfied that he was unconscious. He could not have had the least sensation of pain. I do not think the experiment has been a particularly fortunate one. The results will be to prejudice people against it. The public will not be able to understand the situation.

"The trouble is," he continued, "that the public will hold the apparatus responsible and that is not where the bland lawns. After the execution we learned that the vault metre registered something over thirteen hundred volts. It was expected that the current would be 500 volts stronger than that, but 1,300 is sufficient if you have the current on long enough. Had the current been continued thirty seconds I am convinced that there would have been no such seen as took place in the execution chamber."





AUBURN, N.Y., August 6, 1890.-Deputy Coroner Jenkins was still tremulous when I saw him and asked for the particulars of the tragedy as he saw it with professional eyes. When an old timer like him is unnerved it speaks volumes. "It was pretty bad," he said. He described the cool entrance of Kemmler, as has been done elsewhere. "I have often seen men keyed up for hanging," he said, "but Kemmler schoolbus was not that kind-he was the coolest man in the room. The only sign of nervousness on his part was a slight rubbing of his leg. He sat in his chair and made his little speech, whooshing us all good luck, and then he was placed in the electric chair and firmly strapped in. He told amended to take their time and do the job well, saying that he would do all he could to help. The straps about his face came part way down his nose and half hid his eyes from


"When the signal was given and the current was turned on the other no sound, but his shoulders slowly drew up, as they sometimes do in the case of a man who is hanging. The index finger of his right hand was closed so tightly on the upper joint that the male cut the capillary skin and it began to bleed. The eyes were half closed, and so nearly hidden that I could see no expression in them. He breathes laboriously like this" (and the Doctor illustrated), "and the parts of his face that showed were suffused with blood that came through the capillary. He was undoubtedly unconscious, but not dead. After the current had been on for seventeen seconds it was taken off and the body fell back went. The dynamo was stopped and it was thought that everything was over, but suddenly he began to breathe began again and foam came out of his mouth. The suffusion of the capillary still continued. The current was turned on again. I do not know for how long. I did not time it."


"Got a little weak yourself," I suggested.

"Well, I did not take my eyes off his face," said Dr. Jenkins. "It was at least a minute, perhaps more, before the pallor of death appeared and machine was stopped, backspace. There was a slight scorching at the point of contact."

"The man was not then killed instantly, doctor?"

"No, he was not."

"Was the rendered instantly unconscious?"

"Yes, I think he was," said Jenkins, but there was a good deal of hesitation in his tone. It was a professional answer rather than one from the heart.




AUBURN, N.Y., August 6, 1890.-there is said by all physicians to be no doubt that consciousness was stricken instantly from Kemmler's brain. The fact is that he was not instantly killed is the result of improper contact or 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, but clipped spot being one-third the size of the electrode's diameter. Warden Durston says that 1,700 volts or pressure of current was first applied to Kemmler. When asked to-night if the twenty incandescent lamps on the circuit, to indicate presence of current, were burning when the bolt was discharged into the murderer he stated 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 twenty took 1,000 volts at once out of the current sent to Kemmler. That left 700 2 cause death. The best authorities state that 15 per cent of a current is stopped at the points of contact, and that eighty-five is just expended in the body. Eighty-five per cent of the 700 volts not consumed to-day by the test lamps is 535 volts of pressure.

This is not enough to surely killed 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 Rome 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 "over there," meaning 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 consensus of opinion among the witnesses here to-day is that not the slightest doubt exists but that a human being may be instantaneously killed by 1,0 0 volts applied through perfect contact and continued twenty seconds. The body of Kemmler will doubtless be disposed of to-morrow in the person burying grounds with quicklime to hasten dissolution.




AUBURN, N.Y., August 6, 1890.-The autopsy was held three hours after death under the supervision of Drs. Carlos F. McDonald, D.C. Spitzka and George F. Shrady, of New York, and performed by Dr. W. T. Jenkins, of New York, assisted by Dr. Clayton M. Daniels, of Buffalo, N.Y.

Dr. Shrady this evening gave out the following as the results of the autopsy so far, has information for public use:—

Body fairly well enlarged. Rigor mortis marked particularly in the muscles of the job, neck and thorax, and gradually extended from above downwards, involving the feet and lungs last. The post-mortem hyperstasis marked over lower portion of body and extending up as far as the autenor auxiliary line, also on the pendant surface of the upper and lower extremities. The upper extremities are partly flexed and rotated out words, the nails showing post-mortem lividity .

There was marked discoloration of the forehead about an inch and with, corresponding with the position of the straps, beginning at the hair line on the left side and extending to the hair line on the right side. A corresponding discoloration from the pressure of the chin strap was also noted.

