Old Sparky: The Electric Chair and the History of the Death Penalty

Old Sparky: The Electric Chair and the History of the Death Penalty

by Anthony Galvin


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A New York Times Bestseller

A shocking exploration of America’s preferred method of capital punishment.

In early 2013, Robert Gleason became the latest victim of the electric chair, a peculiarly American execution method. Shouting Póg mo thóin (“Kiss my ass” in Gaelic), he grinned as electricity shot through his system. When the current was switched off, his body slumped against the leather restraints, and Gleeson, who had strangled two fellow inmates to ensure his execution was not postponed, was dead. The execution had gone flawlessly—not a guaranteed result with the electric chair, which has gone horrifically wrong on many occasions.

Old Sparky covers the history of capital punishment in America and the “current wars” between Edison and Westinghouse that led to the development of the electric chair. It examines how the electric chair became the most popular method of execution in America before being superseded by lethal injection. Famous executions are explored, alongside quirky last meals and poignant last words.

The death penalty remains a hot topic of debate in America, and Old Sparky does not shy away from that controversy. Executions have gone spectacularly wrong, with convicts being set alight or needing up to five jolts of electricity before dying. There have been terrible miscarriages of justice, and the death penalty has not been applied even-handedly. Historically, African Americans, the mentally challenged, and poor defendants have been likely to get the chair, an anomaly which led the Supreme Court to briefly suspend the death penalty. Since the resumption of capital punishment in 1976, Texas alone has executed more than five hundred prisoners, and death row is full.

Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade imprint, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in history—books about World War II, the Third Reich, Hitler and his henchmen, the JFK assassination, conspiracies, the American Civil War, the American Revolution, gladiators, Vikings, ancient Rome, medieval times, the old West, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631440267
Publisher: Carrel Books
Publication date: 06/09/2015
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Anthony Galvin is a highly experienced crime journalist. His account of the Limerick (Ireland) drug war, Family Feud: Gangland Limerick Exposed, was Ireland’s top selling non-fiction book of 2004, and the most shoplifted book in Irish publishing history. He is also the author The Great Polar Fraud as well as a dozen other books on a variety of subjects, many in the true crime genre. He spent a decade working as a crime reporter for a daily newspaper and now writes full-time. He lives in southern Ireland.

Table of Contents

Introduction vii

1 A History of the Death Penalty 1

2 Capital Punishment in the USA 5

3 The Electrical Death Commission 15

4 The War of the Currents 43

5 The Development of the Electric Chair 53

6 William Kemmler, the Poor Peddler 57

7 The Spread of the Chair 67

8 A Cabinet of Curiosities-Six Notable and Unusual Executions 75

9 Last Meals 105

10 A Moratorium on Executions 113

11 Supreme Court Changes Its Mind-Executions are Back On 121

12 Back with a Bang 131

13 Top Ten-The Most Notorious Victims of Old Sparky 135

14 Refining the Death Penalty 201

15 The Rise of Lethal Injection 215

16 The Problem of Innocence 225

17 Innocence is No Defense-Herrera v. Collins 229

18 Into the Future 237

Selected Bibliography 249

Index 251

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Old Sparky: The Electric Chair and the History of the Death Penalty 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really. Very enjoyable, brief history of capital punishment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While I enjoyed learning some history, this was written in a very dry manner. I had to skip a few pages to keep my interest.
B-loNY More than 1 year ago
Portrays some details I'd rather not know.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago