What Fogle provides here is a biographical sketch of each of the men executed at the Penitentiary in Columbus (not the public hangings that came before), written at a time without the internet or any kind of easy research database, and seven years before the first cross-country telephone call. He manages to lay out a detailed retelling of the crime they were convicted of, a brief sketch of their trial, some information about their time in prison...and, most chillingly, a careful minute-by-minute description of each man's individual execution. How they conducted themselves, what they ate, their last words, every relevant event--it's all here. It's a dark piece of Ohio history for sure, fascinating to anyone who loves history best when it escapes the confines of names, dates, and statistics, and tells those stories notoriously stranger than fiction. If there's a little morbid curiosity in you (and really, if there isn't, what are you doing here?), you'll no doubt enjoy it.
Before you dive in, however, I must offer a warning. Fogle's style is obviously the product of an earlier time. And the first thing to prepare yourself for is how racist the book is. Sure, it was a different time, but I think we've all agreed that it was a worse time, and while Fogle's casual racism may be understandable given the years in which he lived and wrote...it still doesn't make it okay, if you know what I mean. And it makes the book uncomfortable to read, in that way.
Fogle tends to presume guilt more than I'm comfortable with. I think the presumption of innocence is woefully absent even from modern court proceedings, but a full century ago it was a barely acknowledged concept. And the moral rightness of capital punishment is never questioned, even though states like Michigan, Minnesota, and Maine had abolished it years earlier.
Consider, from Chapter 7, this account of the acquittal upon appeal of two confederates of the executed man: "All three were convicted of murder in the first degree, but McMunn and the other party were granted a new trial later on, and in some manner evaded the punishment which they, no doubt, richly deserved." The next paragraph begins with the line, "Morgan failed to establish his innocence," which tells you something about the priorities of the criminal court system in the 19th Century. (You know--the burden is on the state to prove a defendant's guilt, not the other way around.)
The book has little sympathy for certain kinds of people. Forget the hideously casual racism on display when a black criminal is called, "[j]ust an ordinary type of the well-meaning negro," or a chapter titled "The End of a Negro 'Bad Man.'" Fogle has outright contempt for the victim of some of the murders described here; Chapter Fourteen describes Jacob Harvey's dignified trip to the gallows, but tells us he was hanged "for the murder of Maggie Lehman, a lewd woman, whom he injudiciously worshiped." We learn that Maggie was "a dashing young widow who had little, if any, regard for virtue." And when Harvey breaks out of the Dayton workhouse, tracks Lehman to the new address she moved to out of fear of his regular beatings, and finally puts a gun against her head and pulls the trigger...the chapter concludes that "she fell a corpse at his feet--an end to her life of shame." Just lovely, isn't it?
Or how about the hanging of an innocent man? Josiah Terrell in Chapter 4 is described thus: "It is believed that he was innocent but lacked friends and finances to clear himself." Later on: "The opinion of the writer is that Josiah Terrill died an innocent man.... Certain it is that he was a poor illiterate man, without money and without influential friends." But the killing of a man simply because he was poor and lacking influence is perfectly okay by H.M. Fogle: "Innocent or guilty, Terrill is in the hands of a just God," and Judgment Day is coming any time now, "when all wrongs will be righted, and the innocent shown and the guilty punished according to the unerring judgement of an ETERNAL GOD." Since good old unerring ETERNAL GOD is going to dispense justice anyway, why take chances? Let's just execute everyone even peripherally associated with any crime at all? Wow. We're lucky the ethics of a century ago are long gone, and we no longer allow the execution of anyone who might even possibly not be guilty. Except for these several dozen people. Or these fifty-plus unlucky folks. Or this long list of people proven innocent (sometimes even pardoned!) after the government murdered them.
Well. Now that I've warned you about some of the really, genuinely unsavory aspects of this book, you're free to indulge in a little morbid curiosity. Consider it a rare look at the tabloid side of Ohio crime in the 1880s, '90s, and 1900s. You're not likely to find another book like Palace of Death anywhere.
What followed is fairly well-known. There was the US Supreme Court's ban on capital punishment in 1972, soon rescinded. State by state those which wanted their death rows back petitioned for permission to reinstate. Ohio moved its Death House to the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville (for women, the Ohio Penitentiary in Youngstown), and brought in lethal injection as a "humane" alternative. It wasn't until February 19, 1999, that Wilford Berry revived the tradition by waiving his remaining appeals and (willingly) became the first victim of a lethal injection in Ohio. Most recently, Romell Broom's Setember 2009 execution at Lucasville was unsuccessful after technicians tried for three hours to properly insert the needle and get the death drugs through, and the ensuing controversy caused lawmakers to recommend a "one drug protocol." On December 9 of that year Kenneth Biros (whose crime has spawned a ghost story in Trumbull County) was the lucky recipient of a deadly dose of one drug, Sodium Thiopental--the first but not the last, as Ohio continues to perform executions, and the state of Washington has now switched to the single drug technique.
I have begun transcribing the book, chapter by chapter, for your enjoyment. You can read about Ohio's legal executions as they happened in the Ohio Penitentiary, one by one, by selecting a chapter below. I'm posting them as I complete them, because it will take some time to get the whole book online, and there's plenty to read from what I've already completed. So read away about the earliest legal hangings in our longest-serving state prison's Death House Annex. And don't feel guilty for your morbid interest; you're only human.