Saturday, September 25, 2010
Don't Let Me Fall
Mary Surratt, 42, the first woman to be hanged by the United States government, is the body hanging at the left. Virtually everyone expected her sentence to be
commuted by President Andrew Johnson, but it was not. From the left, after Mary Surratt, hang the bodies of Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt.
Roughly 1,000 people, viewing from windows, walls, the courtyard, and buildings, witnessed the affair. Because such a large number of people wished to view
the execution, tickets had been issued to limit the actual number in the courtyard.
At approximately 1:26 P.M., July 7, 1865, the signal was given. The two soldiers underneath the gallows knocked away the supporting posts with long poles, and
the trap doors snapped downward. The bodies of the four victims dropped about five to six feet and then came up with a sharp jerk at the end of each rope. After
the hanging about 25 minutes elapsed, and the bodies were cut down. Doctors then examined them as they lay on top of their coffins which were really just crude
gun boxes. The bodies (with hanging-caps still on) were buried in shallow graves next to the gallows. Pieces of the gallows were soon distributed as souvenirs.
Outside the prison a large crowd was celebrating with lemonade and cakes.
Even Captain Christian Rath, the hangman, did not expect Mrs. Surratt to be executed. In his personal account of the hanging he stated, The night before the
execution I took the rope to my room and there made the nooses. I preserved the piece of rope intended for Mrs. Surratt for the last. By the time I got at this I was
tired, and I admit that I rather slighted the job. Instead of putting seven turns to the knot - as a regulation hangman's knot has seven turns - I put only five in this one.
I really did not think Mrs. Surratt would be swung from the end of it,but she was, and it was demonstrated to my satisfaction, at least, that a five-turn knot will perform
as successful a job as a seven-turn knot.
She wore a black dress and black veil. Her last words on the scaffold were "Don't let me fall."
From Roger Norton's research site - here and here.