||[Apr. 26th, 2017|12:10 pm]
So, with all the fuss being made about Arkansas executing two men in one day, I started to wonder what was the most ever executed by a state in a single day? The federal government, of course, holds the obvious record, with 38 hung in one day at Mankato, MN, after the Dakota uprising in 1862. It was originally scheduled to be 303, but Lincoln put his foot down, and insisted that only indians who had committed rape or murder during the uprising (and not those who had only taken up arms against the government) could be executed.
I'd thought that Texas held the record, sending no fewer than five men to the chair on one famous day in 1924. It turns out that South Carolina also executed five in one day in 1915. In the end, it turns out to be New York, executing seven men on the same day in 1912 (five of them for the same crime - the notorious Croton Reservoir murder) that holds the record.
Interestingly, the second time New York used the electric chair, in July of 1891, they executed four men on the same day. They also executed three brothers in 1903, letting them decide among themselves what order they'd go in.
Ohio's first use of the electric chair, in 1897, was a double event. The prison officials made the two men flip a coin to see who had to go first.
And, oddly enough, in July of 1917, Pennsylvania sent a guy to the chair whose name was unknown. Just one man executed on that day, but he staunchly refused to give his name. They ended up calling him John Nelson on his journey through the courts and prison system, since this was apparently before "John Doe" had become standardized, and the paperwork involved required him to have a name.
So, in reading about executions, I ended up reading a bit as well about the old Ohio State Penitentiary, which used to be right downtowm here. All of Ohio's executions from 1885 to 1963 took place here. They tore it down a few years before I moved here to build the Nationwide Arena, so I never got to tour it. They made the prisoners build it, beginning in 1834, and, it seems that the State House (a magnificent building, with an under-appreciated museum in the basement - they have a preserved rose from Abraham Lincoln's funeral blanket) was built by prisoner labour as well!
The prison building was brick and stone, but built with a wooden roof. This wasn't seen as enabling escapes, since the cells were basically fully-enclosed iron cages. In 1930, they decided to replace the ancient roof, and true to tradition, they used convict labour to do the work. Three of the workers decided to use this opportunity to stage an escape - they concealed an incendiary timebomb amongst the contruction, intended to go off at the end of the day, when everyone was in the mess hall eating dinner, allowing them to escape in the confusion.
Sadly, the proper design of timebombs was not among their criminal proficiencies, so that the fire started much later than intended, after all the prisoners were locked up in their cells for the night. The roof, being nearly a century old and tinder-dry, and coated with tar, went up pretty much like a firework. 322 inmates died, many of them broiled to death by radiant heat from above, just as though they'd been in an oven. It's the third-deadliest structural fire in American history, surpassed only by the Iroquois Theater in 1903, and the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in 1942.
What surprised me, though, was this picture, of the coffins laid out for the mass funeral. I recognize that building. It's the Ag and Hort Building at the State Fairgrounds, and it's still there to this day, largely unchanged. I had no idea it was ever used for something like that. You can see how there's a kind of lightwell visible in the picture. The upper floor of the place is built with an enormous clerestory, and it illuminates the ground floor through that big square well. There seem to be American flags hanging in the lightwell then, as today.
The entire time I've been going there, and I strongly suspect since at least the 1950s, the upper floor is used for an all-you-can-eat buffet during the Fair. That's probably the only restaurant I've ever eaten in that was once used to stage a mass funeral, then. For about the past ten years or so, they've positioned one of those climbing towers in the middle of the light well, so you can watch and cheer on kids climbing it while you eat.
Original posted at http://rain-gryphon.dreamwidth.org/7142.html