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Sunday, February 27, 2022

The Atrocities of Hanging

Having resolved to be done with the vulgar populist spectacle of the public execution, the British Establishment decided to become demure to the point of obsession. Hangmen became more like anonymous civil servants; secrecy and discretion veiled the proceedings; pious little notes posted on the front gates of prisons where the only public notification that a "working-off" had taken place at all. Yet an assiduous reporter or attorney could compile a whole anthology of atrocity and indecency, lurking shadily behind this pretense. The hangman who took a little too much drink to steady his hand; the plastic underwear proffered to female victims; the rope that slipped and causes slow strangulation; the rope that was poorly judged and caused decapitation; the rope that broke; the second and third attempts to "work off" miscreants who didn't expire the first time.

Christopher Hitchens, Introduction to The Handbook of Hanging (2001 reprint of 1961 edition) by Charles Duff

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