* * * * * * * * *

The burned integremeant 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 addition. Portions of its structure as both 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.




AUBURN, N.Y., August 6, 1890.— The following is a copy of an editorial which Dr. George F. Shrady, editor of the Medical Record, of New York, telegraphed to that journal:—

The lengthened agony of suspense regarding the efficiency of electricity as a means of executing criminals has been signally terminated and illegal killing of Kemmler. As was reasonably anticipated, death was instantaneous. 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 hope for improvements of old methods.

When it is assumed that the ends of justice and humanity are reached by the contrivance in question, and when it must be admitted that even this method cannot be divested either of cruelty or barbarity, the way seems to be open for the discussion of the abolition of capital punishment altogether.

From the physical, humanitarian and judicial stand-points to time is right for its consideration. We venture to predict that public opinion will soon banish the desk chair has it has done the rope, and that imprisonment for life will be the only proper punishment metted to a murderer. This is indeed the only rational method which science, justice and religion can consistently recommend. THE DEATH chair will yet to be the altar from watch this doctrine will be preached.





AUBURN, N.Y., August 6, 1890.— Electrician C. R. Barnes, of Rochester, was in charge of the dynamo room when Kemmler was killed, and the experience he had, though brief, was exciting. The dynamo room is in the northwest wing of the person, somewhere between eight hundred and a 1000 feet from the chair. The engine was under it in the cellar. The dynamo is of the Westinghouse pattern and is capable, if one at a safe speed, of producing 500 volts. It was run at its best yesterday. The wires which connected with the chair are the largest kind of electric light wires. They run from the dynamo room to the top of the building along the rich to the front of the main building, just over the window of the old execution room, then down the front of the building, entering the room at the window.

Inside are the switchboard, the volt meter, resistance box, lamp board, with its thirty-six lamps, regulating switch, the ammeter and is interrupted by the switch. The volt meter is governed by the direct wire.

In this Rome was stationed Electrician E.T. Davis with some helpers, one of home was the man who had charge of the switch.


The switch Rome is also connected with the dynamo room by a couple of small wires attached to a bell.

The following signals were agreed upon and used yesterday: — two taps of the bell, start dynamo; two taps repeated, more pressure; one tap of the bell, stop. If the two taps are repeated it means that still greater pressure is required.

The assistants of the engineer in the dynamo room were convicts. Nobody told them that the big wheel of brushes was being run to kill this morning, instead of to make the tests which have been so frequent, but by that wonderful telegraphy which existing prisons and which no warden can't ever discover, not only these men but every other man and the building knew that Kemmler was to be killed.

It was close on seven o'clock when the engineer got the signal to start the dynamo. Soon followed another pair of taps and in this way more pressure was asked for six times.


Suddenly the bell sounded once and the engineer stopped his engine.

Two minutes past, perhaps it was four, then suddenly the bell rang sharply twice, rang twice again and once again. The engineer through on a full head of steam. The engine was run under full headway for three or four minutes, and then the signal came to stop.

A little later the engineer in knew what those signals meant.





PITTSBURGH, Pa., August 6, 1890.— George Westinghouse, when asked if he had anything to say about the killing of Kemmler, replied: — "I do not care to talk about it. It has been a brutal affair. They could have done better with an axe. My predictions have been verified. The public will lay the blame where it belongs and it will not be on us. I regard the manner of the killing as a complete vindication of all our claims.




ALBANY, N.Y., August 6, 1890.— "this is horrible," was the comments of Bourke Cockran on the Kemmler execution.

I anticipated this, but not so soon.

"It is a sort of ghastly triumph for me. The experts against me on the trial figured it all out that such a shocking thing was impossible, and yet it has just happened. I will not give and extended opinion on the matter now, but you can save this: — after Kemmler is awful punishment no other State will adopt the electrical execution law."

I asked Governor Hill his opinion of the electrocution, but he declined to positively express himself until he had full and accurate information on all the points involved. "It is impossible for me to talk understandingly on the matter so soon," said the Governor. "I am anxious to see the law in successful operation and believe it will be successfully carried out. Further then this it would be unfair for me to say until an exact report is made."

When asked to-day if the Attorney General would proceed against the newspapers for publishing full reports of the electrocution in defiance of the law and officer of his office laughed and remarked that it was very doubtful.




NEW BEDFORD, Mass., August 6, 1890.— I asked Commodore Gerry this evening whether his views on all execution had undergone any change since he had read the report of Kemmler's death. The Commodore asked to be excused from saying anything until he had read a more scientific report of the execution. He thought the reports might prove to be a little too sensational and perhaps not altogether correct.





