Execution of Cal Wood - 1892




The Execution at Dannemora Yesterday a Complete Success – Scenes in the Death Chamber – The Murderer’s Farewell Speech – He Lived Only Four Minutes After Entering the Room

 DANNEMORA, August 2-[Special.] – “Cal” Wood, the murderer of Leander Pasco, was electrocuted at 11:50 o’clock to-day.  It was the tenth execution by means of electricity, and like the others passed off quietly and quickly, sustaining the new method of inflicting the death penalty as most humane.

The day and hour of the electrocution had been kept very quiet.  It was generally thought on the outside of the big prison wall that the final act would not take place before Wednesday.  The witnesses had been ordered to report at nine o’clock this morning and as former executions have taken place shortly after the break of the day, this meeting was thought to be for instructions and consultation.

Rumor had it yesterday that the death warrant had been read, that “Cal” Wood had put on the black suit, and that the electrician had tested the power of the machine by killing a bull.  Notwithstanding the secrecy maintained by Warden Thayer and his men, these facts were hinted about among the newspaper correspondents and the idlers about the hotel, and when those witnesses to the execution who had come during the day retired for the night it was with the feeling that before twenty-four hours their said experience would have become a matter of recollection.

There was a gray dawn on this last day of life.  A solemn stillness held the air, and it was quite chilly when the gray clouds rose slowly from off the mountains about this little village with its straggling houses, its uncertain streets and dark, gloomy prison.  The tramp of the gangs of men within the yard could be heard, the sentry upon the high wall took up his ceaseless pace and the unfortunates had entered upon another weary day of prison life, but one, and he saw the clouds rise and obscure the sun, whose setting he was never more to see.  Prison guards are heartless:  their standard of excellence is exact obedience and quiet performance of duty.  By this standard “Cal” Wood had won their sympathy, and some no doubt felt a pang when they thought of his coming dissolution.  There were many of those who thought he ought not to die, not insipid sentimentalists, but men whose duty is to keep in check the vicious natures of all manner of criminals.  A jury of men could not be polled among the guards in the prison that would not have commuted “Cal” Wood’s sentence.  But the man died, and deservedly so for his premeditated and terrible crime of murder.  His death watch say that he never flinched since he has been in the condemned cell.  His spiritual adviser says that he was filled with a religious fervor when he died.  He died “like a man,” as he said he would.



Wood’s good friend, the Rev. Anson Cheeseman, the prison chaplain, was at his cell early in the morning.  The doomed man read his Bible until nine o’clock the night before at which time he went to bed.  He slept soundly until seven o’clock.  He said “good morning, boys,” to the death watch, put on the death black suit and remarked, without a waver of voice, the time had come.  He ate a light breakfast, sat down to read the Bible with his spiritual adviser.  While the condemned man was then preparing himself for the coming dissolution, the witnesses had assembled together at the hotel.  Warden Thayer led the way at half past eleven for the scene of the electrocution.  They passed on the west side of the warden’s dwelling, after showing a guard at the gate their invitations, passed around the west wing of the prison and entered the hospital wing.  The invitations were given at the door and all waited further instructions from the warden in his waiting room they had entered.  After a few moments the witnesses passed along a corridor and into the death room.  In the east end of this room, forty-nine feet four inches by sixteen feet eight inches, was the chair.  The witnesses seated themselves in a semi-circle in the west end of the room.  The floor of the room is cement, but a wooden flooring had been laid in the east end, and upon this the chair stood, screwed to the floor through rubber matting.  The chair is the same that was used in Sing Sing prison and but a single improvement has been made since Cotto was electrocuted in it.  The front legs, which formerly interfered a little with a proper strapping of the legs has given way to an arrangement of the front legs of the chair, but which the condemned man’s legs can be fastened securely at the lower part of the calf of the leg.  The executioner’s closed was in the southeast corner, and a gleaming row of lights about the metres and necessary switches on the outside suggested the death-dealing power.  Lying across the arms of the chair was also a row of incandescent lamps on a board, and the chair stood Warden Thayer, Deputy McKenna, Electrician Davis and the doctors.  Several of these gentlemen wore rubbers, as a further protection against any wandering currents of electricity.



