Monday, October 29, 2007

October 29, 1901:

Leon Czolgosz Dies

On September 6, 1901, anarchist Leon Frank Czolgosz (aged 28, pictured) shot President William McKinley twice in Buffalo, New York. Within a week, the president was dead. Within two months, Czolgosz was dead, convicted and sentenced to death in a swift trial. He died in the electric chair at the Auburn State Prison in Auburn, New York. As an execution device, the electric chair had been in use only about a decade at that time, with New York State pioneering it.

According to Buffalo History Works, "On October 29, 1901, Leon Czolgosz was led from his cell and slowly walked the twenty feet down the corridor to the door of the death room. He stumbled when his feet touched the stone pavement of the room and again when he got onto the platform that held the chair. It was there that he got the first look at the instrument that was about to take his life.

"The electric chair was a plain looking, but heavy piece of furniture. It was decorated with wide leather straps and heavy buckles. From the ceiling came a coil of wire no wider than a common pencil to which the electrode for the head-piece would attach. Electric lamps were along the wall behind the chair and about the ceiling. The chair was large enough to hold a man much heavier than Czolgosz, so a broad plank was placed on its edge across the seat and against the back of the chair, that there might not be any movement of the prisoner's body to break the circuit.

"As he was being strapped into the chair, Czolgosz blurted out, 'I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people! I did it for the help of the good people, the working men of all countries!' The guards quickly finished preparing him. Then they slowly stepped away from the platform, turned, and walked away.

"After what seemed like an eternity, the signal was given to throw the switch and send the current through his body. Czolgosz immediately gave a gurgled cry and his body lunged upward. He seemed to tremble with a slight rigidity as his body was converted into a piece of iron. As the 1,700 volts of raw energy exploded into his body, Czolgosz arched his body backwards and remained still. The current flowed for a full minute and was gradually backed down to 200 volts. After the electricity was turned off, some time passed without anyone saying a word. Then one of the prison officials said, 'Give him another poke.'

The current was turned on at 1,700 volts for another full minute without any reaction from Czolgosz's body. After this round was finished, the medical examiner went up to the lifeless body and pronounced Czolgosz dead."

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