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March 2, 1877: What it feels like to be guillotined

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History, Crime Updated: February 10, 2014 - 6:13 PM
 
This wire story – the source is unclear – appeared in several U.S. newspapers, including the Minneapolis Tribune:
 

A THRILLING EXPERIENCE.

What It Feels Like to be Guillotined -- a Rare Experience.

We know how it feels to be poisoned, to be hanged and to be drowned, but it has been reserved for M. Mondate, an Italian gentleman, to let the world know, through La Defense, what it feels like to be guillotined.

He was in 1873 condemned to death for a crime of which he was innocent, and it was not the fault of Italian justice that he escaped. The blade of the guillotine fell, but the wood in the grooves of which it ran had swollen slightly, and the knife stopped barely two centimeters from his neck. While they were repairing this defect a reprieve arrived – the true murderer had been found and confessed his crime.

"It was 8 o'clock A.M., August 17, 1873," says M. Mondate, "that my confessor, l'Abbe Fernia, entered my cell to announce to me that I must die. When at the touch of his hand upon my shoulder I awakened, I comprehended at once the nature of his errand, and despite my confidence, it seems that I turned horribly pale. I would have spoken, but my mouth contracted nervously and no saliva moistened it. A mortal chill suddenly invaded the lower part of my body. By a supreme effort I succeeded in gasping, ‘It is not true!’ The priest answered I know not what. I only heard a confused buzzing.

“Then a sudden thrill of pride shot through me. For some minutes I felt no fear; I stood erect; I said to myself that if I must die I should show them that an innocent man died with courage. I spoke with great rapidity; I was horribly afraid to be silent or to be interrupted; I thanked the governor of the prison, and asked for something to eat. They brought me a cup of chocolate, but I refused it. Again I had become fully possessed with the horrors of my situation; I had visions of what the scaffold would be like, and mechanically asked the attendants, ‘Does it hurt much?’ ‘Not a bit,’ answered somebody, and I saw before me a new person in a gown of black woolen – the executioner.

“I would have risen, defended myself, asserted my innocence, but I fainted, and when I returned to consciousness I was pinioned in the cart which was entering the death place. I cast a shuddering look at the horrible machine. I had no more connected and coherent thought, and the uprights through which the knife runs seemed as high as the masts of a ship. I was lifted to the platform. I had but one fixed idea – that of resistance. But how could I resist? I was seized and flung down upon the plank. I felt as if I was paralyzed and lay there for an immense time. Then there was a sharp blow on my neck, and I fainted again with the instinctive idea that the knife had struck me. It was not the knife, but the upper part of the lunette. When I came to myself was in the prison hospital.”

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