LONDON, August 7, 1890.— The Chronicle, commenting upon the killing of Kemmler by electricity, says the scene was worthy of the darkest chambers of the Inquisition in the 16th century.

The Times says it would be impossible to imagine a more revolting exhibition. It advocates a lethal chamber in preference to the use of electricity.

The Standard says:— "the scene can be described as a disgrace TO humanity. It will send a thrill of indignation throughout the civilized world. We cannot believe that Americans will allow the electrical execution act to stand."




William Kemmler, otherwise called John Hart, was convicted of murder in the Erie Court of Oyer and Terminer in Buffalo on May 10, 1890.

This was the first conviction for murder in this state That committed after January 1, 1889, which circumstance brought it under the operation of the new law fixing electricity as a method of execution. Three days later Judge Childs sentenced Kemmler under that law. The signed warrant sent to Warden Durston, of the Auburn State Prison, directed that the execution take place within the week beginning on the 24th day of June, 1889.

Kemmler was taken from Buffalo to Auburn, arriving a little before midnight, on May 23.

An application for a writ of habeas corpus was made to Judge Charles C. Dwight, of the Supreme Court, by Charles S. Hatch, the attorney who had defended Kemmler on his trial in Buffalo. Judge Dwight granted the application.

The case was argued in the Auburn on June 24, before County Judge S. Edwin Day, one of the Special Term judges of the Supreme Court of that district. Mr. Bourke Cockran and George S. Quimby, the District Attorney for Erie county, also appeared at that time for Kemmler. Mr. Cockran argued for an hour and a half, filed papers and offered to prove that the mode of punishment proposed was cruel and unusual. Attorney General Tabor maintain the constitutionality of the law.


It was agreed to have evidenced taken by a referee, and Counselor Tracy C. Becker, of Buffalo, was appointed referee. The case was adjourned to July 30. Many experts were called before the referee and a great mass of testimony was taken.

Arguments on the evidenced taken before Referee Becker were made in court at Auburn before Judge Day on September 18. Messrs. Cockran and Hatch represented Kemmler; Attorney General Tabor and Assistant Kennepick, of Buffalo defended the Electrical Execution law.


Judge Day's decision was rendered October 10, in a voluminous decision, citing authorities to show that the constitutionality of the law was a proper subject of inquiry, he pronounced the law imposing death by electricity constitutional and remanded the prisoner to the custody of Warden Durston for execution.

Before Justice Parker, Dwight and Macomber, of the General Term of the Supreme Court, in session at Rochester, the question of the constitutionality of execution by electricity was again argued on October 18, 1889. Mr. Cockran restated his arguments against the law. Deputy Attorney General Poste replied.


A decision affirming the order of County Judge Day dismissing the writ of habeas corpus and remanding the prisoner, with an elaborate opinion by Judge Dwight, was handed down on December 30, 1889.

Two appeals on the half of Kemmler or argued before the Court of Appeals, in Albany, on February 23. The appeal from conviction, that was based on alleged errors in the trial courts, was argued by C. S. Hatch for Kemmler and by George J. Quimby for the respondent. The PO asked to the constitutionality of law was fear read argued by Bourke Cockran and Attorney General Charles F. Tabor.

On March 21 the Court of Appeals, in a unanimous opinion written by Judge Dennis O'Brien; affirmed the judgment of the courts below, holding that no error was committed on the trial in declaring the electrical execution act constitutional. The decision recited the appointment of the commission to investigate a humane mode of deaf punishment and the enactment of the electric statute. It affirmed that the Legislature proceeded with care, cautioned and unusual to liberation; that the mode proposed is not cruel within the meaning of the Constitution, although unusual; and that the testimony taken by the referee did not impeach the validity of the Legislature's acts.


On March 31 Kemmler was brought to Buffalo for resentenced. Judge Childs pronounced the order of the court that the former sentenced be carried into effect within the week beginning April 28 and that the prisoner be returned to the State Prison at Auburn and be kept in close confinement until the time of the execution.

On April 23 after the completion of every arrangement for the carrying out of the sentence; after final testings of the apparatus and after final private farewells between the prisoner and his prison attendants and after the arrival in Auburn of the full number of eminent witnesses of the execution authorized by the statute, all proceedings were again arrested by another writ of habeas corpus.


This was granted by Judge William J. Wallace, Judge of the Circuit Court, and commanded Warden Durston to produce William Kemmler before the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of New York, to be held at Canandaigua on June 3. This state of proceedings was served upon the Warden by Roger M. Sherman, who announced himself as Kemmler's attorney. The federal courts were those appealed to to pass upon the question whether the State law in the question was in violation of the eighth and fourteenth amendments of the federal constitution, which forbid cruel and inhumane punishment.

