Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/521

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THE MECHANICS OF HANGING.

THE MECHANICS OF HANGING.
By JAMES BARR, M. D.

AS the subject of the mode of carrying out executions has recently engaged public attention, the present is perhaps an opportune time for discussing the question in its scientific and humane bearings, so that some more definite ideas may prevail as to the best method of hanging, and that the details may not be entirely left to the caprice of the executioner. When the law requires the death-sentence to be meted out at the end of a hempen rope, the dictates of humanity demand that all the details should be carried out in "decency and in order," and with a minimum amount of suffering to the culprit, and from this stand-point I shall treat the subject.

The mode of carrying out the sentence of the law, "be hanged by the neck until you are dead," has usually been left to the discretion of the hangman, the law taking no cognizance as to what is to be the proximate cause of death. Calcraft invariably adopted the short drop of about two feet and a half; and if I may judge from some specimens of his ropes, which are still to be seen at Kirkdale, death must have been produced by a slow process of asphyxia. Marwood adopted what is generally known as the long drop, of which he was supposed by many to be the originator, though it was used long before his time, both in Paris and in Ireland.

To Professor Haughton we are indebted for a scientific exposition[1] of the rationale of the long drop, and of the mode in which death takes place. Dr. Haughton also gives an elaborate explanation of the American method, which is a scientific modification of the old naval method of running the culprit up to the yard-arm.

Having now briefly referred to the different modes of hanging which have been adopted in executing criminals, we will be better able to judge which is the best and most practical method when we have considered the various causes of death. Professor Tidy[2] says that "in hanging, as in drowning, death does not always take place in exactly the same way. Thus, it may result from (1) asphyxia; (2) cerebral hyperæmia; (3) a combination of asphyxia with apoplexy; (4) syncope; (5) injury to the spinal cord and pneumogastrics (neuro-paralytic death)."

Professor Hoffmann,[3] of Vienna, says that, "in hanging, the noose does not press directly on the larynx and the trachea, but almost always slips between the larynx and. the chin. In these cases the basis of the tongue is pushed upward, and pressed against the posterior wall

  1. "Principles of Animal Mechanics," 1873.
  2. "Legal Medicine," part ii, p. 385.
  3. "British Medical Journal," December 21, 1878, and May 10, 1879.