“Freak legislation” on a hot-button issue put Arizona in the national spotlight more than a century ago. The statute required sheriffs to issue invitations to all sheriffs in the territory whenever an execution was scheduled. Apparently amused by the requirement, Sheriff F.J. Wattron of Holbrook sent out gilt-edged cards assuring invitees that the proceedings would be “cheerful” and the execution “a success.” The story went viral when the  Associated Press got hold of a card. This droll report from the Cleveland Leader appeared on Page A1 of the Minneapolis Tribune months after the execution finally took place:
Sheriff Wattron initially distributed this invitation, which prompted a letter of condemnation from President McKinley to the territorial governor. It read: "You are cordially invited to attend the hanging of one GEORGE SMILEY, Murderer. His soul will be swing into eternity on Dec. 8, 1899, at 2 o'clock p.m., sharp. Latest methods in the art of scientific strangulation will be employed, and everything possible will be done to make the proceedings cheerful and the execution a success."
 

ARIZONA HANGING METHODS

The social functions seem to take strange forms in far-off Arizona, where formal invitations, printed on gilt-edged cards, are issued for hangings of murderers. E.A. Marks, brother of M.A. Marks, of this city, was the recipient of one of the invitations to a hanging at Holbrook, Ariz., while he was traveling in that state last winter, says the Cleveland Leader.
 
The invitations seem to be due to some piece of freak legislation in that state. Unfortunately Mr. Marks did not attend the hanging and so it is impossible to speak authoritatively of the Arizona etiquette that prevails at such entertainments.
 
It would really be puzzling to a stranger to Arizona ways to judge how to comport himself on such an occasion. While the invitation card to the hanging was gilt-edged, the circular letter that accompanied it was bordered with black, after the style of mourning stationery. The latter would indicate that black clothes and mourning were the proper dress for a formal hanging function, but the gilt edge on the card might be taken to indicate a festive red-necktie occasion. Perhaps the proper compromise would be reached  by wearing one of the tow or hemp suits in which fat men swelter on summer days.
 
Then, too, it would puzzle once to know how to bear himself toward the person in whose honoree the hanging party was given, in this case one “George Smiley, murderer,” as the invitation card reads. One would have to say something to Mr. Smiley and he could hardly congratulate him or wish him many happy returns of the day. Perhaps if Arizona was as hot as Cleveland has been for a few days he might congratulate him on getting away from so uncomfortable a place, and yet it might not do to congratulate him on his pending escape from the heat.
 
Of course Sheriff Wattron would be congratulated on the success of the function at its close, but it would not do to fall back on this and ignore the real lion of the entertainment. If refreshments were served, as the hospitality of the West would require on so important and trying a social occasion, the hangee-elect would, of course, sit at the head of the table, and he might spread consternation among the guests by his reckless disregard of what he ate and drank, for he would be the one member of the party who would have no fear of indigestion or headache next day.
 
To be true to the usages of the West there would have to be dancing if the hanging party was regarded as a festive rather than a funereal occasion, and while the murderer would have no lack of partners from the ladies to whom invitations had been extended, to judge from the flowers and sympathy showered on murderers by the ladies of the East, it might be unpleasant for the lady he honored by his inviting her to dance with him in his last terpsichorean performance at the lower end of the sheriff’s rope.
 
Perhaps all these matters will be settle by the time the Arizona legislature has completed its next session. As will be seen by the note at the top of the letter of invitation accompanying the card the sheriff has suggested a committee to wait on the legislature and settle some of the points regarding the form of the invitations to hangings. At the same time the committee might indicate what clothes should be worn by the guests and whether business suits, frock coats or evening dress should be worn. The sheriff who issued the invitations seemed himself not at all in sympathy with the freak law that required him to issue invitations to his hangings, and he seems to be determined to bring ridicule on the idea and the legislature that gave it legal form.

 

After the first invitation drew a rebuke from the territorial governor, who delayed the execution by a month, the sheriff sent out a more sarcastic invitation for the rescheduled hanging. It read, in part: "With feelings of profound sorrow and regret, I hereby invite you to attend and witness the private, decent and humane execution of a human being; name, George Smiley, crime, murder. The said George Smiley will be executed on Jan. 8, 1900, at 2 o’clock p.m. You are expected to deport yourself in a respectful manner, and any 'flippant' or 'unseemly'language or conduct on your part will not be allowed. Conduct, on anyone’s part, bordering on ribaldry and tending to mar the solemnity of the occasion will not be tolerated." This time, Smiley was executed as scheduled.

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