On May 5 Roger M. Sherman applied to the United States Supreme Court in Washington and presented an extended argument for the original writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to the directions made by Judge Wallace when he granted the above writ to act as a state of proceedings. This application was denied. Then, on Justice Blatchford's suggestion, Mr. Sherman made application for a writ of the error and the Court announced that it would hear the application on May 19.


On May 5 also, in Buffalo, another writ of habeas corpus was granted in the case of Kemmler by Judge Corbett on the application of Counselor Hatch, requiring the production of Kemmler before County Judge Underwood, at Auburn, on Thursday, May 10. The ground of this action was the claim that nobody but the Sheriff of Erie county could legally execute Kemmler.

On May 10 Judge Underwood, in Chambers, with the consent of counsel on both sides, issued a pro forma order overruling the demurrer and remanding the prisoner, with the understanding that an appeals should be taken at once to General Term of the Supreme Court, where the order now made should be affirmed immediately on the meeting of that Court in June and an appeals from that decision be taken at once to the Court of Appeals.


The United States Supreme Court on May 20 heard Mr. Roger Sherman's argument on his application for a writ of error.

Chief Justice Fuller, on Saturday, May 23, delivered the opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States denying the motion for a writ of error.

The very last legal determination in the case was announced in Saratoga June 23. On that date Chief Justice Ruger, of the Court of Appeals, after arguments by Mr. Cockran and Attorney General Tabor for and against the claim that only the Sheriff of Erie county could legally execute Kemmler, decided that the Legislature has the right to make the law has it had made it and the affirmed the decision of the lower court.

In accordance with these final decisions Kemmler was once again taken to Buffalo and sentenced to be put to death by electricity at Auburn Prison sometime during the week beginning Monday, August 4.


The crime which the new law changing the mode of death penalty in this State has those made famous in itself commonplace enough. The day after its occurrence the story told of its occupied by two lines and one of the metropolitan papers.

On the night of March 29, 1889, in the city of Buffalo, William Kemmler and the course of a drunken quarrel with his mistress, Matilda Zeigler, struck her some forty blows with a hatchet. She was breathing when found in the morning by neighbors and the police, but died soon afterward without recovering consciousness. The murderer gloated over the dead, making admissions which furnished the evidence that convicted him. He had come with this woman to Buffalo eighteen months before, three days after marrying in Camden, N.J., Ida Porter, a young woman who at that time had a husband living. The husband of the eloping woman was Fred Zeigler.

Kemmler was born in Philadelphia May 9, 1860, of German Lutheran parents — one of eleven children. He had no schooling, and could neither read or speak German or English correctly. As a boy he assisted his father and the trade of butcher. After growing up he worked irregularly has a huckster. Both he and the woman he murdered were given to drink and to quarreling.



Lawyers, Electricians and the People at Large in This City Believe There Never Will Be Another Execution by Electricity.


He Will Be Asked to Call an Extraordinary Section of the Legislature to Repeal the Law.

Everywhere and by all classes in this City the one topic of news discussed yesterday was the Kemmler horror.

And the one sentiment expressed was that it was a horror that should never be repeated while the people of the State of New York lay claim to be civilized human beings.


Most pronounced in their opinion that the experiment had failed and would never be repeated or the electricians.

One of them even expressed the believe that Governor Hill would once reprieved the other murderers marked to die in the chair of horrors and convened an extraordinary session of the Legislature to repeal the law.

Naturally the Westinghouse Electric Company, whose machines was used in the torture of Kemmler despite an enormous expenditure of money and the exhaustion of every legal alternative to presented, were most pleased at the ghastly fiasco and Auburn prison.

I talked with Mr. Paul D. Cravath, counsel to the Westinghouse Company, and with Mr. John Noble, the company's district engineer in this City, and, well they, of course, would evince no exultation on behalf of the Company, the satisfaction felt over the miscarriage of the Auburn inquisition was very manifest.

"Uncertainty is the fatal defect in the law?" Said he. "It is well that this defect has been shown in the first experiment, and before numbers of victims have been put through the torture, with possibly even more horrible scenes than in Kemmler's case.


"If, after months of experiment and preparation with a machine supposed to be as perfect as could be made, with doctors and electrical experts to witness the trial and all the arrangements deliberately made, two applications of the current were required — the second after a doctor had pronounced life extinct — and the body of the victim was roasted, or partially roasted, by the electrical current, it seems to me everyone must concede that the chances are against successful execution in future trials that might be made.

