Public Hangings



Capital punishment seemed to have been regenerated from the beginning of mankind, where beheading was considered an honorable method of meeting death, whereas hanging carried with it a definite stigma. The era of public hanging was emotionally satisfying even though the surroundings was emotionally tense. In contrast to private hangings where they were fewer observers, less theatrical from the accuse and hanging was becoming more of an inhuman punishment to inflict on those found guilty of their crime. Both forms of hangings were though to be an effective way of preventing individuals from committing a crime. Capital punishment seemed morally acceptable, to the public and there were individuals who were willing to carry out the execution. From the books; "…Hang By the Neck…", Hanging in the Balance and The trail of the Dinosaur, gives descriptions of public and private hangings, the responsibilities of the hangman and the general reaction of the public, who were for and againts hangings.
In the days of public hangings, gallows or scaffolds were rather crude contraptions. Early contraptions consisted of two post in the ground, with a cross-piece between them from which the victim swung. As the years passed by a second contraption was invented, a single stout post with a timber nailed at a right angle at the top, with supporting boards attached. A third contraption was made which was a platform erected nine or more feet from the ground, in the middle of which was a trap door which swung upon hinges. This latest invention was commonly used towards the end of public hangings. In private hangings the same contraption was used, but the individual were taken down a lot quicker, for their was no need to display the executed to curious observer.
Public executions were grim and was a disgusting spectacle to the accuses’ family and close friends, but for most individuals it was a time to rejoice and to celebrate. When a crowd assembled to witness a public event, they were out in a holiday mood. Hundreds of people came from long distances to view a hanging, concessionaires had money invested in trinkets and food to be sold at what they called jamborees. Public hanging were often imitated in plays, which were seen as despicable form of entertainment towards the victim and the accuses family. The scenes attending the hangings were for large gatherings from far and near, mostly bent on idle curiosity or for a grand jollification.
" Hanging day" were during the eighteenth and up to half of the nineteenth century, the equivalent of national bank holidays, only more frequent. No single event brought more spectators in those years than a public hanging. People would drive from miles around and some individual would camp in the vicinity for several days before the event. The individuals who made a great profit during this period were the vendors, pick-pockets, promoters, peddlers and medicine men, all would descend upon the town before the fatal day. Bringing along toy-like gallows, with a miniature person to hang at the same moment as the real individual was being executed. Other noticeable sight-seers were religious groups such as the evangelists, the accused family and friends. In most the towns in the USA the mayor issued proclamations of warnings, making saloons and taverns closed for a short period of time before and during the hanging. But despite such precautions, brawls and arguments took place, which led to murders being committed and those individuals later being hanged. " In 1807 the crowd of forty thousands became so crazed and outraged at the execution of Holloway and Haggarthy" , it nearly left a hundred dead, dying or lying in the street when the show was over.
Towards the end of the 19th century a growing public feeling was in favor of privatizing the hangings. " On February 16 1841, the first motion to abolish public hangings was introduced into parliament" , and it was greeted with laughter from the public. They showed no sorrow, no salutary terror, no abhorrence, no seriousness, nothing but drunkenness and flaunting on their behalf. In the privatized hangings in the early days, they were done behind the prison gates but outside the jail walls. Where any curious