Tennessee revives “Old Smokey,” the electric chair, for an execution


128 years after the first US electrocution

Tennessee revives “Old Smokey,” the electric chair, for an execution

Kate Randall

3 November 2018

August 6, 1890, Auburn, New York: William Kemmler, 30, a vegetable peddler in the slums of Buffalo, was the first person in the US to die by electrocution. He was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering his girlfriend with a hatchet following a drinking binge.

William Kemmler’s execution, as illustrated by Le Petit Parisien

After Kemmler was strapped into the electric chair, 1,000 volts of AC current were passed for 17 seconds through the electrodes attached to his skull. This rendered him unconscious but failed to stop his heart and breathing. After the attending physicians confirmed that Kemmler was still alive, one cried out: “Have the current turned on again, quick, no delay,” but the generator needed time to recharge. After a delay, the prisoner received a 2,000-volt AC shock that killed him.

According to witnesses, blood vessels under Kemmler’s skin ruptured and bled and areas around the electrodes on his head singed. Saliva dripped down his beard as he grasped for air. The smell of burnt flesh filled the room. Both witnesses and a sheriff fled the execution chamber in horror. The procedure lasted about eight minutes.

May 9, 1947 , Angola, Louisiana: Willie “Lucky” Francis was convicted of the murder of pharmacist Andrew Thomas in St. Martinville. Francis was a 16-year-old with a stutter at the time of the murder. Despite two questionable confessions and incompetent legal counsel, he was sentenced to death by an all-white jury.

Willie “Lucky” Francis

On May 3, 1946, Francis survived his first meeting with “Gruesome Gertie,” as the electric chair was known at the infamous Angola State…

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