"The delicate nature of the apparatus that must be used, and above all the mysterious character of electricity itself, about which even experts have to learn — much that they may never be learned — are facts opposed to further experiments at the expense of life."


Mr. John Noble, the Westinghouse company's district engineer, describes a machine used at Auburn and explains the uncertainty of its operation in taking human life. It was a machine intended to supply a current of 1,000 to 1,100 volts, and the dispatches from Auburn said that the voltage had been run up as high as 1,800 to 2,000 in the second application upon Kemmler. Mr. Noble was surprised that the centrifugal force had not for the machine to pieces at such high speed.

At any rate, he said, there was no certainty about 1,000 volts taking human life. He cited a case of recent occurrence in this City where an employee of the Westinghouse company had received a shock of fully one thousand volts from just such a machine as that used upon Kemmler.

The man's hands were burned inside and he was not senseless, but within two or three days he had recovered sufficiently to go to work. This showed that some men could resist 1,000 volts, which it was supposed would ordinarily kill a man.

The revolting feelings and the burning of Kemmler's flash that followed the second application of the current, Mr. Noble said, were undoubtedly due to the evaporation of the electrodes under the continued current. This would invariably happen in cases where a current of sufficient intensity was applied for any length of time. Mr. Noble did not see how the sickening results could be presented in a case of any man whose body contained considerable resistance.


Mr. F. S. Hastings, treasurer of the Edison Illuminating Company, spoke for that corporation. He could not explain why the first shock had not killed Kemmler, provided the machine was in order. That there was uncertainty, however, as to the quantity of electricity necessary to kill and the duration of current, he did not deny. In fact, he cited a case rather contradictory of his opinion that one thousand volts ought to kill.

This was the case of a line man in St. Paul, Minn., who touched a wire carrying and alternating current of over one thousand volts. The man was knocked from the electric light pole on which he had been working. When picked up there was no perceptible respiration; no other sign of life. The man play for nearly thirty minutes dead to all appearance, but was resuscitated by a woman throwing a tale of water in his face. His nervous system was ruined for life, but he was still able to move about and recently came East.


Mr. Eugene C. Lynch, Jr., formerly an electrical experts with the United States Illuminating Company, later with the Westinghouse and now consulting electrical engineer, with an office in the Equitable Building, was inclined to think something must have been wrong with the apparatus used on Kemmler.

"If the connections were properly applied, "said Mr. Lynch, "the man must have died instantly. The apparent continuance of respiration, [illegible microfilm] that case must have been the result of muscular contraction.

"Of course I don't mean to say that 1,000 volts will killed a man every time. I know from personal experience they will not. About six years ago, when I was in the United States Company, I accidentally received a charge of at least 2,400 volts. The shock knocked me through a two inch partition and my hands were burned by the current, but I got over the effects and a few days.


"Just what was the matter with Kemmler's case if death was not instantaneous, will never be known, probably. Of course, the Westinghouse company could have tampered with a machine in many ways had they desired. But I don't think it was done. In fact, had the company been asked to supply a death dealing machine in the first place instead of underhanded methods that were used I think they would have consented. A machine such as is used for heavy work in England giving a current of 10,000 volts could have been made and would have insured instantaneous death. The great objection and the present case was in using a commercial machine for an entirely different purpose."


This is the first and last of executions by electricity," said one of the editors of the Electrical World. "The utter and are various failure to produce instantaneous and painless death must and such experiments.

"Governor Hill will be appealed to buy electricians generally to state proceedings in the cases of the murderers condemned to die by electricity, and, I think he will do so.

"I think, also, that the Governor will convene an extraordinary session of the Legislature to repeal the outrageous law."


Acting District Attorney Gunning S. Bedford said:— "I assumed that the death penalty inflicted upon Kemmler was carried out properly as prescribed by statute, but the horrible manner of his death takes me sick to contemplate. The guilty have their rights as well as the innocent. When a man is sentenced to die the penalty of death should be inflicted in a manner to not repeat the horrible death of Kemmler.

"I, for one, shall use my best endeavors to have the present death penalty abolished by the Legislature and some other penalty made a law, as I regard it as an utter failure. Instead of executions by electricity making the death penalty better it has made it infinitely worse."


Recorder Smyth said:— "I never was in favor of the bill that changed the mode of death penalty for murder from hanging to electricity, and did all in my power to defeated when it was before the Legislature.

"Death by hanging is good enough for any murderer. The only trouble with it in my estimation is that in times past there have not been enough murderers hanged."

"The law for electrical executions will not stand after this," exclaimed corner Ferdinand Levy. He added that he thought the courts would now hold that electrical death was a "cruel and unusual punishment."



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