Friday, 12 May 2017

Events Consequent on the Execution of the Anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti, by Electrocution.

Most newspapers had referred to 
the new executioner of
Sing Sing Prison,
when appointed by
the State of New York Department of Correction,
as ‘Mr. X’.

‘Well, the cat’s out of the bag now,’ 
smiled the executioner’s young daughter
at the breakfast table when
the true identity of her father broke
in the Sunday press.
‘So that’s where you’ve been going these Thursday nights.’

Although prisons with death chairs
are equipped with electrodes,
her father believed there was wisdom in making his own pair
lined with Elephant-Ear ocean sponges, which, when soaked
in a dense saline solution, acquired the requisite electrical conductivity
to administer 2,000 volts to the condemned.

He located an importer of artists’ materials
to supply the sponges whose unusually fine pore structure is
also found to be ideal for watercolour washes and stretching warped papers.
The merchant remarked, as he was wrapping them up,
‘The last man who came for these sponges wanted them for an execution.’
‘Is that right?’ was the non-committal reply.

The watercolours of the executioner’s daughter
were to be seen hanging on the walls
of their home at Richmond Hill, New York.
‘And very creditable stuff, too,’ he once said tenderly,
before they were blown from the parlour by anarchist sympathisers,
on the night of the bombing that wrecked his sturdy two-story frame house.

Later the executioner received an anonymous letter 
written in an almost illegible scrawl:
‘Be very careful before your lights are out.
You will get yours for not minding your own business.’
Because of fallen plaster in her room, the executioner’s daughter
stayed with a neighbour, and next morning attended high school

as she did not want to miss a day of her art course.
 Needless to say, she was a little distracted, as any girl of
seventeen who’d undergone such an experience, and was chided
by her teacher for inattention. Tears crept into her eyes. 
Her father counselled: ‘I hope it will not be interpreted as the reaction of a 
calloused heart that I have never permitted my work to trouble me.’  

‘I trust in God,’ declared most men on the threshold of eternity, and
many times they swore, ‘I am innocent,’ before their Maker and
on the names of their mothers. This was the conclusion of the executioner,
his hand having thrown the switch on
three hundred and eighty-seven occupants of the chair.
‘Viva l’anarchia!’ cried Sacco, seconds before the end.

The morning after the bombing of the executioner’s house, an owl
which had been perching in a tree in the yard was found dead on the sidewalk.
‘Fortunately no one was more than scratched,’ the executioner observed, ‘but now 
a policeman stands guard in a police booth built on my premises.’

Industrial Worker, August 1927, published by The Industrial
Workers of the World. In the event, the execution set for just
after midnight, on August 11, was postponed to allow a ruling
by a Supreme Court justice on an application for a writ of error.
On Aug 23, just after midnight, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti
died in the electric chair (Sacco at 12:19, Vanzetti at 12:26).
Death chamber: Massachusetts State Prison at Charlestown.

The house of the executioner of Sacco and Vanzetti after it was
bombed before dawn on Friday May 18 1928. As ‘State Electrician’
for New York, their executioner also served those neighbouring
states whose death penalty was the electric chair, including New
Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Massachusetts in the period
1926-1939. In spite of the bomb, the executioner returned to bed
and claimed afterwards‘I soon dozed off, and slept soundly.’ 

Postscript: ‘So that’s where you’ve been going these Thursday nights.’

Unnoticed by contemporary commentators, the day chosen for the bombing of the New York State Executioner’s home carried a retributory significance since, at the time of his tenure as ‘State Electrician’, executions were scheduled as a rule on Thursdays at 11:00 pm. This timetable meant the assembling of official witnesses at this late hour and, very often, the execution (or executions) completed in the small hours of the following day, the time set for the bomb’s detonation.

Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes. Within these disciplines Eisner’s fictions seek to explore variant literary forms derived from psychotherapy and criminology to trace the traumas of characters in extremis. Compulsive recurring sub-themes in her narratives examine sibling rivalry, rivalrous cousinhood, pathological imposture, financial chicanery, and the effects of non-familial male pheromones on pubescence, 
see Eisner’s Sister Morphine (2008)
and Listen Close to Me (2011)

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