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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 again 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 19 th 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 viewer could climb a tree or sit on top of a roof and still observe the hangings being performed. But with the growing public some were still getting injured and laws were starting to be instated to protect the well being on the public during these events. The laws of 1830 and 1840 were quite similar, it stated that "public opinions were calling for hangings to be perform inside the county jails or in the state prisons." The newspaper during the public hanging period often published articles that were treated as ordinary mundane experiences, it was beginning to be very repetitive, with few embellishments and some with no colorful headlines. This changed during the private era, when the only details about a hanging were in the newspaper, their writing became more sensational with headlines and elaborated stories. In both the public and private era, hangings could not have been performed without the executioner, otherwise known as the "hangman." In the public era it was taken as a great opportunity to hang an accuse.
Most of the hangman did not conceal their identity from the public, such as a form of mask. They were simply considered by the public as a savior in doing what they considered dirty work and which some would rather watch and rejoice the event. The public was being brained washed into thinking that a hanging was beneficial to their day to day life or else the wise laws would not have encouraged them people to witness it. The hangman had the power to either make the accuse die slowly or with speed. On more than one occasion the hangman came to the execution intoxicated and almost unable to perform the execution. But since their was no one who could be considered a back-up, it went along this way for several more years.
They often got a hangman who had previously committed a crime or was serving time for a lesser crime in jail. Those individuals were commissioned to hang others, with an reprisals of their own lesser crimes. More than one of these hangman later committed crimes which led them to be hanged at the same place where they were once executioners. During the private era the hangman became more responsible.
They were no longer public citizens performing the task, but public officials usually the town sheriff, who was later highly commended for having performed the unpleasant task himself. But soon it was apparent that it was beginning to become a problem of hanging the accuse, some were having thoughts of hanging an individual was not appropriate. The hangman during this period were also given new identities, their faces were either blackened with coal or had black hoods preventing the witnesses from seeing their faces. As the 19 th century came to a close so did most of the public hangings.
More and more individuals were considering this form of capital punishment demoralizing and inhumane as far as public decency, respect and morality were concern. There were some indications that the public sentiment was swinging away from this barbaric exhibitionism of the past. Although this form of capital punishment was not swift and was commonly accompanied by sharp pain. Forms of pain suffered by the accuse ranged from strangulation, suffocation, breaking of the neck or shock to the nerve.
Public hanging had lasted for so many years, because the general public were not educated enough and most of the observers were from the lower class of society. As the years moved along in came private hangings which showed a little compassion toward the individual being hanged. The accuse no longer had to be gawked at or have to observe the behavior of the public, which ran from raucous railing again the cruelty towards the condemned, to pious sympathy, to observers just having a gay time. No mater what justification may be presented, killing of an individual guilty or innocent, because of its finality is a uniquely destructive act, whether the killer is an executioner or a murderer.
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