Viewed from a distance the casual observer, unacquainted with the vast and magnificent edifice that looms heavenward might envy the residence of a structure of such palatial dimensions; but upon a closer inspection the real character and purpose of the institution would be apparent and, pity, perhaps, would take the place of envy; for upon a nearer view its massive walls, armed sentries, battlemented gables, grated windows and towering turrets are plainly visible, resembling in appearance the old feudal castles of romance and barbarism.
Inside the steel gratings of the Penitentiary Annex, you will find a little world all by itself, in which all the subjects are brought to a common level. The by-paths along which the victims of blood-thirsty vice travel to reach it, are various. But once a denizen of this Palace of Death and there is a tiring sameness in the status of all; the same rules apply whether the condemned person be a wise man or a fool, a solon or a simpleton, white or black, Catholic or Protestant, old or young, rich or poor. This place like the all-healing grave, brings all to the same condition of subjection. He must do as others will--not as he himself wills.
All that annually come to the Palace of Death bring with them a practical knowledge of the great and undisputed fact that, "The way of the transgressor is hard," and that "The wages of sin is death;" that an open disregard for the rights and lives of their fellowmen will bring retribution and punishment, swift, sure and unerring, and at the same time untold misery and shame to their relatives and friends. If all could be written out that this wonderful Prison Annex has taught and is still teaching, the lessons would far surpass in amount and worth that of a thousand volumes of a merely theoretical kind. What poet, novelist or journalist ever penned such pathos as swells the aching hearts of the occupants of this living tomb? Matter for a thousand thrilling volumes is constantly floating through the silent chambers of this Palace of Death. The silent Death Cell whispers heart rending secrets to the Electric Chair, and the Chair echoes back the whisper of an ignominious death to the Cell.
Were it possible for me to portray on paper the emotions of the bruised and bleeding heart, the expressions on the face of the poor condemned wretch, the look of fear and abject terror that haunts the eyes, as the old hall clock ticks off the hours and minutes of the last night on earth, this volume would produce an effect on the rugged minds of the youth of America that would undoubtedly be productive of great good.
Remorse! Remorse!! Remorse!!! The briny tears of regret! The stifling midnight sob! The bitter anguish of a life ill-spent! All crowd in upon the memory of the poor lump of humanity that must so shortly return to the dust from whence it was created.
Twelve strokes clanging from a church tower answered by the jangle of bells from other towers, and the screeching of distant whistles whose voices painfully announce the midnight hour through the listening air under the blinking stars, by iron bars and stone walls, to a distracted ear in the condemned cell of the great prison. 'Tis midnight by the clock, midnight in the air and in the echoing belfry, and midnight in the hopes of one sinking heart. With blanched faces his companions in trouble hear the indifferent tones that once smote upon indifferent ears, but now strike an answering clang in their very hearts. One face is whiter than the rest; one pair of eyes look wildly around as if yet hoping for a release, a respite, or relief of some unknown kind from the tension that can only be released in nothingness. There is a bustle in the outside room; the man who is soon to pay the extreme penalty of inexorable law bids a last farewell to his friends and companions of the last few months--friends who are different from himself only in that their final day is a little farther distant than his own--then he follows the stern yet kindly official through the open door that leads to the Chair of Fate. A score of onlookers take nervous note. These will invoke the aid of the fiery current that shall take this proscribed life to review the dread scene for a world to read at comfortable breakfast on the morning that has begun, but not yet shown its light. Such a morning to one! The dawning of the long, long day of eternity! Amid an oppressive silence the grim Chair--the Chair of Everlasting Rest--receives its occupant. He is bound; his eyes are covered--a stranger in a strange land, he is going to a stranger country than his eyes have ever beheld. In this brief darkness does he see the home of his childhood, with the swelling plain of green and gold beyond; the azure skies and the school-house by the babbling brook; the kindly-faced father, the white-aproned mother, and the companionable brother whom, in a moment of intoxicated fiendishness he slew? In this brief darkness do not the events of a lifetime crowd themselves through the mind in rapid and phantasmagorial succession? But see--a hand is on the little level! Swifter than thought an invisible power snatches the life from that seated form, and a murderer's body is a mass of lifeless clay. Is it right?
The Annex proper is situated at the extreme east end of the East Hall. It is an L shaped enclosure and consists of three compartments. After leaving the East Hall visitors are ushered into the execution room. The first thing that catches one's eye upon entering this room is the photographs of those who have met a common fate within this somber enclosure. Upon your left, sitting upon an elevated platform, is the fatal Electric Chair; directly over the chair is the old scaffold and trap doors through which so many men have plunged to their doom. Directly north of the execution room is the Guards' or Attendants' room, and west of this and separated from it and protected from it by a network of steel bars is the Cage or Death Cell. The condemned wretch enters this Cage the day he is received, and never leaves it until he is led forth to the slaughter.
Shortly before midnight one of the prison barbers accompanied by two guards accompanied by two guards enter the Death Cage. The condemned man is seated in a barber chair and the crown of his head is closely clipped; his right trousers leg is split to the knee. At a few minutes after midnight he is led forth and takes his seat in the Chair; then his ankles, knees, arms and shoulders are securely fastened by automatic clamps. A sponge dampened in a solution of sal ammoniac and water is placed upon the crown of the head conducting the current of electricity into the body. A similar sponge is securely fastened to the calf of the right leg, completing the circuit. The lever which switches the current is then pulled downward, and for seven seconds 1750 volts of electricity passes through the the body. The current is then reduced to 250 volts, and rests at this for the remainder of the minute.
Reader, if you have never witnessed an execution it is impossible for you to conceive of the sadness and gloom which pervades the entire instituion upon these fatal nights. Always present is the great, awful shadow of death, a grim, fearful spectre unseen but always present; a grinning skull, sightless, tongueless, fleshless, seen only with the mind's eye, but always, always present.
Everything in readiness, the long corridor, down through the East Hall has been copiously sprinkled with sawdust upon which the officers and spectators move with noiseless tread. The old prison clock strikes the fateful midnight hour; the death march is taken up, and headed by the Warden passes down the long dimly lighted corridor to the Place of Death. The attendants have already stationed themselves on either side of the Chair. Directly in front of the Chair is the throng of curious spectators, all eager to see a fellow-man surrender the life that God gave him. At a sign from the Warden the great door of the death-cell creaks upon its hinges, and the poor condemned wretch comes forth, followed by his spiritual adviser and the officers. A look of abject horror is stamped across his pallid and bloodless features. He advances with faltering step, and with a look of terror in his eyes seats himself in the Chair. Skilled hands quickly adjust the clamp and deadly electrodes, then the voice of the Warden breaks the awful silence: "Have you anything to say before the sentence of the court shall have finally been carried out?" Sometimes a few feeble words are uttered. A hand reaches and breaks it down. Instantly the body plunges upward as far as the straps will allow it to go; the finger nails sink into the flesh; the body stiffens; the tendons stand out like whipcords, swelled almost to the point of bursting. No sound is heard save the low hum of the electricity as it goes surging through the vitals of the murderer. In sixty seconds the current is turned off, the body relaxes, the soul has taken its flight to the realms of eternal light--or darkness--and the earthly career of a murderer is closed for all time.