Tag Archives: executions

This Morbid Invention: The Terrible Story of the First Electric Chair

THE FIRST PODCAST The story of how electricity became a tool of death for the state of New York and the strange circumstances behind the invention of the electric chair.

The harnessing of electricity by the great inventors of the Gilded Age introduced the world to the miracle of light at all hours of the day. But exposure to electricity’s raw power was dangerous to man.  Awful deaths of men on electrical wires terrified New Yorkers. A few thought this might be useful in the employment of the state’s darkest responsibilities — capital punishment.

This is the story of the first electric chair, the peculiar rivalry which helped create it — an epic feud between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, between DC and AC — and its fateful effects upon the life and punishment upon a man named William Kemmler, the first to be killed in this morbid seat.

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07 THE MORBID INVENTION: THE STORY OF THE FIRST ELECTRIC CHAIR

 

The horrors of the modern world — New York electrician John Feeks is killed on the electrical wires as hundreds watched.

1891 book Physique Populaire by Emile Desbeaux, drawn by D. Dumon.

 

Harold Pitney Brown, who secretly assisted in diminishing the reputation of alternating current (AC) power on behalf of Edison, who was promoting direct current (DC).

 

Brown’s bizarre and cruel experiments — proving the dangers of AC — involved killing animals by electrocution. One such experiment at Edison’s lab in New Jersey slaughtered calves and horses to demonstrate his theories. 

The mechanism of the first electric chair at Auburn Prison. You can see some of these components in the photo below.

 

A picture of the notorious first electric chair, used in the execution of William Kemmler

 

An illustration from Scientific American, June 30 1888, showing an ‘ideal’ depiction of electric-chair functioning.

An illustration (not very accurate) of the execution of William Kemmler.

PODCAST REWIND: Wrath of the Whyos, vicious gang of New York

The Whyos (pronounced Why-Ohs) were New York’s most notorious gang after the Civil War, organizing their criminal activities and terrorizing law abiding citizens of the Gilded Age. Find out when they lived, how they broke the law and who they were — from Googie Corcoran to Dandy Johnny, as well as two particularly notable guys named Danny.

ALSO: How much does it cost to have somebody’s ear bitten off?

ORIGINALLY RELEASED MARCH 28, 2009

FEATURING 2016 BONUS MATERIAL: Greg reads an excerpt from Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York, recounting the sad fate of Dandy Johnny Dolan.

THIS IS A SPECIAL ILLUSTRATED PODCAST!  Chapter headings with images have been embedded in this show, so if your listening device is compatible with AAC/M4A files, just hit play and a variety of pictures should pop up.  The audio is superior than the original as well. (This will work as a normal audio file even if the images don’t appear.)

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Famed comic creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had a fascination with early gang life and once illustrated their adventures for a 1947 comic book called Real Clue Crime Stories.

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Another artist for the a different issue of the same comic book took a crack at the story of Dandy Johnny Dolan that same year:

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Comic art above courtesy the Jack Kirby Museum

 

A vivid illustration from the New York World, January 23, 1888, outlining the players involved in Danny Driscoll’s murder of Beezy Garrity.

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The violent execution of Driscoll lead the World to run a further article (see the right side of the page) condoning the use of a new form of execution — by electrocution.

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Faces of the Whyo Gang: Googy Corcoran, Clops Connolly, Big Josh Hines and Baboon Connolly


 

Mulberry Bend: The lair of the Whyos (picture by Jacob Riis)

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The pulpy cover of Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York.

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