were as follows:  Warden Walter N. Thayer, Dannemora;  Warden W.R. Brown, Sing Sing; F.L. Clarke, Troy Times; H. Colvin, Glens Falls; Dr. K.F. Tompkins, Lansingburgh;  Judge Whitman, Sandy Hill; J.C. Mahoney, Glens Falls Star;  G.E. Graham, United Press; W.H. Ferrell, Plattsburgh Telegram; C.S. McLoughlin, county treasurer, Ticonderoga; A.H. Thomas, Warrensburgh; District Attorney Lyman Jenkins, Glens Falls; A.C.H. Livingstone, Elizabethtown Post; G.E. Pond, Plattsburgh; Dr. I.H. Tamblin, Copenhagen; John P. Pratt, Troy Telegram; H.C. Gilleland, Plattsburgh; G.H. McMurray, Glens Falls; P.R. Jones, Plattsburgh; Geo. H. Vining, Associated Press; R. Vincent Tobin, Albany Argus; Dr. I.V. Ransom, Dannemora prison; Dr. William M. Bullard, Boston; Lemon Thompson, Jr., Glens Falls; Dr. Frank Abbott, Jr., New York; Dr. R.I. Irving , Sing Sing prison; Conant Sawyer, Auburn prison.  Warden Thayer made a brief address.  He told the witnesses they were present as witnesses and that they should not offer any suggestions.  “I have provided every precaution to make this electrocution a success,” he said, “and there must not be any suggestions or interference from the witnesses.  The details of the arrangements are in the hands of the most expert men.  Drs. Ransom, Irving, Fuller and Abbott will have charge of the details, assisted by Warden Brown of Sing Sing, and Electrician Davis.”  When Warden Thayer had finished the electrician


 The lights flared up instantly.  Another turn of the lever and they went out.  Then the lights were taken away and the straps hung loose waiting to embrace in death miserable Cal Wood.  Warden Thayer left the room and in a moment returned followed by the doomed criminal walking between two guards.  The big fellow walked forward until he was in front of the chair.  He wore a dark suit of clothes and was a fine looking fellow.  “I want to say a few words,” he said.  Warden Thayer nodded his permission and then Wood spoke as follows:

          “I would like to say a few words – a few words of thanks to Mr. Whitman.  I would say more, but my time is not long enough to express the thanks I feel towards him.  I can’t express it.  He has been nearer than a brother.  I hope he will have a long life and a happy one.  May Heaven be with him.  I hope that God may give me strength and the courage of two men and that I may meet him in Heaven.  Dust thou art and to dust thou shall return.  To that land from which no man shall return.  I prayed that God would forgive me, as he said that the vilest sinner might return, Joe Wood has returned.  God forgive me.  I hope that God will be merciful.  I hope that my friends may have good luck.  I wish them good luck.  I wish my friends good luck.  I wish all good luck and anybody that has ever done anything to Joe Wood I wish good luck.  Warden-“  As he was about to continue he turned and at a motion from Warden Thayer, Deputy McKenna took him by one arm and a hand and with “good-bye”


 At the same time Guard Hogan did the same standing on the other side.  A stop-watch registered forty-nine and a half minutes after eleven o’clock.  The witnesses watched what followed with intense interest, one of them, however, “the good Judge Whitman,” as “Cal” called him, wept as the doomed man was speaking and he was still agitated.  The straps were fastened and the electrodes applied to the head and either leg.  When the mask was being put over his face Wood muttered: “Don’t hurry, boys.”  The feet were strapped, the arms were strapped, a band put about the waist and the mask was put over the face all in thirty seconds.  As he seated himself Wood exclaimed, in a clear voice: “God, remember me in heaven.”  Again and again he muttered this, and then: “God bless me,” “Lord help me,” “Remember me, Lord,” and as he said this last the body heaved forward in a state of extreme rigidity; the guards and Warden Thayer had fallen back.  Electrician Davis had stepped quickly to the closet.  He glanced at Dr. Ransom.  There was a movement of Dr. Ransom’s arm that was hardly perceptible, and then Electrician Davis drew down the lever, sending 1,560 volts of electricity into the body.  IN the Tice execution, at Auburn prison, 1,720 volts had been used, but Electrician Davis says that 1, 200 volts is sufficient to kill any human being.  The current was held on for twelve seconds and then the contact was broken, and the body lapsed into a limp condition.  When eight seconds had passed the current was again put on and continued for ten seconds.  There was the same spasmodic movement of the body; the hands, which had been clinched, turned palms and fingers opened.  These movements were due to the shock of electricity and were not conscious movements on the part of the man in the chair.  Doubtless life was extinguished the instant electricity began to surge through the body at the first contact.  “Cal” Wood was dead.  The circuit was again turned off for twelve seconds and the body straightened up again.  When the contact was made white vapor and smoke issued from where the electold pressed against the right temple.  It coursed upward, and the witnesses


