Wow, those chairs really looked… festive

The state of South Carolina’s electric chair, once a more frequently used form of execution, is shown here in 1998. The viewing room to the right is where media, lawyers and family members from both sides sat as witnesses. THE STATE File photograph Read more here:

The state of South Carolina’s electric chair, once a more frequently used form of execution, is shown here in 1998. The viewing room to the right is where media, lawyers and family members from both sides sat as witnesses. THE STATE File photograph

I hope my friends at The State won’t mind my using this old file photo they just posted, but I was really struck by the incongruity of the decor.

Imagine that being your last sight as you were being executed. Instead of, “I really wish I hadn’t done it,” you might think, “Where the hell did those chairs come from? Couldn’t they have found something a bit more respectful of the occasion?” Which would be a stupid thing to be thinking at a time like that…

Those chairs look like they escaped from a “My Pretty Pony” cartoon. I wonder for what purpose the state ever purchased them to start with?

10 thoughts on “Wow, those chairs really looked… festive

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Now that I’ve dealt with THAT, let’s get to the point of the story:

    South Carolina has no way of executing its more than 30 death row inmates, and state legislators are exploring how to fix that.

    A Senate panel discussed Thursday looking into alternatives to lethal injection, the method the state most commonly used until the last set of drugs expired in 2013. Since then, the state has had no way of executing any of the 38 inmates on death row unless they choose to die by electrocution….

    During the hearing, several alternative methods of execution – from lethal gas to firing squads to morphine – were discussed….

    For my part, if I had to go and was given the choice, I’d pick firing squad. And I believe the worst, cruelest way (short of something deliberately cruel, such a crucifixion or drawing and quartering) is by lethal injection.

    Few things make my skin crawl more than a cold, clinical mockery of a medical procedure, with someone employing a skill meant to save lives to deliberately slide a needle into my vein and poison me from the inside out. To me, that’s a whole horror movie right there. It’s like something a serial killer who enjoys watching a helpless victim squirm would do.

    The guillotine is less barbaric.

    Of course, this is all pretty academic since I oppose the death penalty anyway. But I marvel at the things other people consider to be “humane…”

  2. Richard

    There’s no tree with a good sturdy limb in back of the courthouse? If not, I’m sure the prison carpentry shop could build a nice gallows in a couple days.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Hanging has always seemed kind of ghoulish to me.

      We’ve got plenty of guns. It doesn’t take specialized equipment, although a sturdy wall or dirt embankment behind the condemned is a good idea.

      If you’re going to kill somebody, just do it, once all legal procedures have been followed. It seems really twisted to make a big production out of it.

      But since I’m opposed to the whole thing, I doubt the people who WANT executions are going to do it my way…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Anybody ever read The Dirty Dozen? The original novel… I’m sure you’ve all (or at least all the guys) have seen the movie.

        It’s hard to find these days, but if you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend it. Of course, my impression is affected by the fact that I read it when I was 14, and it was probably the first contemporary “adult” novel (with racy parts and everything) I ever read.

        Anyway, an important character in the novel is the hangman from the prison where Reisman (played by Lee Marvin in the movie, he’s a much more credible, complex character in the book) got the prisoners. He’s temporarily unemployed, because someone at SHAEF has decided there’ll be no more executions until after the D-Day invasion. So when Reisman requisitions some guards from the prison warden, the warden foists the hangman off on him.

        At first Reisman doesn’t like the idea, then decides that maybe having the hangman — who is otherwise a pretty useless soldier, it turns out, unable to assist Reisman in training — around might help the prisoners remember what’s waiting for them if they screw up in his program.

        The hangman has a real boogeyman effect on the prisoners. Victor Franko (one of the few characters who is almost exactly the same in both the book and the film) is terrified of him, and his fear is communicated to most of the others, although everyone has his own nuanced reaction. There’s a passage describing each of their reactions at the moment Reisman, at Franko’s urging, tells them all who he is.

        Anyway, my point is, people associated with such elaborate execution methods ARE sort of boogeymen in society, traditionally. It’s associated with the fact that hanging is really creepy.

        Firing squads are so much more straightforward, and less, well, I’ll use “ghoulish” again…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I’ve blogged in the past about that book, and the fact that it made such an impression on me that I could still name all 12 of the prisoners.

          Let’s see if I still can:

          1. Victor Franko
          2. Calvin Ezra Smith
          3. Myron O’Dell
          4. Archer Maggot (in the movie, the Smith, O’Dell and Maggot characters are combined to create the guy played by Telly Savalas)
          5. Napoleon White (the black guy, who is a former officer and NOTHING like the Jim Brown character, except that he HAD played football)
          6. Vernon Pinkley (Donald Sutherland in the movie)
          7. Glenn Gilpin
          8. Luis Jimenez
          9. Samson Posey (the big Indian, Clint Walker in the movie)
          10. Roscoe Lever
          11. Ken Sawyer
          12. Joe Wladislaw (Charles Bronson in the movie — they made HIM the ex-officer; I guess they thought Jim Brown wouldn’t have been credible)

          Did it! So my brain is STILL crammed with totally useless trivia. I may have misspelled one or two, but I didn’t forget them…

      2. Richard

        Either way, make it public… let there be street vendors, let the women scream in horror while the men cheer and drink beer… just do it. The guy who’s been on Death Row since 1983 will likely die of old age before his sentence is carried out. He shouldn’t have been allowed to see 1984.

        In clear cut cases, you’ve got 30 days to appeal one time, on the 31st day you’re sentence is carried out. In not so clear cut cases, you go to the equivalent of Devils Island. I watched a movie once where every prisoner had a “partner”, everyone had a collar around their neck. When one got a certain distance away from the partner or past a boundary the collar beeped, if it beeped for so long it exploded, a few seconds later the partner’s collar beeped and exploded. Nobody knew who was who’s partner because the 2nd collar didn’t beep until the first one exploded… gave others a chance to run away.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I missed that one, although it sounds a bit like the prison in “Running Man.”

          But I did see the sketch on “The State” in which there were no guards or gate, but the warden told the men that the road leading from the prison was “off limits” and everybody accepted that, until one rebel came along who had a plan…

          One of the funnier bits they ever did…

          1. Richard

            Okay maybe I had my collar description slightly wrong, this was the movie (Deadlock)… I don’t think it was up for an Academy Award.

  3. bud

    Eliminate the barbaric, counterproductive practice of capital punishment then we don’t have worry about figuring out how to do it. Only policy measure more obvious that eliminating the vile electoral college.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *