Most people are familiar with the electric chair as a method of execution for society’s most deplorable citizens, but very few know much about the process.
For those who don’t know, when a person is facing the electric chair they must first have their head and leg shaven in order to ensure a secure connection between the body and the electrodes. The inmate is then sat in a chair with straps secured across their chest, arms, legs, and groin. Next, a saline soaked sponge is placed inside a skullcap fitted to the inmate’s head. This is used to help conduct the electricity in order to make sure that the flow passes through the condemned’s body. With the inmate properly secured and fitted with the various electrodes, the “technician” – which was generally some guy who answered a “help wanted” ad in a newspaper – throws the switch.
Aside from this basic synopsis, there are other interesting facts that go along with this mode of execution. It’s rare that someone gets to witness an execution, and much rarer for someone who has endured it to live to tell the tale. Here are just some of these surprising facts for the morbidly curious.
Smells Like Bacon
Those who have witnessed someone die in an electric chair have reported the smell of fried bacon. After the switch is thrown the body begins to cook. Body hair and flesh melts during this process. Once the inmate is pronounced dead they must be removed and any melted flesh that remains on the chair must be scraped off before it can be used again.
Invented by a Dentist
Alfred Southwick came up with the idea after reading about a town drunk who had met his untimely end when he broke into a building and touched a live transformer. The shock killed the man instantly. Southwick, a dentist with a background in mechanics, proposed the idea as a way to execute inmates and it was later put to practical uses as the electric chair. Remember this the next time you make an appointment for a routine cleaning.
Originally Used to Euthanize Strays
Animal shelters have always had a problem with overcrowding and some address this issue by euthanizing animals that aren’t adopted quickly enough. Prior to being used to execute inmates, Southwick further developed his electrocution idea by introducing it as a quick method to put down stray dogs at the Buffalo branch of the SPCA.
Bodies Must Cool Before Removal
Bodies become so hot after the electrocution that they must first cool before being handled. People have experienced serious burns from attempting to remove the bodies immediately after this form of execution and autopsies cannot be performed until the organs have completely cooled.
You Might Not Die the First Time
One of the reasons many states phased out their electric chairs is because sometimes it took more than one try to execute an inmate. This fact has sparked debate on whether or not this method of execution constitutes as “cruel and unusual punishment.” The most famous instance is the case of Willie Francis, who at just 17-years-old was forced to endure the electric chair not once, but twice.
Inmates Were Offered Diapers as a Courtesy
When 500-2000V of electricity are sent surging through a person’s body, strange things begin to happen. Perhaps one of the least surprising things that occur within the body is that muscles begin to move involuntarily. This results in the inmate releasing their bowels, bladder, and even vomiting blood during the process. To make cleanup easier, guards often offered the inmate a diaper prior to their march to the death house.
We Still Don’t Know Exactly How it Works
The exact way electricity kills a person is still debated within the scientific community. The most accepted theories include heart fibrillation and a paralysis in the brain’s respiratory centers. Considering the process of electrocution also cooks a person’s organs, it’s also been theorized that the burn to the brain causes it to stop functioning.