Six seconds elapsed, when the current was turned off.  The smoke immediately ceased to rise, and in three seconds the current was put on again and the contact continued seven seconds.  The man had been electrocuted.

Dr. Ransom quickly stepped to the chair, and drawing the shirt aside placed the stethoscope over the heart.  He announced that there was no pulsation, and the other doctors examined the heart and agreed with him.  Warden Thayer announced to the witnesses that they might come forward and examine the body.  Many did so, feeling the pulse, examining the heart by means of the stethoscope, and remarking excessive perspiration that covered the body and the cold, clammy feeling of the hand.  It was just fifty-three and a quarter minutes past eleven when Warden Thayer announced that the physicians in charge had pronounced the man dead.  One minute fifty seconds after “Cal” Wood had passed over the threshold of the door he had spoken and was taking his place in the chair.  Thirty seconds later the signal was given and after one minute and seven seconds the current had been turned off from the body.  From the time that the murderer entered the room until the physician and witnesses had examined the body and pronouncing the man dead.


had elapsed.  The execution had been the most successful of any.  When the mask had been taken off all eagerly looked to see if the flesh had been burned.  There was not a sign of a burn, not the slightest injury to the skin.  The eyes were closed, the lids being drawn tightly together.  The mouth was passive, showing no signs of pain.  Where the foot electrode pressed against the left calf, the flesh had been slightly blistered.  Electrician Davis said to The Argus correspondent that the vapor and smoke was caused by the burning of the electrode.  The water that kept the sponge wet poured a little too fast, and the electricity followed the water to the rubber of which the solid parts of the harness is made and burned.  When the flood of water is properly regulated, there will be no trouble of this kind. 

Mr. Davis pronounced the electrocution a complete success as had been the last three.  Warden Thayer was congratulated for the thorough arrangements that had been made, and Dr. Ransom felt that unfortunate Cal Wood had been dispatched quickly and painlessly.  There were those among the witnesses who immediately passed into the waiting room adjoining the electrocution room when the man was pronounced dead.  No one was badly unnerved by the sight.  There is nothing horrifying about electrocution, save the terrible thought that the life of a human being is about to be cut off.


was signed by seventeen witnesses as follows:  [names omitted].  The body was removed from the chair and taken into the post mortem room when the witnesses had signed the death certificate.  There Drs. Ransom, Irving and Fuller made an autopsy.  The condition of the organs was found to be the same as in all previous cases as regards the effect of the electric current.  The doctors remarked that fine physical man that “Cal” Wood was.  It was ound that Wood had Bright’s disease.  The protuberance on the back of the neck which Wood said had been inflicted with a gun barrel, and which was used by the defense in the case to establish their plea of insanity, was found to be nothing more than a fatty tissue.


With her brother-in-law and cousin during the execution.  When the autopsy was concluded, the body was turned over to Mrs. Wood.  With “Cal’s” brother and a cousin they left with the body on the 6:07 train.  The rough box containing the body of this electrocuted man was marked as follows:  “The body of Joseph Wood, Athol, Warren county, N.Y.”  The prison chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Cheeseman, says that he has a confession made by Wood in which he says that the reason he killed Pasco was because he had committed an unnatural crime with his wife.  Mrs. Wood was spoken to concerning this and the statement that her husband before his death had denied it.  She said that it was so.

As printed in the Albany Argus, 3 August, 1892.